2009-07-31

FAS: A Double Shot

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This week we are featuring a double shot of Friday Afternoon Song... Enjoy...

"Dancing Queen" by ABBA

Regarded by many to be the Swedish pop groups' signature song, as well as one of the best singles of the '70s, this worldwide hit reached #1 on the pop charts in 13 countries (including Rhodesia... try to find that on a map. I dare you.)

This little lyrical gem began to sparkle when one of the lead singers brought a demo tape back to his fiance while they were in the studio recording the song, who started crying when listening.

And then the sparkle faded a little when in 2008 then-presidential candidate John McCain named "Dancing Queen" as his favorite song... Coincidentally the same year that the Australian LGBT voted it as "The Gayest Song of All Time." No wonder he lost. Do your research, Johnny.

"Friday, I'm In Love" by The Cure

The final recording of this song has an interesting story. It was originally written to be a slower ballad and in a darker key, but lead singer and goth idol, Robert Smith, forgot to turn off a speed control on the tape after toying with it before recording. Thus resulting in a faster tempo on the record and having a Gin Blossoms-esque sound. Oops. But if you happen to see them live, you will hear the song in its intended original key and tempo because, well, I guess they just like it that way.

Ironically, the song was featured in Sugar & Caffeine's previously reviewed movie "He's Just Not That Into You," which we will let slide for FAS purposes.

Released in 1992, the song was the band's last American Top 40 hit (unless they decide to bring it back).

Ladies and gentlemen. Enjoy.

"Dancing Queen" by ABBA

"Friday, I'm In Love" by The Cure

Cheers,

Best. Concert. Ever.

3 comments


(I want this t-shirt)

As Lee Greenwood would say, "God bless the US, AAAAAAA!":

SPECIAL EVENT LINE-UP:

  • Live concert with country super-stars Billy Ray Cyrus, Charlie Daniels, Michael W. Smith and Lee Greenwood
  • Guest appearances by Ollie North and more
  • Autographs, book signings and photographs available

The show is Sunday at Six Flags Over Texas. And don't worry folks, tickets are still available.

2009-07-30

The Bizarro Kayne West

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Yesterday, the news was buzzing with news about Glen Beck calling President Obama a racist. I mean even Fox News distanced somewhat themselves by coming out and saying that "Mr. Beck's opinions are his and his alone" (or something like that). Crazy.

The whole time though I couldn't stop and think that I'd seen all this before. It involved the actions of an overly self-involved narcissist opining about the perceived racially motivated actions of someone of another race, that much I knew. And then it hit me...

Glen Beck is the Bizarro World Kanye West.


To the evidence!

Here's Glen Beck:



And now for the original:



I can't really say either one of them adds much to the public discourse about racism, but they both make really entertaining Youtube vidoes, right? Right!?!


UPDATE #1:

Colin Powell offers what an adult reaction (on both sides) would've looked like.

2009-07-29

100 Best Movie Lines in 200 Seconds

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h/t The Daily Dish

2009-07-28

Why Does Congressman Roy Blunt Hate My Grandparents?

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Via Matt Yglesias, I stumbled upon the following from Congressman Roy Blunt (R-MO):

HOST MIKE FERGUSON: What is the proper role of government, and what are the potential impacts of the direction that we’re going right now?

BLUNT: Well, you could certainly argue that government should have never have gotten in the health care business, and that might have been the best argument of all, to figure out how people could have had more access to a competitive marketplace.

Government did get into the health care business in a big way in 1965 with Medicare, and later with Medicaid, and government already distorts the marketplace.


You certainly could make that argument, but then again you'd probably not get reelected.

Matt then goes on to inform us that Medicare was passed in part because there is no free market solution to old and sick people, other than the one used prior to 1965 which was simply to remove them from the insurance pool:
Insurance takes advantage of risk-pooling and risk-aversion to offer people security at a price that’s both profitable and attractive. When the whole pool is bad risks, as senior citizens are, there’s no real business opportunity.
To further illustrate that point, I've included a handy chart which breaks out our nation's poverty rate since the late 1950's:


You'll notice that there is a pretty obvious drop sometime around the mid-1960's, but what may not be as clear is that the sharp decrease in the previous graph is primarily a result of the sharp decrease in old people living in poverty (see below).




So the next time some politician tells you that the "new deal" was a terrible idea, or as Mr. Blunt believes that the government should have never gotten involved in health care in the first place, you might want to ask if he's ready to return over 30% of the over 65 crowd back into poverty.

(whether or not you should invite Grandma and Grandpa to live in your house once they retire is a conversation for another day)

2009-07-27

See What You Want To See

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The President's favorables are falling, no doubt about that.

As everyone's father loves to say, "People vote with their pocket books," so it should go without saying that the public perception of the POTUS follows the economic outlook at any given time. Nothing too revolutionary there. What I don't understand however is why Rasmussen is still seen as a reliable source of information.

To put that another way, would you (since most of you disagree with me about these things) trust this poll by the Daily Kos?



I know I wouldn't (plus relying on 1 source of information is so 1992).

Thanks to the internets however, we can now control for our fickle view of the world by a process known as aggregation. So for a more accurate reading of the national mood, please allow me to suggest frequenting poll aggregating sites like Pollster.com or realclearpolitics.com as opposed to circulating the right wing friendly (though typically misleading) Rasmussen.

You are what you read after all.

2009-07-24

FAS: "Use Me" by Bill Withers

1 comments

This week's Friday Afternoon Song... a very personal favorite of mine....

"Use Me" by Bill Withers

(cheer)(applause)(fainting)(crying)

The History:
Born in West Virginia as William Harrison "Bill" Withers, Jr, he worked as an aircraft assembly worker while putting what money he had into recording demo's in his free time. Even after the song that lead him to his first Grammy "Ain't No Sunshine" he kept his job thinking that he still wasn't going to survive as a musician. A humble man was he.

"Use Me" was his second biggest hit in the US, reaching #2 on the Billboard charts in 1972.

The content is that of a dramatic nature, with the crooner complaining about his friend's advice about his love life, which they see as one-sided and him being "used." But he's totally OK with that apparently, saying "when you love me, I can't get enough." He ends this love/hate riddled poem by turning the tables and admitting the he is being used, but says that that is made up for by "using you to do the things you do."

It has been covered by the likes of Mick Jagger, Isaac Hayes, Better Than Ezra (which as a bonus, I have included in this post), Widespread Panic, Ben Harper, Fiona Apple, Aaron Neville, and notable College Station groups Drying Off Grandpa, Bobbing For Tucker, and Enjoy Chris Clonts.

Ladies & Gentlemen... Use me.

"Use Me" by Bill Withers

"Use Me (cover)" by Better Than Ezra

2009-07-22

Robert Gates Is Making A Lot of Sense

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If Gates keeps saying things like this, one can only hope that he (and people like him) will begin to fill in the power vacuum that currently is the Republican Party:

“The grim reality is that with regard to the budget we have entered a zero-sum game. Every defense dollar diverted to fund excess or unneeded capacity… is a dollar that will be unavailable to take care of our people, to win the wars we are in, to deter potential adversaries, and to improve capabilities in areas where America is underinvested and potentially vulnerable. That is a risk that I will not take and one that I cannot accept,” he said.

“If we can’t bring ourselves to make this tough but straightforward decision (regarding the F-22 Raptor debate)– reflecting the judgment of two very different presidents, two different secretaries of defense, two chairmen of the joint chiefs of staff, and the current Air Force Secretary and Chief of Staff, where do we draw the line? And if not now, when? If we can’t get this right – what on earth can we get right? It is time to draw the line on doing Defense business as usual. The President has drawn that line. And that red line with regard to a veto is real.

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Scary Chart of the Day II

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I once made the point that complexity breeds waste, but I always make a point to say that "charts are awesome." Thankfully, The New Republic agrees with me and offers up this handy breakdown of how our health care system is currently setup:

2009-07-20

The Usual Suspects II

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This time it's inflationary:





CBO breakdown of the 2009 budget deficit*:



1. $313b - CBO projects that worsening economic conditions will cause the deficit to increase by $313b.

2. $238b - CBO’s estimate of the cost to the government for the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac takeovers.

3. $180b - The amount included in the deficit this year to reflect the PV of the net cost of transactions under the TARP, which was created in the fall of 2008.

4. $185b - CBO’s analysis of the budget impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Approximately $185 billion of the $789.5 billion of spending and tax cuts would be recognized during the remainder of fiscal year 2009. The largest impact will occur in 2010 with $399 billion added to the deficit for that year.


*From Perot Charts h/t Barry Ritholtz

2009-07-17

FAS: Friday Afternoon Song

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Ali-like Return To The Ring!


This is a special day. Not only is it my triumphant return to the blogosphere, but more importantly the return of the legendary "Friday Afternoon Song."

A little history.

6 years ago, a shaggy haired college Blake interned at EMI Records in Nashville where every Friday one of the executives would crank up either a) The Pointer Sisters "He's So Shy" or b) AC/DC "Back In Black." I mean CRANK. Didn't matter if you were on the phone, there was a vendor with you, or whatever (it was a record label... people expected music to everywhere and the people to be a little weird. Ah... I miss those days.). Every Friday you knew it was coming.

Coming back to school after that summer, I felt the burden to continue the tradition. Every Friday I would come back to The Speakeasy (our aptly nicknamed house) after a "rough" day of classes, throw down my one book, grab a Capri Sun, go into my room, turn up the speakers as loud as I could and blast what became known as the "Friday Afternoon Song."

This tradition continued into my first job where employees would gather in my office at 4:45 each Friday and listen to the chosen song. There was to be no discussion of work, no complaining about the song choice, and no burdens. It was all positive energy only.

The FAS then went national. I created a little web page where friends from around the nation who had recently moved could each log in at exactly 4:45 (CST) and share the FAS with the knowledge that those they are close to were doing the exact same thing. It even went into the classroom as one Mr. Bryan Beene played it for his high school students every week as a treat for a good week.

FAS was then democratized, and people were allowed to submit their favorite songs to be chosen. The most famous case of this was when Mr. Beene's class voted and submitted their own. It was chosen, and if I'm not mistaken they then voted FAS as Amarillo High homecoming king.

Then, just as quickly as it arrived, it left. A change in jobs and a move to Dallas brought the FAS to a standstill.

Until now. A shaggy haired married Blake is bringing it back. He is bringing it all back.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present the all-new FRIDAY AFTERNOON SONG (blog edition).

The parameters are simple. The song must be upbeat, bright, creative, and put you in a good mood to kick off the weekend. And of course, mash-ups are most definitely encouraged.

The rules still stand. No negative comments about the song. Only upbeat, positive feedback encouraged. If you have been to a Cowboy Mouth concert, just picture Fred slapping his hands together yelling "Give Me Rhythm!"

And please, submit your own songs for consideration as well.

Now without any more waiting, I present this week's FAS.

I give you Jay-Z + Radiohead = Jaydiohead. Note: There are two b/c the whole freaking album is amazing and I couldn't pick just one. Go to that link and download the whole thing. And in the future I will include some background on the singer/song, but this post is already too long.

Jaydiohead - Dirt Off Your Android
Jaydiohead - Song and Cry


Cheers and Salud.

2009-07-15

Vive Le France

5 comments


(photo by geoftheref via flickr)

Ever year around this time I get a little nostalgic for the summer of 2005, which shouldn't really surprise those of you who know me. For the rest of you however, I am of course talking about the summer I worked as a tour guide in Paris (I intended to post this yesterday on Bastille Day but got distracted... big whoop wannafightaboutit?).

Perhaps the nostalgia comes from the fact that 2005 was also the year I started working in public accounting so those few months represent the end of my carefree years as a student, or perhaps it’s the fact that events set in motion as a result of that decision ultimately led Andrea and I to meet and eventually get married (yep that's the one).

Which is really just a long way to segue into the following:


The Top 5(ish) Reasons to Vacation in Paris


5. Fat Tire Bike Tours



(Now that's one good looking tour guide)

I’m sure most of you would expect this one to be at or near the top of my list, but since not everyone can work at this fine establishment I doubt many people would rank it very highly as a reason to travel overseas. However since Parisians are consistently, though unfairly, labeled the least friendly people in Europe (I mean imagine if 30 million tourists came to Dallas every year none of which spoke English, and spoke to us as if we should know their language. We'd get annoyed), there is generally a feeling of apprehension among many first time travelers.

This of course can easily be mitigated through the presence of an energetic American tour guide tickling your ears with stories of old Gay Paris. And that’s precisely where Fat Tire found their niche.

Started by a fellow Texas A&M alum, the company has been serving the needs of English speakers traveling through Paris for over a decade. And in my somewhat biased opinion, there is no better way to travel throughout the heart of the city than on a bike. These guys are the best in the business.

Prefer a walking tour? No problem. Feel like getting away from the crowds and heading out to Normandy or Monet’s Gardens? They've got you covered.

Unless you have a week or more to see the city, you'll rush to hit everything and completely miss what I consider to be the real Paris (keep reading for my definition). But with the help of a friendly guide, you can easily see the Eiffel Tower, Les Invalides, St. Germain, Notre Dame, Saint Chapelle, the Louvre, Les Tuilleries, just to name a few all in the span of 4 hours. Plus you'll have someone to take pictures of you (which is really what it's all about right?).

(Honorable mention: check out Paris' Velib system)



4. The Architecture

Paris is the most beautiful city in the world, and they know it.

I won't go into great detail here, but many cities in the western world owe their design to Baron Haussmann who was comissioned in the 1860's by Napoleon III to "modernize" the city. Haussmann's vision was heavily influenced, thanks to the industrial revolution, by the relatively new reliance on the train. Therefore he created wide boulevards designed to quickly link city residents to the various train stations located throughout the city, which would be anchored by various monuments (i.e. the Arc de Triomphe, Place de la Concorde, the Opera Garnier, etc...).

When I first arrived in Paris, I was quickly amazed that the city was both extremely clean (though the Seine and the French's general aversion to bathing do provide a noticeable odor upon arrival) and seemingly extremely safe.

Apparently Paris owes this to Haussmann as well whose design also led to the destruction of much of "old Paris" as the cities poor were relegated to the outskirst of town to make room for the new bourgeois apartments which were erected (with strict height requirements that also remain to this day) to further add to the city's aesthetic appeal.

Tour Guide Says:

Chicago, Moscow, and London all owe at least a portion of their design to Haussman, and you might have noticed during the Olympics that the Chinese have adopted this totalitarian approach to city planning as well.


3. Photo Opportunities

Few cities have more than a few major historical buildings / structures that are worth traveling thousands of miles to see. Paris has about a dozen. Here are my top choices:

Eglise du Dome / Les Invalides



Commissioned by the Sun King himself (Louis XIV) in 1670, this gold-adorned church was modeled after St. Peter's Basicilica at the Vatican and is perhaps one of the greatest examples of the excess that eventually led the "sans-culottes" to revolt in 1789. It however remains to this day one of the jewels of the city.

The building also serves as the burial chamber for Napoleon Bonaparte, who lies in state underneath the dome inside a giant Egyptian inspired sarcophagus (see below).


(photo by Raf Ferreira via Flickr
)

Tour Guide Says:

Snap a few pictures and then head around back to find the military hospital (invalides = invalid get it) which was also constructed in 1670. This impressive building currently houses one of the top war museums in Europe, and is definitely worth the time if you enjoy French military history.

Also inside is perhaps one of the oddest artifacts you'll come across in a war museum; Napoleon’s actual dog and horse. Stuffed. You can't make this stuff up.

PS, it's really small (that's what she said!).


Le Tour Eiffel


Originally built for the World's Fair in 1889, the Eiffel Tower stood as the world's tallest structure until the Chrysler Building was completed in 1930. The French of course hated this eyesore, and in fact it was about to be dissassembled until WWI broke out and they realized that it could be used to transmit radio signals to the front lines.

All 30 million tourists will undoubtedly take at least a quick journey here for a picture to impress their friends, and therefore there really isn't a good time to visit this thing. My advice, save a couple dollars and take the stairs up to the 2nd level as opposed to waiting in line for the elevator to the top. It’s a bit of a hike (nearly 500 vertical feet), but well worth it to save an hour or so waiting in line.

If you’re simply looking for a good view, avoid the thing entirely and head over to Montparnasse Tower. It’s about the same height but with zero line, and there's a great restaurant at the top (La Ciel de Paris) that provides of the best aerial views of the entire city.


(would you rather have the Eiffel or Montparnasse Tower in the background?)



Plus if you’re at the top of the Eiffel Tower, there won’t be an Eiffel Tower in your picture and no one will be impressed by your photo. Heading over to Montparnasse solves that dilemma.

Tour Guide Says:

There is no shortage of events that have taken place on or to the Eiffel Tower. However my favorite story was of an American pilot who managed to fly underneath the Eiffel Tower (~200 feet clearance) and land on the Champ de Mars to celebrate VE Day.

On every tour I would have everyone eating out of the palms of my hands whenever I'd start into my schpeal about the Tower. On one tour however, I was unexpectedly interrupted by a girl who raised her hand as I finished the story of the brave American pilot. This girl informed the crowd that the pilot in question was actually her grandfather!

Here’s his story as told by his daughter-in-law via an email I received weeks after the tour:

I found the photo of the Eagle's Wrath sitting proudly beneath the Eiffel Tour on Liberation Day. The B-17 bomber plane was piloted by my husband's Dad, Lt. Dorac Banta. He became an Army pilot at age 19, and went on to fly 35 successful missions over enemy territory.

He was also a member of the "Lucky Wings" hall of fame-- those few pilots (also affectionately known as the "Lucky Bastards") who successfully flew a minimum of 30 successful missions. [His] heroics didn't end with the war. He became a successful pharmaceuticals rep, and lived his life as a great dad, grand-dad and husband.



Incredible!


Place de La Concorde


(The obelisk at the end of Champs-Elysees. Photo by Marcia Salviato via flickr)


Marked by a gold-topped Egyptian obelisk which the French claim was a gift (though the Epytians claim it was stolen from the Temple at Luxor), the Place de la Concorde is currently one of the busiest squares in the city, sitting at the intersection of the Rue de Rivoli and the Champs-Elysees. However, during the French Revolution it became known as the Place de la Revolution and housed the infamous guillotine.

You'll also quickly notice one of the other hallmarks of French architecture (symmetry), and there is perhaps no better indicator of this than at the Place de la Concorde. Starting at the Grand Arch in La Defense and extending to the Arc de Triomphe, down the Champs Elysee, through the Tuileries Gardens, and ending at a statue of Louis XIV in front of the Louvre, this ~5 mile long straight line provides one of the most picturesque scenes the city has to offer.

Tour Guide Says:


There is no better story about this location than the death of Louis XVI. There are conflicting stories surrounding the details of his death, but the version I love to tell is that upon being condemned to death, the King was quickly marched to the guillotine (where Marie Antionette would meet her end a few months later), and up to the top of the platform.

The crowd came to life as the King reached the apex, yet they were quickly silenced as the executioner slowly began to raise the blade. The anticipation built with every inch the blade was raised, until finally the crowd cheered as the rope was cut and the blade came to a stop.

Silence quickly resumed however as those nearest the platform first noticed that the blade had not done it's job. The King’s neck had NOT been severed. The blade was raised again, and again, until finally on the 3rd drop of the blade, the king was dead.

Vive le Republique!


The Louvre


(The Pyramid entrance at the Louvre. Photo by J. Salmoral via flickr)

The Louvre was once the King's palace, until Louis XIV through the deuce to all the pollution inside Paris and headed out to Versailles, so it goes without saying that it is quite an impressive building. Napoleon III later added a 3rd wing in the 19th century which is how it stands today.

It is every bit as awe-inspiring (and overwhelming) as you’ve heard, and due to your travel plans you might feel inclined to take it all in during your few days in Paris. I do not recommend this because if you were to look at every work of art housed inside for only a second, it would still take you over 100 days to see everything inside.

So don’t bother.

Tour Guide Says:

When you’re looking at the Pyramid Entrance facing East, directly in front of you is the Sully wing which is the oldest section of the building (other than the subterranean cavern below the inverted pyramid that Dan Brown discovered). To your left is the Richelieu wing, and finally the Denon wing is to your right. This is where you should spend the majority of your time, as it is there where you’ll find the “big 3.”

Don’t know what those are? No worries, just follow the crowds to the Venus de Milo and you’ll run into the Winged Victory of Samothrace. Then finally head upstairs for the Renaissance artists and the somewhat disappointing Mona Lisa (it’s so small). The museum has much more to offer, but it will all depend on what you prefer.

I also recommend, if you have the extra energy, to head over to the Richelieu wing and check out the Code of Hamurabi and Napoloen's bedroom. But if not, save your energy for:


The Musee d'Orsay



The Orsay museum is housed inside an old converted train station that currently contains some of the most famous impressionists works of art the world over. If you’re traveling across Europe I’d recommend having Paris be your final destination as both the Louvre and the Orsay make the majority of other museums pale in comparison (save for the British Museum).

That being said, if you prefer the likes of Renoir, Van Gogh, Monet, etc… to Da Vinci, then this is where you’ll want to spend the majority of your museum going minutes. It’s significantly smaller than the Louvre, and therefore much less overwhelming.

Tour Guide Says:


(Musee d'Orsay by Marco Mancini via flickr)

Head to the top level for a quick snapshot of the family in front of the see-through clock (above) which overlooks the Seine and provides a great view of Montmartre.


Notre Dame


(View of the Eiffel Tower from Notre Dame taken by noted photographer Adriane Jaynes
)


Perhaps the 2nd most recognizable location in Paris (besides the Eiffel Tower), this centuries old cathedral sits on the city's original location founded by the Parisii tribe over 2,000 years ago. Construction began on the church itself in the 12th century, yet it took over 200 years to complete, and today serves as one of the greatest examples of Gothic architecture in existence.

The church fell into disrepair after its usage as a "Temple of Reason" (aka courthouse) during the French Revolution. Victor Hugo's novel was actually written in part to raise awareness of the church's unique history, in hopes that it would be restored to its original beauty.

Tour Guide Says:


The crown of thorns supposedly worn by Jesus Christ during his crucifixion is housed inside Notre Dame. However don’t expect to see it until Easter each year, and you can definitely expect a crowd.

If the line isn't too long, paying the extra fee to walk up to the top of the spires is well worth your time (see above picture), but if not then head across the bridge for some Berthillon ice cream on Ile St. Louis or take a stroll through the Marais.


Saint Chapelle




Without a doubt Saint Chapelle is one of the most unique buildings in all of Europe, and it is also my favorite church not located in Vatican City. Originally built by King Louis VII (you might know him as Saint Louis of Missouri) to house the crown of thorns (now at Notre Dame) and a piece of the cross, which was destroyed during the French Revolution.

Tour Guide says:


Over 100 stories of the Bible are depicted on vertical strips of stain glass that both envelope the main room and, as you can probably guess from the above picture, fill you with a sense of awe. Bring a camera.

(Honorable mention: Sacre Coeur, Montmartre, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Latin Quarter)


2. Chateau de Versailles


(moments after I proposed at the foot of the Grand Canal)

Located only minutes outside of Paris (by train), Versailles was transformed from a former royal residence into the palace that you see today by Louis XIV who, fearing an insurrection inside Paris, decided to move his court to the more remote location.

Tour Guide says:

If you're not sure where to propose and you definitely want her to say yes, then please allow me to recommend Versailles. The photo above was taken just after I proposed at the foot of the Grand Canal (a giant cross which is in my opinion one of the most romantic spots in the entire city), which extends for over a kilometer behind us.

In other words, trying to navigate the grounds by foot is impossible. Take a bike.


1. The Summer


Everyone wants to talk about “Paris in the Springtime”, but I say that’s a bunch of baloney. Why? Well, when I arrived in the middle of May it was 30 degrees and rainy for the first 2 weeks. Due to Paris' location (latitudly speaking), the summer is really the only time when you're virtually guaranteed good weather. Though keep in mind that prices jump around mid-May.

I realize that this may seem like an odd choice for the #1 spot, but good weather will allow you to experience what I believe to be the real Paris. To better explain what I mean by that let me add that on every tour I would get asked the same three questions; 1) Do you speak French? 2) Were you a French history major? and 3) What is your favorite thing to do in the entire city?

The answer to the first two questions always surprised them (no), and often my answer to the third would as well.

Relax and enjoy yourself.

Everyone comes to Paris with a checklist of places they want to visit, yet many leave completely missing Paris altogether. So if you are planning a trip to Paris at some point in the future, here is the list of what you want to focus on:
  • Les marchés alimentaires par arrondissement (food markets by district) - The city is divided into arrondissements (districts) which start at the Louvre and then circle around in a clockwise manner like a snail shell from 1 to 20. Every arrondissement has a weekly market where you can purchase some of the best and cheapest food you'll find in the city. Depending on where you're staying, find out when the closest market is and then head out to one of the cities dozens of parks. And due to the cost of an apartment (40 sq. meters = ~$2000) and the lack of A/C in most buildings, this is also where you'll likely encounter the majority of Parisians enjoying their time off from work as well.
  • Champs de Mars - Starting at the foot of the Eiffel Tower and extending all the way to Ecole Militaire, this park serves as one of the city's social centers during the warm summer months. If you're looking for a great way to relax or get a cheap bite to eat, grab some food from one of the markets noted above or a nearby supermarket and head here. For a great picture, be there by 10pm when the lights on the Eiffel Tower start to sparkle.


(Andrea and I on the Pont des Artes)
  • Pont des Artes - extending from the south portal of the Louvre across the Seine and connecting with the Acadamie Francaise, the bridge comes alive around dusk as dozens of tourists, local students and yuppie types alike arrive to share a bite to eat and a bottle of wine. My suggestion, head over to the St. Michel metro stop where you can fill your bags with food and/or drinks, then head to the bridge and plan on spending at least a couple hours there. During the summer months you'll be surrounded by hundreds of people from all over the world, many of whom love to share their food, so don't be afraid to break out of your comfort zone. But if nothing else, how can you beat drinking a glass of wine while watching the sunset over the Seine?
  • Sports / Special Events - The French Open is held every June at Roland Garros stadium inside Paris. Or if soccer is your thing, be sure to check out when Les Bleus are playing (or any of the country's professional teams). If you're around during the summer solstice then you'll undoubtedly want to check out the biggest party this side of Bastille Day known as "Fete de la Musique." My personal favorite however is the Tour de France, which begins in early July and ends ~3 weeks later. The tour enters Paris on the final day along the Seine until they reach the Rue de Rivoli and then the Champs-Elysees. Grab a spot near the Grand Palais and you'll find yourself at the finish line. The winner then flies their home country's flag over the Hotel Crillion for a week after the finale.

(Photo taken by me of the Texas Flag flown by Lance after winning
his 7th straight Tour in 2005)

  • Bastille Day - My absolute favorite day in Paris however is July 14. The French celebrate French Independence Day (aka Bastille Day) to commemorate the storming of the Bastille Prison on this day every year, and it is surprisingly a lot like the 4th of July. So in other words it starts as a day to honor our independence and inevitably evolves into a huge party that involves a plethora of fireworks. My advice, head to the Champs de Mars nice and early because around 100,000+ people will arrive there to watch one of the best fireworks shows you'll ever see.


Thanks for stopping by!

2009-07-10

Policy So Big It’s Steppin On Leprechauns

4 comments

(title inspiration)

Everyone is talking about health care reform these days, and indeed things around here are no different. As this issue will no doubt become one of the largest President Obama will face, if not define his Presidency, I figured it might be worth spending some time investigating.

In addition, most if not all of you are already aware that clearly a doctor I am not. But part of what I actually do on a day to day basis is to analyze complex situations, read the relevant industry guidance, and then provide a best course of action based upon my professional judgment. But since the economy still stinks and business hasn’t picked up in recent months within the Private Equity space (dbag-speak for industry), I’ve had to hone my analytical skills elsewhere. So with that, I bring you the following analysis which I hope is at least as spin-free as the “No Spin Zone”:


6 Reasons Why U.S. Health Care Is So Expensive

(Read the full article for a more in-depth analysis. It truly is worth your time

1. GDP Per Capita

It should come as no surprise that “ability to pay” is a large contributor to cross-national variation in health spending. Indeed 90% of the variation between countries can be explained by this factor, except for within the United States:

[The] relationship between GDP per capita and health spending predicts a U.S. per capita health spending level of $3,435 for 2001. The actual level, $4,887, is $1,452 or 42 percent higher than the predicted level.



2. Distribution of Market Power and Prices

Americans pay higher prices for the same services than citizens in other countries, which is partly explained by the fact that professionals in the US are paid much more than their foreign counterparts (free education and a less punitive legal environment abroad are among the culprits here).

Another contributing factor is the fragmented way in which healthcare costs are financed, which allocates greater market power on the supply side of the equation. Other countries have balanced the playing field by introducing monopsonistic (i.e. single-payer aka Canada) or by allowing multipayer systems to bargain collectively with healthcare providers, which can be within government-set healthcare budgets (Germany).


3. The Capacity of Health Systems

Other countries have higher physician and nurse-to-population ratios, and the United States is also in the bottom quartile of hospital beds per capita. The paper indicates that part of this is due to the constraints on medical school capacity which has remained relatively flat over the past 30 years.


4. Administrative Complexity and Costs


By international comparisons the US approach to healthcare financing is extremely complex. A sizable fraction of increase in US healthcare spending (not explained by higher GDP) is attributable to the higher administrative overhead required by such a complex system.

One study quoted therein finds that in 1999 > $293b (or 1/4 of total spending) was related to administrative costs for insurers, employers, and providers of health care, and that private insurers admin costs are 2.5 x’s as high as public programs.

I will concede however that this issue is ripe for debate.

5. Unwillingness to Ration Health Care

According to the report, healthcare R&D gives society the option of purchasing additional “quality-adjusted life years” (QALY’s) at increasingly higher prices. See below:



Modern cost-effectiveness research is aimed at identifying the proper shape of this curve as well as answering 2 morally troublesome questions:

  • How far up the QALY supply curve should the health system go to procure added QALY’s?
  • Should the maximum price paid for added QALY’s be uniformly applied to all or be allowed to vary with the individual’s ability to pay?
Britain’s system uses a cutoff price of $53,000 per QALY beyond which treatments are not publicly funded, however patients with discretionary funds or supplemental insurance are allowed to purchase more costly treatments from the private health sector. Other countries do not set a maximum rate (due to political realities), and therefore rely on setting the limit implicitly through a mixture of price controls and limits on capacity.

In the US neither private nor publicly funded programs appear to observe any explicit guideline on the maximum price per QALY. Two exceptions are private health insurance policies that have lifetime upper limits and Medicare with lacks catastrophic benefits.


6. Pharmaceutical Prices

Some US officials accuse foreign governments (namely those with a higher concentration of demand side bargaining power) of keeping drug prices artificially low, which has resulted in US patients now funding the bulk of pharmaceutical R&D. This concern is now even expressed in US trade negotiations.

However recent studies have shown that comparing drug prices on a PPP (purchasing-power parity) basis rather than at current exchange rates proves that US-foreign price differentials are in line with income differentials.

The paper then raises two questions:

  • How exactly would this bargain translate into lower prices for US patients rather than simply more profits for US drug companies?
  • How much of the added revenue would actually flow through to increased R&D?

And just to further illustrate that point, in 2002 the 13 largest drug companies allocated revenue as follows:
  • 25.3% Cost of Goods Sold
  • 32.8% Selling, General, and Administrative Expenses
  • 14% R&D
  • 7.3 Taxes
  • 20.6% After-tax Profit

2009-07-08

Automatically Suspect

2 comments

This Is Not My Point

Greg Mankiw is at it again passing along questionable information that can easily be debunked. This time he focuses his sights on the medicare has lower administrative costs argument that many public option supporters love to throw around by linking to a white paper written by the Heritage Foundation.

Now, I do not have any personal vendetta against the good people at the Heritage Foundation, but Paul Krugman sure does. Dr. Krugman links to a pretty compelling argument from a Berkely Fellow, but he attempts to discredit Dr. Mankiw's source by stating (emphasis mine), "Everything [they] say is automatically suspect," and then concludes with the following:

You should always remember:
1. Don’t believe anything Heritage says.
2. If you find what Heritage is saying plausible, remember rule 1.


My Point

The back and forth between these two got me thinking about who would fall into the "automatically suspect" category for me*. For Dr. Krugman it is the Heritage Foundation, but I have no doubt that for many others it is Paul Krugman. What is unfortunate about all of this is that there is most likely at least a grain of truth to both sides that is largely overlooked as we are usually unwilling to look past the perceived motives of the messenger. In this case a former economic advisor to the Bush administration vs. a nobel prize winning liberal (aka "elite") economist who blogs for the NYTimes.

My guess is that the last sentence in the previous paragraph is all anyone would need to make up their mind about the merits of either's argument.

Who do you consider to be automatically suspect?



* Sean Hannity

2009-07-06

Stop Whining

0 comments

At least we're not living in 1809 or in a non-industrialized nation:



Via Conor Clark:
For pretty much all of human history, population growth constrained growth in real standards of living. (That's the "Malthusian Trap" above: as standards of living improved, population increased, which put a strain on resources and drove down standards of living, which in turn drove down population growth, rinse & repeat.) The industrial revolution broke this trap, although it's worth pointing out the fairly obvious fact that this is not true for the entire world -- which is why the graph is labeled the "Great Divergence" and not the "Unmitigated Triumph."

(title inspiration)

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