Monday, December 20, 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Tell repealed

So it seems that I owe the president a little apology.

Back in October, I was somewhat perturbed at the Obama administration for their decision to actively fight the court-mandated cease and desist order for enforcing Don't Ask, Don't Tell. As I reasoned, all Obama needed to do in order to let the policy lapse was just accept the court order and let it go.

Sure, Obama said they were only appealing in order to get DADT repealed through proper channels, i.e., a bill passed through Congress. But, I reasoned at the time, this would never happen, not in a million years. Republicans would threaten to filibuster the action, Democrats would cave like always, the new Republican House of Representatives would push out the Democrats (it was already obvious at that point that this was going to happen) and there would not be another opportunity to repeal for at least two years and probably longer.

But they did it. They actually voted to repeal. So, hooray for gay rights! And may I say, this is a case where I am most definitely happy to have been wrong.

Even so, I can't resist a single sourpuss shrill liberal comment -- my moment of "What if Peter hadn't caught the wolf? What then?" This was by no means a foregone conclusion. Senate Democrats were racing the clock, it mostly didn't look like they were going to make it. Only some uncharacteristic party manipulation by Harry Reid as well as some frankly shocking heroics from Senator Joe Lieberman of all people (sole member of the popular "Connecticut for Lieberman" party) made this possible at all. Had this gamble not paid off, it's still highly likely that DADT would have remained a permanent fixture.

I would really like to have seen Barack Obama take a more active role in working to bring this down. Going into next year, let's not forget that Democrats still control a majority of the Senate in addition to the presidency. More than ever, passing any kind of desirable agenda will require better politics than just hopeful speeches.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Wikileaks vs. 9/11 truth

I find this particularly side splitting:

It seems that 9/11 truthers were initially very excited about WikiLeaks, as they believed Julian Assange would finally blow the lid off the massive government conspiracy. Assange told them to bugger off, and so what did they conclude? Well, this headline from a few months ago pretty much says it all:

"Any time people with power plan in secret, they are conducting a conspiracy. So there are conspiracies everywhere. There are also crazed conspiracy theories. It's important not to confuse these two. Generally, when there's enough facts about a conspiracy we simply call this news." What about 9/11? "I'm constantly annoyed that people are distracted by false conspiracies such as 9/11, when all around we provide evidence of real conspiracies, for war or mass financial fraud."

God damn those CIA agents they're everywhere! The one guy who seems to know actual government secrets and has been making them public jus
t as fast as he can, and he seems to have no interest in finally proving that it was a controlled demolition, or invisible missiles from dimension X, or whatever. It can't be that there is no evidence of an actual conspiracy... clearly the only explanation is that THEY got to him first!!!

(Please note: I'm not in the mood to open this thread up to the crackpots. Any comments on how blind I am to the conspiracy will be moderated out. Anyone who posts such a thing on the associated Facebook thread will be defriended, immediately and with extreme prejudice. Know why? Because I'm secretly a CIA agent. BWAHAHAHAHAAAAAA)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Unilateral executive power? Don't ask, they won't tell

'Kay, something political is bugging me, it's too long to encapsulate in a brief Facebook update, and this blog has been fallow (in favor of TAE blog and dropping my opinion on Facebook comments occasionally). Clearly this is the place to air this issue.

Last week Rachel Maddow did an interview with Walter Dellinger, a law professor and former solicitor general under President Clinton, to discuss the Obama administration's position on Don't Ask Don't Tell. First, she played a clip of this exchange:

Q I voted for you in the last elections based on your alleged commitment to equality for all Americans, gay and straight, and I wanted to know where you stood on “don’t ask, don’t tell.” I know that you’ve mentioned that you want the Senate to repeal it before you do it yourself. My question is you as the President can sort of have an executive order that ends it once and for all, as Harry -- as Truman did for the integration of the military in ‘48. So I wonder why don’t you do that if this is a policy that you’re committed to ending.

THE PRESIDENT: First of all, I haven’t “mentioned” that I’m against “don’t ask, don’t ask” -- I have said very clearly, including in a State of the Union address, that I’m against “don’t ask, don’t tell” and that we’re going to end this policy. That’s point number one.

Point number two, the difference between my position right now and Harry Truman’s was that Congress explicitly passed a law that took away the power of the executive branch to end this policy unilaterally. So this is not a situation in which with a stroke of a pen I can simply end the policy.

Here are the facts about what's happening with DADT right now, as far as I understand them.

  1. Obama says he really wants to end the policy.
  2. Most Americans agree with him. Polls show a 59% opinion that gays and lesbians should be allowed to openly serve in the military.
  3. A clear majority of Congress supports it. A bill was introduced in the Senate that received 56 Yea votes, 43 Nay votes. Naturally, the Republicans filibustered it.
  4. Without directly eliminating it, Obama could still order that enforcement of DADT be suspended. He has declined to do so.
  5. On September 9 (my birthday, in a meaningless aside), a federal court ruled that DADT was unconstitutional and should stop being enforced.
  6. The Obama justice department decided to appeal the ruling.

And that last one right there is the part where I say "WTF?!?!?" Because if
- the public wants to repeal DADT, but can't, because they don't have direct power, and
- the president wants to repeal DADT, but can't, because he can't override Congress, and
- Congress wants to repeal DADT, but can't, because a minority is using legal maneuvering to prevent all legislation of any kind, to the best of their abilities

...Then this court order would seem to be the last piece of the puzzle. Here is a perfectly good opportunity to take direct legal action to end the policy that just about everyone wants ended. Doesn't even require any action. Just do nothing. Court ruling stands.

So as I understand matters now from Walter Dellinger, Obama doesn't want to use overtly political tactics to end the policy when he feels that the proper course is to have Congress overturn the law.

As everyone who follows politics at all knows, that isn't going to happen. Democrats right now have the largest majority in the Senate that either party has had since 1981 (see chart) and they couldn't get it done, because Congressional Republicans have engaged in more filibusters than in any other session in US history (as measured by number of cloture votes, see chart). If the Democrats retain control of the Senate at all, it will certainly be a reduced majority. ( right now forecasts it at 51-48 Democrats with one tossup.)

So I can't imagine what Obama is thinking will change, when he says "But this is not a question of whether the policy will end. This policy will end, and it will end on my watch. But I do have an obligation to make sure that I am following some of the rules." As long as he leaves it in the hands of Congress and doesn't exercise any of his other legal options, it will most assuredly not end on his watch.

But where Dellinger's take on this gets especially weird is when he explains that the president must not refuse to appeal the ruling, because he wouldn't want to set a dangerous precedent. Imagine it's three years down the road, Dellinger says, with a Republican president in the White House. The president wants to overturn the national health care plan, but can't, for similar reasons. So instead, he finds a single federal judge to declare it unconstitutional, and then he... simply declines to overturn the ruling. Boom, unilateral power to do anything.

I don't actually know the answer to this conundrum -- does the president actually have this power of overturning things based on non-appeal or doesn't he? If he doesn't, then this is all a moot point, but he's doing a terrible job of explaining why it is legally impossible for him to not appeal.

But if he does have this power, well -- it's nice that he's taking the high road and all, but let's be serious. Do you think this hypothetical president will decline to use it? I mean seriously, let's follow through on Dellinger's scenario.

February 2013

Secretary of the Treasury Christine O'Donnell: "Madame President, a federal judge in Kentucky has just ruled that the national health care program is unconstitutional."

President Sarah Palin: "Hey, great news! Let's shut it down right now."

O'Donnell: "Wait, not so fast. Back in 2010, Barack Obama had a similar opportunity to overturn Don't Ask Don't Tell, and he didn't take it. Maybe we should reconsider."

Palin: (blink. blink. blink.)

O'Donnell: (giggles)

(They both laugh uproariously for two minutes straight)

Palin: (wiping her eyes) "Hoo boy, you had me going for a minute there, you betcha."

As I keep saying, the Democrats' constant refusal to win with the tools available to them does not make them smart or principled. It makes them scrubs in the game of politics.

So will somebody please explain to me what the hell Obama is thinking? Does he actually believe Congress will pull through, or is he just doing a dance to avoid responsibility for not repealing the policy? Are federal judges the arbiters of what is deemed constitutional, or aren't they?

Monday, September 13, 2010

I get other Amway mail

Every once in a while I get mail that is just so awesome, it would be a real shame not to share it. (And this forestalls the need to apologize for not blogging in the last three months.)

Message 1:


u r so foolish man. it seems u r the one who dnt need more money....gr8 u r the gr8st hermit of this century....actually i feel its u who is brainwashing people but actually digging hole for urself by wasting ur life. it seems u hve gud ways to earn millions n billions n a very noble cause to make people know dat they sud not earn so much. My dear Success goes to minority never in a ny place in world history has majority got success right beginning from school to career.

Message 2, four minutes later:

Subject: u r a lier

ur website is also unproffessionally maintained any high profile can judge the falsehoodness engraved in it. actually a child if taught can even make a gud website than u hve done. ur datas are also so malupulated u know it urself. u r just a masked man who is destined to failur in life.
IF u wud hve understood AMWAY u wud hve been a free man n helping thousands worldwide making charities.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I get Amway mail, part 3

Sorry for busting up the previous thread. A new Amway distributor showed up, one "IBO Fight Back," who runs a blog called "The Truth About Amway." He had a long series of posts arguing with my interpretation of Amway distributor performance, and noted that he has been planning on a detailed response to my site for years. As the issues he brings up are interesting, I responded to some of his arguments. It got too long for the comments section, so I'm starting fresh.

IBOFB, I wouldn't be opposed to linking a post of yours if you don't want to restrict yourself to comment format. By the way, I like your profile image of the Dread Pirate Roberts. However, I've spent the last few years building up an immunity to fuzzy math. ;)

We have similar backgrounds [as numbers geeks].

Oh yes? Always glad to meet a fellow nerd. I got my MS in computer engineering from UT in 2007, and did my Masters Report on data mining topic frequency from Google News and comparing it to Digg.

Sorry about the broken link, the one I gave should have worked. The other data on percentage qualifiers is supposed to be for "IBO eyes only" so to speak, so I'll have to sponsor you first ;)

I'll pass on that offer, thanks. Indeed, part of what raises suspicion for me about Amway is the way they keep their information so close to the chest unless you are paying them. People always say that you should evaluate Amway on the same basis that you would evaluate any other business, but that's not really possible. If you are dealing with a major corporation, you can actually check out their financial statements every year, and there are specific legal requirements on the truth value of what they are saying. Sure, there are loopholes by which accountants can paint a rosier picture than reality, but there is at least a baseline where if you lie in your financial statements you can eventually risk landing in jail.

There is no such requirement from Amway, obviously. As you point out later, some statistics can't even be gathered effectively, and what they do release is what they want to release, when they want it. For instance, how would I know that these "IBO eyes only" documents are accurate? Who is overseeing them?

I'm certainly not saying they're false documents, I'm just saying that a lack of open information that can be verified always feels like a warning flag to me. I don't know what you could do about that, however.

I'll drop you an email in the morning, but to be honest I'm hesitant as they too have their problems of interpretation. You might want to check out another post of mine on the problematic use of statistics - Amway IBOs get all their products free plus extra cash.

Okay, IBO, I have now read that page in its entirety, and I have to confess that the first time through, I had a critical failure of my sarcasm detector. I thought you were serious in trying to prove that people who are "buying from themselves" make that much money. Hence I spent unnecessary time trying to explain the flaws in your reasoning before noticing that it was meant to be satire.

So if I take your point correctly, your main concern is that one simply can't construct all of the big picture starting from averages. That is, of course, true to a point, and that's why I wish more detailed information could be made available.

But it seems to me that you're deliberately going way off in the opposite direction, into a kind of numerical solipsism, in which you can dismiss all numerical analysis as "damn lies and statistics." That's where we part company. While raw numbers never tell the whole picture, when you say "The average tells you nothing at all, and anyone who pretends it does is either ignorant or actively trying to mislead you" that is clearly equally naive. There is a middle ground between thinking that a limited data set is a crystal ball and thinking that it is completely useless.

You can't, on the one hand, instruct critics of Amway to analyze it like a real business, and on the other hand dismiss all efforts at quantification as stupid. If it's a real business, then the numbers that are available mean something, as they are the only data that can be applied. The other stuff, the intangibles like motivational hullabaloo and personal growth and so forth, that is all irrelevant to analyzing the business if your core claim is that you simply can't demonstrate whether it is generally a money maker or a money sink. Isn't that what we are talking about in the first place?

Really though, it all comes down to this question of yours - does that data you have actually give a breakdown of time spent as well? This information we pretty much don't have in hard data and it's difficult for Amway to get.

Well said. You've homed in on the key point of contention right there.

Some Amway distributors (a very small number) make money at it. Some Amway distributors (a very very small number) make a hell of a lot. Meanwhile, some Amway distributors (perhaps most) spend very little time on the business. I think these are all facts that we agree on. Based on them, though, you've combined them arbitrarily to make the following claim: "Some people make a hell of a lot of money while putting very little time into the business." This does not follow.

Indeed, after thousands of emails and guest book entries in the last fifteenish years -- and by no means are they all friendly to my position, mind you -- my impression has been that the set of people who are (a) making a lot of money, and (b) spending little time, is so small that they are practically disjoint subsets. Meanwhile, the set of people who are (a) making little or no money, and (b) spending a large amount of time is a fairly large conjunction.

There are very positive and upbeat distributors who write to me, to be sure, but quite a lot of them vanish without a trace at the question "How much are you, personally, making as a function of your time?" The ones who do claim to be making money almost always come across like Chris here, lamely repeating something like "I am so too making more than minimum wage!" and backing up this claim by saying that he knew some people who once made $100 in four hours. (Conveniently cherry picking a small window so as not to acknowledge the numerous hours when those same people were working for next to nothing. It's like hedge fund managers reporting their performance by annualizing the returns of their best week.)

You seem interested in proving me wrong, showing that seriously working the business is a sure path to wealth, but how can we even have common ground to discuss this if you're saying up front that no objective analysis of time vs money exists, or is even possible? Why would anyone consider joining a business in which even basic personal accounting can't be done?

Having said that, MonaVie, an MLM company which expanded primarily through recruiting existing "stars" from other companies, publishes more comprehensive statistics including average hours. MonaVie has the "advantage" of being a much more homogeneous company, with only a handful of products and thus approaches, and the stats have their own weaknesses, but as you can see even at significant income levels the average hours worked is quite low. There's no reason to believe Amway (or other MLMs) are substantially different.

Thanks for this link. Actually, the patterns that look interesting to me are different than what you're suggesting. The average number of hours worked increases as average income size increases. For people at the highest levels, this is clearly a full time job. A cushy full time job, I grant you that, but when you are talking about fractions of fractions of 1%, that's not all that interesting. I don't see any sign of your claim that people who STOP working continue to maintain income at a high percent of their former levels, and if they do, they must be balanced out by people who are working a lot more hours.

Meanwhile, it's clear that a solid 85% of people are making, at best, $35 or less for a typical 6 hours of work, which is substantially below minimum wage, just as I've been saying. Sure, they're not working full time (hence the common characterization by more senior distributors that they are lazy or stupid), but even given the work they are doing, they'd be better off working a single 6 hour shift at McDonald's, wouldn't they? Shouldn't the starry-eyed dream language include that hard fact for comparison's sake?

Finally, presenting the check size alone as the value of the work seems a little misleading. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it appears to me that the bonus check is not pure profit, but income. As with any business, profit is the difference between income and expense, and this table doesn't appear to reflect expenses at all. I sure don't know how much the profit margin is for the typical distributor, but I'm pretty sure the expenses are greater than zero.

Someone in the third bracket (Star 500, making $76 a week for 6 hours of work) appears to be making more than minimum wage. Not a lot more; $12 per hour is minimally skilled office worker territory, but it's something. However, if they spent just over $30 a week doing routine business tasks like driving to meet people or some similar thing, then their returns are back at minimum wage again, bringing you up to the 92nd percentile before business is better than a fry cook shift. And that's not even getting into the question of whether or not they are spending money purchasing stuff that they wouldn't have bought otherwise (more later).

Speaking of profits, when we say that the average distributor "makes" $115 a month (give or take), is that income or profit? I honestly am not sure.

For arguments sake I'd like you to just consider a scenario, and leave aside all other issues.

Imagine you have a range of products that are excellent quality and there is a significant market segment that would consider them good value. Then imagine you tapped that segment and introduced them to your products. They could then order them from your website, pay you, and have them delivered to their door without any further intervention from you, with all logistical type issues outsourced.

Why wouldn't that be a legitimate business model, that, given enough people using the products, couldn't develop a significant "passive" income?

Well, I know you said that I should assume your scenario is correct and leave aside other issues, but first I do want to voice one objection. Where you've described the products as "high quality," it seems that the metric you've applied in a previous post is that the products are popular. I'd argue that this is an invalid way to identify a good product when it comes to an MLM, because popularity is a self-fulfilling prophecy in this case.

What Amway and other MLMs accomplish for most people (i.e., the trivially "active" distributor who tries to sell to his brother occasionally), as we've seen, is not tremendous wealth, but fostering a buying mentality. Consumers will describe them as quality products, certainly, but I suspect that the real reason they are focused on buying things like Nutrilite (a product which is more or less off the radar outside the MLM community) is because they believe they need to buy products valued by Amway in order to boost their business. That's a damn fine argument if you're a manufacturer looking to sell stuff through Amway -- you have plenty of ready made customers who will buy your stuff and call it the most awesome thing ever, regardless of actual quality. For the rest of you, the old zero-sum problem shows up again.

So, that aside, let me answer your question. The reason it's not a realistic business model (IMHO) is that it purports to create money from nothing. I mean, look, we're at least ten years past the point where selling stuff on the internet is impressive. Can we agree on that? People can make their own Amazon store or even set up their own website on a shoestring budget, with a modest fee to a company that handles credit transactions. Delivering the items may take up a bigger chunk of your budget, but that's something offered through a wide variety of channels these days.

Amway (starting in the Quixtar era) provides the same package, online sales and delivery, and then claims that you the distributor will also get a passive profit via that process. Or in some cases, four or five distributors are all claiming a share of the profits. And all I want to know is: why?

Ultimately, what value do you, Mr. Distributor, provide to this product that I couldn't get by ordering my stuff on Amazon? If it's because there is stuff being sold through Amway that you can get nowhere else (i.e., Nutrilite)... why is that? Say I'm Nutrilite, and I've actually got a high quality product to sell. Why shouldn't I just cut out the distributors from the chain and keep more of the profits? The only reason I can see is that Nutrilite will sell more of their product through Amway because of brand loyalty and the proposition that each buyer will get wealthy. Great deal for a Nutrilite manufacturer! Selling more is good! Unimpressive for the bottom line of distributors, where adding more customers also adds more people claiming the bonus pool at the same time.

Finally, I want to address this question from an earlier comment which caught my eye:

From your various links and other posts you're clearly a secular "rationalist" much like myself. Tell me - if a study came out on say, homeopathy, and it was full of incorrect data, false comparisons, and false assumptions, how accurate would you consider it's conclusions?

Here's the thing. A hallmark of pseudoscience is not so much that it uses fake data, but that it is by nature unmeasurable. Following the scientific method requires you to come up with stuff that you can quantify. You say you can mix medicine with water and get super-medicine? And the more water you use, the stronger the super-medicine? Fine. Make me a hypothesis about what super-medicine does, create some viable experiments, and accurately report your findings regardless of whether or not they confirm your hypothesis. That's the way science is done when it's not faked.

Anyone who follows The Amazing Randi knows what pseudoscientists do when placed in the same situation. Either they propose an incredibly vague test that can easily accomodate confirmation bias, or they come up with some ad hoc explanation when the data doesn't support them. Oh, your negative attitude blocked my psychic powers, they'll say. The medicine would work better if a believer took it. Ah, there must be a hidden water pipe that is messing up my true Divination abilities. Like that.

The way I look at it, Amway is in this category. Critics of Amway make do with responding to what little data is available, but the data in support of Amway tends to be weak, unreliable, or behind a pay wall; or perhaps you're hesitant to share it "as they too have their problems of interpretation." Your page which "proves" that you can continue making most of your money after you stop working the business is a case in point. Like you said, you can't possibly gather enough information to objectively make that case, so you extrapolate from what an upline said as well as your personal feelings based on anecdotes of some people you know.

Similar to belief in God or supernatural powers or amazing medical panaceas, the claim that you can easily make millions without creating your own products or adding any genuine value to them is an extraordinary claim that should be backed by extraordinary evidence. Your main objection in most cases seems to be that I should find better evidence to refute.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

I get Amway mail, part 2

As promised, this is a followup to the previous email.

Listen I am not upset so when you read this don't take it in a way to make you upset. Remember you don't know me nor I you and if you knew me I love debating and we are two people with totally different views. You are hard core against Amway and I'm hard core for it. I am not looking for your approval or looking to win you over so it's cool. I'm just testing my knowledge and your ignorance :)

So lets get educated.

Bring it!

[In response to my point that the vast majority of people signing up dump money into it that they never see again.]

The reason behind this is because there are over 3 million IBO's or more by now. With this each has developed their own way to become successful using this business program. Some have developed their own teams and their own training material. With that said, this is why sometime you will find negative people out their because they base this whole business on what other people do and not on Amway itself. Amway never promises you anything the Team does, All Amway promises you is that if you order something they will send it to you, and if you earn a bonus then they will pay you. If you look at anything else out there you will find dumb people in all types of businesses that make a bad name for that business.

Amway must attract an unusually high number of dumb people, then, because the actual measurable success rate is abysmal compared to making a legitimate living.

Take, for example, these numbers that were put out by Britt Worldwide in 1997. (Note: I wish I could get you some more current stats, but Amway is generally pretty stingy with the figures. If you have something more recent to share, let's see it and we'll work with those.)

  • Approximately 41% of distributors were considered "Active" -- which means, they are not just the non-participants joining to get "discounts" on stuff; they are selling. So basically, guys like you.
  • Among the active distributors -- not all distributors, mind you -- only 2% of them reached the direct level which, as far as I can tell, is where you need to be in order to make any profit at all, even a trivial one.
  • Platinum, Emerald, and Diamond distributors combined make up less than 0.2% (one in 500) of active distributors, with Platinums accounting for most of those.
  • So, if you are in the top 0.2 percentile, you finally have a shot at making... significantly less money than I make now, with my worthless graduate degree and my soul-crushing J.O.B. Woohoo!

Amway folks like to tout the figure that 90% of small businesses fail. If that were true -- which it isn't -- then it would still mean that you are about 50 times more likely to run a successful business than you are to earn a decent living through Amway.

Also, the over priced items, have you ever heard you get what you pay for?

Ah, so you admit that they're overpriced. ;)

Well the items you buy from Amway are in the top Ten of most products[*] out their such as Artistry which is in the top 5 makeup brands who sponsored Miss America, or Nutrilite which is the Largest Multi-vitamin company in the world and now is only sold online they have been around longer then Amway as well 75 years plus.

* Note: Rankings obtained from Amway Consumer Reports™, the official product rating magazine of Amway™. Ask for your subscription today!

They have sponsored major Athletics such as Marta Vieira, and Teams such as AC Milan, and many more. They just got a new ARTISTRY Creme LuXury with Sandra Bullock's name all over it.

Wow! I don't use Artistry Creme LuXury™, but if I did, I would know it was a quality product because some celebrity got paid for granting permission to use her name! How could I have been so blind?

[In response to my statement that the financial performance of investing in an Amway business is much worse than college]

College is just as bad if you don't use the knowledge you have learnt and just sat on you rear end with it.

Ah, I see what you did there. You want your Amway participation to compare favorably to education, so you decided that if you compare the laziest people who also got a degree to the most successful people in Amway, then the second group comes out on top. It makes sense that you want to skew the data that way, because otherwise you're stuck recognizing that a college education directly correlates to a substantial measurable increase in income, while the success rate of an Amway distributor is around 0.2%.

The main problem is that there are people who don't believe that there is something better out their then a dumb job.

And then there are the ones who have not-dumb jobs, and also know how badly Amway distributors do.

Amway isn't for everyone and their are few[*] that truly make it BIG and that's because they are not willing to do more then the other guy.

* Extremely few.

Anyone can do this business to some level of success, but it takes a person to become a Leader to really make the income most desire and because of that people quit, or they lack faith in themselves to actually try to do anything Better then what they are doing now.

So you're saying that the vast majority of people who join Amway are not making it because they are huge failures. Unlike you, who's been seriously working it for eight whole months, and your income must be, what? Surely equivalent to minimum wage at least, am I right?.

I on the other hand would rather try to work for something that "could" be true then work for the rest of my life for a pay check that doesn't come close to what I am or anyone is really worth.

Are you worth the $100 a month that a typical distributor makes?

If you think Amway is a scam check out the Government and the Social Security. Look up the structure of Corporate America, Presidents make all the money and it takes forever to get an advancement to a better paying status. You'll have to work equally hard at that as you would this. I'd say that's more then a Pyramid then Amway.

You'd say that, of course, while conveniently glossing over the fact that even the lowest paid person in the company is guaranteed to make at least minimum wage. No employee is dumb enough to actually pay for the privilege of showing up for work every day. And stupid me, I waste my time in this foolish pyramid scam where I make more than an emerald (or at least a 1997 emerald), which means that a whole 0.01% or so of active distributors are totally schooling me.

Amway say you earn what you do and get paid for the volume you create for them.

And you fall for it!

Social Security is not going to be around for my generation and people think that they will work 40 years or more of their life and retire nicely. They are the ones in a pipe dream. Look up and see the numbers in that equation it will shock you on the % of people that actually make it on their Social Security Income. Look at the Average monthly pay out which is $1100 and lets double it to $2200 a month at age 65 that is still hard to live on if you tack on inflation and anything else you might have, such as medical bills and any debt you haven't paid off yet.

I'm not going to sugar coat things. You've made a lot of mistakes already in describing social security, but if you wind up living on nothing but social security because you do not save and invest any of your own money, you're not going to live comfortably. On the other hand, if you are one of the 98% of distributors who spends more money on Amway than you make on the business, then your position will certainly be that much worse.

[In response to my pointing on that I'm not someone who "failed at the business"]

First off I'm not bothered, secondly I skimmed through your story, and now look at what you just now wrote, let me highlight it for you. I can totally say this with utmost confidence, you have no clue about this business, your like a professor in college teaching his students how to run a business when he himself never ran a business. How does that make since, so you telling me you never even started and your telling other people why not to do this without even being involved in the business for yourself? Wow, that a mind blower, I mean does that really make since to you?

You know what's funny? When you first wrote to me, you said I wasn't qualified to have an opinion about Amway because I tried it and "failed." Now that you know I didn't do it, you think I don't know anything about it because of that. In essence, it's a perfect little self-perpetuating delusion you've set up. You believe that the only people who are qualified to tell you anything about Amway are the 0.2% of active distributors who are making a decent income at it. Of course, those are the ones with the most incentive to lie to you. It also means that you aren't qualified to tell me anything you know about Amway, since I'm assuming you're not platinum yourself.

Let me ask you this, though. Suppose, hypothetically, that Amway actually is a scam, not a good business opportunity, and folks at the top are actually not representing the opportunity accurately. Under the set of rules that you've constructed about who you are allowed to listen to, how would you ever find out?

[I'm an atheist]

Well I don't push my beliefs on anyone but I will tell you it doesn't matter what you believe either in God or not, personal beliefs are person beliefs and if someone were using this business in the wrong way then they will get what is rightfully due to them. Carma will find them. If not God will judge us all in the end for what we did with his gift while we are here on this earth. If you were wondering what I was referring to as a Gift it is you he created you if you like it or not, and if you Believe it or not.

While I'm always willing to have this conversation, I'm pretty sure that would take us off on a massive tangent that would make a completely different thread. Feel free to call The Atheist Experience any Sunday if you want that chat. Right now I'm passing.

[I'll be glad if people get driven away from Amway based on what I wrote]

Yet again like I said before you have no Idea what your talking about, and if someone would listen to you when you yourself have never even attempted this business, then they are not bright at all. Why I say this is because the people I work with teach a Win-Win scenario that if I help you succeed then in return I will succeed. Just like the great leadership speaker Zig Zigglar says " You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want." "Servant-leadership is more than a concept, it is a fact. Any great leader, by which I also mean an ethical leader of any group, will see herself or himself as a servant of that group and will act accordingly." ~ M. Scott Peck . That's what we offer people with this business Freedom of a Job and give them options to obtain Time & Money.

Mmmkay. Thanks for the advice, now you be sure and let me know when you start making more than minimum wage.

[I'm not lying about Amway being a bad business.]

I really don't care if you choose to do this or not because it's your choice and God has given us all the Free Will to choose what we want to do in life. Like I said before this isn't to "Get You". There are millions of people out in the world who will do this and who I would want to work with to accomplish their Dreams what ever that may be. I look forward everyday to helping those who want my help and are looking to do more with their life then work a dumb job for the rest of their life. If it was a mistake or not only time will tell, but I would encourage you be more positive in life and help other be more positive because we have enough negative in this world.

I am positive! There are lots of things I write about with enthusiasm. I've got an education and an interesting job, I live in an era filled with cool technology, and I have a family that I love. I only say negative things about Amway because Amway sucks so much. :)

[Thanks for correcting the $500 figure.]

Your Welcome. Thanks for the Motivation to press on, people like you are the reason why I do this Crazy Business as some would say, to prove to all the haters that they are all wrong. But that's my opinion, just someone who has actually done this long enough to see a great return and a awesome impact to other people's lives in a positive way.

God Blessing be with you,


Thanks! And may the Flying Spaghetti Monster touch you with His noodly appendage.


I get Amway mail

Some of you may remember I have a web page about Amway. Yeah, it's easy to forget since it's a topic that is now 14 years old for me, and I don't talk about it that much. I converted my mail posts to a guest book a few years back, and while I read the guest book semi-regularly, I don't spend so much time converting mails over and scrubbing the names, nor do I spend much time answering them except for an occasional brief note.

But I got a private email recently, and although I shouldn't really encourage it, I decided to answer it. I've gotten the writer's permission to post the replies on the blog, so away we go!

[Email begins]

Hello Russell,

My name is Chris [last name withheld]. I am a IBO with Amway, I have been signed up for 2 years and I have been actively pursuing this business for about 8 months outside of my current job at Olan Mills in Chattanooga, TN. I am not writing you this to "get you in" or to involve you in anyway or to offend you either. I know that this is probably a waste of time, but it's important. I wanted to write you to tell you that I do disagree with the meaning behind your story and your figures you wrote. I don't know what Team you were apart of and don't really care because I know the truth about this Business Opportunity. I think you just didn't grasp the meaning behind it all and you didn't fully understand why things were done the way they were."

Lets Evaluate it from a Traditional Business stand point and College:

I would ask you to compare the Amway Business to any other business and the start up cost involved to get a traditional business up and running. Those cost would be translated down to what makes this business opportunity work. Example the weekly classes which is exactly what they are CLASSES to train you on how to do this, and those rooms aren't Free so pitching in would be considered your overhead as it would be in a traditional business. You are currently successful in life because of the training and the many hours of School you took to learn how to become a Programmer. Tally what it cost you to do that and I would bet it wouldn't come close to the expense that it takes to get educated and to be linked up and working with the Team involved with Amway for the total amount of 10 years ( this would include the Classes, Functions/Conferences, Monthly Membership, and Educational Tools). If you worked this business for 10 years and attended every Class, showed this program to 5 people a week, Sponsored 3 IBO's a month, was on Membership for continual education for you, and went to every major function for 10 years your Total would be around 39k. Your income would be over 50k a year for sure, but most likely around a strong 6 figures. Now, this also would be with working hours of max 20hrs a week. With the opportunity to walk away from it forever if you wanted to. There isn't anything out there like it with what Amway has to offer and with the support that the Team gives you, trust me I have checked.

This analogy won't fly -- all the comparisons in the world to college don't get around the fact that Amway is at heart still a pyramid scam. There are actual statistics that you can track down directly correlating education level to earning potential. No such thing is offered by Amway, for the simple reason that once you start dumping money down the hole that is Amway's motivational system and overpriced catalog items, the vast majority will never see that money again.

It's financial performance that I'm interested in when analyzing Amway as a business -- not as a business for the owners of Amway, i.e., the DeVos's, etc., but for you, the guy who got in two years ago and is looking to make a buck. And the financial performance on that investment is abysmal, much worse than college.

The Reason why Amway is around today:

You see Amway as it is now, but not what it used to be, if you were to start one exactly like it you would see how difficult it would be to start one up and run such a large and impressive company. If you have done your research which you might have, this business was created by two friends in a basement. It was created to give every American an opportunity for success. Amway stands for the American Way, you probably didn't know that because your to smart to catch the true heart beat of this business and I don't mean that in a bad way. Most people that are really smart lack common since and read into things way to much which in turn makes things more difficult to comprehend.

Yes, I know what Amway stands for. Calling it something like "American Way" is a slick move, because faux patriotism helps to turn off the critical thinking facilities of people who might otherwise be skeptical of a business that isn't so "all-American."

While I will admit a certain morbid admiration for those two guys who, working in their basement thirty years ago, came up with such a sweet scheme to separate guys like you from your money, I don't see how that translates into any value for you getting involved.

Why you Failed as a Distributor:

The problem is that you tried it, and that your a programmer. Why I say the Programming part is b/c as a Programmer your always looking for the problem. The true problem (and this is something I tell everyone I teach on how to do this) is what you see when your looking in the mirror. You are the X factor in the simple equation of the Amway compensation plan, and not only that but in the Game called Life as well. What you do with it is up to you not other people.

Dude. I thought you said you read the story. I'm not a disgruntled Amway worker who gave up after pouring years of sweat into this so-called "business." I didn't get involved. I considered it, did some reading, and realized it would be a tremendous mistake. You, on the other hand, are sitting here after two years of working the business, trying to justify what you do because you were bothered by something that a stranger wrote on the internet.

As a side note about Amway saturating that is only Myth and definitely not true. Let me explain why, Jesus Christ is a great example. He sponsored 12 Disciples and 1 quit and today the world is still not saturated with Christianity. With that equation we are talking about a FREE gift. One with logic would think that would be easier to offer and more excepted then a business with costs involved and risk right? Of course because if you read the good book called the Bible it will tell you in there about the riches stored in heaven to the one who lived by the principles of what is written in the Bible that are much Greater then any treasure on Earth. I am a believer of God Word and I would say that even if I wasn't that I would still except a Gift that is Free no matter if the reward was real or not because then I would have HOPE for a better life in the end.

You're not winning me over with this analogy. I'm an atheist. Of course, religious appeals serve the same purpose as patriotic pitches. They lower your defenses. If somebody comes at you with a pitch and they present themselves as belonging to the same tribe, it makes you more willing to trust them, and not feeling like you need to waste energy trying to detect red flags. It's the oldest trick in the book for confidence men.

Why I truly wrote you:

Well I rambled on long enough, but I do want to say that what you say, the negative you speak about this company will be read by several of thousands of people and unfortunately the world is driven by negative influences and this could turn people away that could truly have what Amway promises if you work hard and stay consistent.

Good! I certainly hope they get driven away. There are lots of useful things those people could be doing to contribute to the world and their own financial well being if they weren't dumping their money into Amway. If those thousands of people wind up ditching Amway for something that works, then the time I spent writing this article all those years ago was well spent.

You might not care and yes you have a freedom of speech which you can express freely, but the thing is that what you speak is False and not 100% True. It may have not worked with you but it doesn't mean that you lie about it to others just because it wasn't right for you.

Now, friend, that's just getting personal. When you accuse me of lying, you are not only saying that I'm wrong, you're saying that I secretly know that Amway is a good business, but I'm trying to turn people away from it even though I know it's not true. That is clearly not the case. You may think I've made a big mistake, but I am being honest when I tell you that I think that the Amway business has very little to recommend it.

Now, if the numbers you wrote were correct then things have truly changed over the years because it doesn't cost $500 to go to a major conference with our team. I just believe do unto others as you would want them to do unto you, so if I offend you please forgive me for doing so but I had to speak truth to you and the truth hurts sometimes.

I'm checking for a source for those figures, and I have at least found this article. It suggests that a big shindig would cost around $100 for a ticket, up to $500 for travel, and money for hotel rooms. While this potentially brings the whole package up above $500, it doesn't cost that much just for the entrance fee. I will check the wording in that article and correct it if I've given a wrong impression. So, thanks for that.

I hope you read this if not at least I tried,

Thanks for reading,



[Email ends]

I've gotten a follow-up email, which I will reply to in a separate post. After that, I expect to keep the replies on blog comments.

Update: Follow-up message is here. Also, I'd like to mention that the wording in part 2 of my story was misleading and incorrect, so I've changed it to read the following:

"A small event costs you $10, a large event costs you maybe $50, and one of the nation-wide conferences can cost $100 a ticket; factor in travel and lodging, and you could be looking at around $500 or more. Obviously travel is a necessity since not all the meetings will be local, and there's also the kind of errands for each prospect that Ted was running for me: driving a half hour to my house, giving free goodies, and so on."

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Play more video games with your kids

Here's a great interview with Dr. Cheryl Olson on the effects of video games on young kids.

Drs. Cheryl Olson and Lawrence Kutner are cofounders of the Harvard Medical School Center for Mental Health and Media. They've written a book called Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games and What Parents Can Do, based on a study of gaming in individual families. Despite what the title of the book sounds like, it's not the usual stuff about how game addiction is making kids into little sociopaths and we should protect them from it.

My takeaway from the interview is this section:

First, play games with your kids. Find things that you both can enjoy. Young teens who took our survey (and boys in focus group studies) said that they rarely played with a parent, and most would like to. I think more families are playing together now that systems such as the Wii make games more accessible to casual players. If your child is a bit older, ask him to teach you how to play a level of his favorite game. It’s a healthy thing for parent/child relationships for the child to teach the parent something for a change. It’s also a chance for parents to learn more about their child’s interests and strengths.

When you buy games, look for ones that encourage kids to plan and problem-solve (that could be Zoo Tycoon or a Legend of Zelda game). Choose some that allow for collaborative play, with you and/or with friends.

Notice how games affect your child emotionally. A lot of young teens we studied used violent games to cope with angry feelings. That’s probably healthy in moderation, but might be a problem in excess. Some teens use zombie-type games to master fears, playing over and over until they beat the game completely. If a game seems to upset your child, put it away until he’s older. Keep your games with grown-up themes or scary content someplace inaccessible, and only play them when the kids are in bed.

Don’t worry too much about how much time your child spends with games if she has at least one good friend, does well in school, takes out the trash the 3rd time you ask, etc, but be alert to signs of problems. If your child often misses sleep to play games, loses interest in other activities, or is doing poorly in school, the game play may be a problem or, it may be a symptom of another problem, such as depression, that the child is trying to cope with.

As far as I'm concerned, that's all great advice.

(Note: the preceding link is nearly a year old. Since that time, Ben's druid has reached level 45, he's specced as a spellcaster, and his damage is stacking up well against that of many random dungeon teammates.)

Yeah, you can trust me!

My goatee and mustache say that I'm pretty trustworthy, at least if Some Guy On The Internet is to be believed.

And really, would Some Guy lie to you?

However, I'm not quite as trustworthy as my dad, and not nearly as trustworthy as PZ Myers. But then again, who is?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Libertarians and health care

I've been having an email discussion with a libertarian friend of mine about the recent passage of the health care reform bill. While the exchange is already too long to post in its entirety, I did want to put up some excerpts. It started when I received an email blast saying that the bill is an inappropriate use of funds to interfere with the functions of private enterprise.

The first thing I mentioned is that I have a personal interest in the bill's provision that patients cannot be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions, as I have already gone through the experience of being denied coverage due to a mild case of high blood pressure that requires me to take some low dosage pills. Luckily, I got a new job later that covered me, and I can now extend the same plan under COBRA if I switch jobs. But it was a tense few months for me.

Later, I wrote:

Libertarianism has always struck me as a severe case of having only a hammer in your toolbox and perpetually seeking nails. Is the economy doing well? Then it's time to lock in those gains by eliminating regulations. Is the economy doing poorly? There are too many regulations. Is the economy still doing poorly after regulations have been gutted or deliberately unenforced in a particular area? The measures didn't go far enough; the solution is to roll back more of them. When I say that I am results based, what I mean is that you should be willing to actually compare economic conditions during different times or across different countries that have more or less regulation in these areas.

Libertarian "experiments" don't appear to confirm their hypotheses, because countries with varying degrees of regulation don't appear to reflect the claim that an unencumbered economy is a healthy economy. Let me demonstrate with a little on-the-spot research. The United States ranks 38th in a list of countries by life expectancy. Quick spot check. Among the top three countries:

All three of these countries I just looked up have stronger government involvement in health care than the bill that just passed. By contrast, let's take a look at the bottom three.

This is the kind of elementary research that I mean when I say that I would prefer evaluation to be driven by outcomes and evidence. Now, granted, health care isn't the only factor in life expectancy. However, there is a clear correlation that seems to belie the assumption that "more public involvement => worse results." Obviously I haven't done an exhaustive survey of all 195 countries on the list. But I'm willing to bet that a completed graph would retain the overall pattern that countries which spend more public dollars on health tend towards higher life expectancies, and vice versa.

Of course people are healthier when there is more access to healthcare. The question is, who is better at providing the health care. Governments make the claim to cover everybody. But that's all it is, is a claim. We hear a lot about private insurance companies rejecting individual people's claims. But that's nothing to the number of people rejected by government plans. Just look at Massachusetts.

I think I've covered this question pretty well by my back-of-the-envelope survey of other countries. But all right -- I took you up on your request and looked. First thing I found was that Massachusetts has the lowest rate of uninsured residents in the country, at 5.5%. It was 8.7% in 2006, before the bill was enacted, so it has dropped significantly. The highest uninsured rate? That would be Texas, illustrious home of no state tax, clocking in at 26.9%.

I also looked for something to corroborate your implication that more claims are denied in Massachusetts than in most other states, but have so far come up empty handed. If you have evidence that Mass's system has enough negatives to offset the very excellent coverage rate, I'm sure you'll let me know. In the meantime, I'll continue my previous theme and take a look at life expectancy by state.

Huh... what do you know? Liberal Massachusetts with their public health program is fifth highest on the list. Texas, with the highest number of uninsured, comes in at 34.

Now, you might fairly regard this as a little bit of sleight of hand, since Mass only enacted their health plan a few years ago, and the results on life expectancy could hardly be expected to be measured thoroughly by now. However, Mass has always been demonized by economic conservatives as being an example of rampant "socialist" liberalism at its worst. So I'm content to have past results of this horror be reflected by the life expectancy now.

In a followup letter, this exchange occurred:

The best analysis I've seen of [a nation's economic strength] is the Economic Freedom Index. The way I found out about this web site was a few years back when it made headlines (at least in Europe) that the US was no longer in the top 10...

That's interesting, but it is begging the question. The Heritage Foundation is a well known conservative economics think tank. Any standard they use for measuring "Economic Freedom" is bound to involve qualities which are in line with the goals of the Heritage Foundation. Such a concept is inherently subjective, and assumes that the things that you want out of a government (i.e., lack of public funding for health care) are for the best. You can probably see why I'm hesitant to accept this as a neutral measure of how good those countries are.

[I don't] value life expectancy if it interferes with quality of life. I had the privilege of sitting in on a health panel at Renaissance Weekend last year. There were many doctors and hospital administrators from Massachusetts. They were talking about a patient they refer to as the "Six Million Dollar Man" because there is no limit to what they are obligated to pay to keep this particular patient alive. To continue end of life treatment to this extreme will break the budget if everyone recieved such care.

You are, again, begging the question. I chose life expectancy because it is a relatively easy to obtain quantification of the overall health of the nation, one which is objective enough that it can't be easily fudged. If all else is equal, I assume you and I would agree that we'd rather live a longer life than a shorter one. (Or as Dave Barry once eloquently put it: "Son, it is better to be rich and healthy than poor and sick.")

But you've introduced a red herring, in saying "if it interferes with quality of life." Without providing any supporting data to show that quality of life suffers a lot from living in Japan, Hong Kong, or Iceland, this has nothing to do with what I said. If you'd like to pick another neutral measurement of quality of life, make a suggestion. But I'm not taking "The Heritage Foundation likes them" as an answer.

Here's an example of another standard you might pick for "quality of life." There is an organization that takes a snapshot of self-reported happiness by country.

DEFINITION: This statistic is compiled from responses to the survey question: "Taking all things together, would you say you are: very happy, quite happy, not very happy, or not at all happy?". The "Happiness (net)" statistic was obtained via the following formula: the percentage of people who rated themselves as either "quite happy" or "very happy" minus the percentage of people who rated themselves as either "not very happy" or "not at all happy".

In a similar vein to my previous message, I note that the top three countries -- Iceland, Sweden, and Denmark, all have universal health care.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Bob Corker challenges Chris Dodd to single combat

I was struggling to remember what this reminds me of:

March 11 (Bloomberg) -- Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd said he will release his version of legislation to overhaul financial rules, signaling that talks on a compromise with Republican Bob Corker have collapsed.


“I have been fortunate to have a strong partner in Senator Corker and my new proposal will reflect his input and the good work done by many of our colleagues,” Dodd said. “Our talks will continue and it is still our hope to come to agreement on a strong bill all of the Senate can be proud to support.”

...and I finally put my finger on it.

The Democrats have a lead in the House of Representatives of 253 to 178. To put it another way, there are nearly three Democrats for every two Republicans. By historical standards it is a fairly large numerical lead, greater than any advantage Republicans ever had while Clinton and Bush were presidents. And yet to Dems like Dodd, being "bipartisan" means one Democrat negotiating with one Republican.

What it reminds me of: In George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire book series (coming soon as an adaptation on HBO!!) many characters frequently challenge one another to single combat. This actually has a historical basis: sometimes during a war, the outcome would be determined by each side selecting a champion and letting them fight one other to the death. In some cases, the armies would agree to abide by the resolution of the fight, and the side with the losing champion would simply forfeit the battle.

There is a scene I love early in the third book, A Storm of Swords. Jaime Lannister, a prominent sometimes-villain of the series, is being pursued in a boat by agents of the enemy Tully family, who intend to catch him and bring him to justice. With capture imminent by a small squad of Tully warriors, Jaime taunts the captain, asking if he is brave enough to face him in single combat. Unsurprisingly, the captain shouts back words to the effect that he isn't that gullible, and he elects to keep his forty or so soldiers in the fight against three people.

Chris Dodd is that gullible.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Presidential video... cute but not that funny

So this video has been making the rounds on the internet. Am I the only one who doesn't find it particularly funny?

Ron Howard managed to pull together all the living past presidential impersonators from Saturday Night Live into one all-star sketch. That's an accomplishment in itself. And they apparently shot it in fifteen hours. Also impressive, or so I'm told.

I am a fan of old SNL and like every one of the performers -- yes, including Jim Carrey (the only non-SNL guy on set) as Reagan. Each guy goes through the motions of all the quirks they used to give these characters. Dana Carvey says silly disjointed things, Will Ferrell acts clueless, Chevy Chase falls down, etc. But it just seemed like they forgot to add any jokes. Also, the inspirational message didn't inspire me all that much.

As a nostalgia trip, thumbs up. As a comedy routine, not so much. Also, it goes without saying that I miss the late Phil Hartman an awful lot. His portrayals of both Reagan and Clinton could run circles around most of those guys.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Social media resembles magically multiplying broomsticks

For a few weeks I've been a member of Google Buzz. Because of my ever expanding list of automatically updated sites, here's how posting stuff works:

  1. I write a new blog post.
  2. The link gets forwarded to Twitter.
  3. My Twitter feed in turn gets forwarded to Facebook and Buzz.
  4. At that point, I am equally likely to receive comments on Buzz, FB, or in the comments of the post itself.

The additional exposure for said posts is quite nice, because there are people on each site who don't pay attention to some of the other three feeds. However, it is tough to converse about a topic when the discussion is split three ways. Also, the blog posts themselves look a lot lonelier with the shorter comment threads.

Monday, March 01, 2010

A comic genius has died

John Reed Dies at 94

I won't be surprised if most of you never heard of the guy.

Here's a semi-obscure fact about me: I love Gilbert and Sullivan plays. Love em. I can rattle off the plot lines and characters of ten of their major plays, and have at one time or another memorized at least one song from each of these, and in many cases a significant chunk of the score. (But I'm not gay! Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

A large part of the credit goes to my father, who took my sister and me to see HMS Pinafore when I was eleven. The production was so good that he hired the director to handle a family-only production of The Mikado for my bar mitzvah, in which I played the role of Koko, the comic lead.

Dad was also an early adopter of the brand new audio technology known as Compact Discs, in the early 1980's. Some of the first CD audio recordings he bought for his extensive classical music library were soundtracks from the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, and I think every single one of them featured John Reed in a major role.

See, G&S operettas are almost universally comedies, and I love comedy, but the major plot is usually some quasi-serious topic involving a love story with some significant and frequently bizarre obstacles. So there are a lot of famous songs that are essentially love ballads, and I tend to skip past those. The part that I like is where the funny guy shows up, who is either a walking satire of some trope of Victorian England, or makes wry and sarcastic observations about such tropes. This guy's signature song tends to be very rapid paced and difficult to say. Not only does he have to provide spot-on comic timing and delivery, but he has to flawlessly spit out tongue twisters, on pitch and at as fast a tempo as possible. These are called "patter songs."

That was John Reed's gig. If you know any of his material, it will probably be "I am the very model of a modern major general" from The Pirates of Penzance. He also played my role, Koko in The Mikado, and I'm sure that at 13 years old I shamelessly ripped off his performance as much as I was able to. His other roles included a prancing, self-absorbed poet who represented Oscar Wilde, a self-deprecating impoverished nobleman, and a lecherous old judge... among many others.

When I was a teenager I went to a summer camp in Colorado, and each year after the month of camp ended, we always went to the University of Colorado in Boulder where John Reed had taken over the theatrical organization and cranked out a new Gilbert and Sullivan production every year. He was about 70 years old at this point, but he kept on stealing the show when he managed to show up in his traditional parts, or wrung a similarly excellent performance out of whatever younger actor was available to replace him when he couldn't go on. A highlight of these shows was that the funniest songs would get a series of encores, each one more over the top and wackier than the last.

John Reed made to 94, and it seems to me like he had an unusually long, enjoyable, and hilarious career. So as a sign-off for one of my favorite performers of all time, I'll toss off a verse from Jack Point, his character in Yeoman of the Guard, for comedians and Fools of all generations:

I can set a braggart quailing with a quip,
The upstart I can wither with a whim;
He may wear a merry laugh upon his lip,
But his laughter has an echo that is grim!
When they're offered to the world in merry guise,
Unpleasant truths are swallowed with a will -
For he who'd make his fellow creatures wise
Should always gild the philosophic pill!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Starcraft II beta impressions

I am in the Starcraft II beta thanks to a connection who shall remain anonymous unless he chooses to identify himself. Thanks, anonymous awesome guy!

I won't necessarily post many updates on this blog, but feel free to follow my initial impressions and the ensuing discussion on this thread at the Motley Fool. If any new threads start on the same board, you can keep an eye on my participation here.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Other blog activity

Just so you know I'm not slacking off on blogging as much as it may look like, I have a few new items on my ever growing number of different places where I write stuff.

New post Castles of Air: Angle math.

Four (yes really!) posts on politics and video games, at my new Daily Kos diary, which I have decided to refer to as "Politics in Plate Mail." Enjoy!

Also, I just joined Google Buzz with my gmail identity, russell.glasser. If you are on Buzz then feel free to add me. You probably won't learn any more from that than you would from reading my Twitter or Facebook feeds; they all update more or less simultaneously. But if you like to collect social media sources, there's another one for you.

Oh and one more thing... Lynnea and I will probably go watch Roy Zimmerman perform at a UU church on Sunday (Valentine's Day evening), assuming we can get tickets once we show up at the door. So if you like Roy, come on over and sit with us!

Arianna Huffington was very, very wrong

I heard something recently that reminded me of something that happened in the 2008 presidential race. During those last few weeks, Arianna Huffington (of Huffington Post fame/infamy) seemed to be appearing on every lefty radio talk show and news show to offer her opinion that Democrats were making a terrible, terrible mistake by focusing on Sarah Palin. They were taking the bait, so to speak. I don't want to listen to all those interviews, but here's an editorial she wrote:

Every second of this campaign not spent talking about the Republican Party's record, and John McCain's role in that record, is a victory for John McCain.

Her critics like to say that Palin hasn't accomplished anything. I disagree: in the space of ten days she's succeeded in distracting the entire country from the horrific Bush record -- and McCain's complicity in it. My friends, that's accomplishment we can believe in.

Then Huffington would go on to say that Democrats are only making themselves appear petty and perhaps sexist by focusing on the many, many shortcomings of the eleventh hour VP nominee that McCain shoehorned into his train wreck of a campaign.

But she was absolutely wrong. Focusing on Sarah Palin was awesome. Making the campaign all about Sarah Palin and the terrible error of judgment that McCain made in drafting her was much better than running a campaign against the perceived heroism of McCain himself. They exposed an obvious weak spot. And after all this time, it's become all the more clear that Sarah Palin just wasn't qualified for the job.

I hardly even think that's a matter of opinion anymore. After Sarah's hee-larious book tour in which she was caught reading crib notes off of her hand, popular perception of her has plummeted, to the point where a new poll shows that 55% of Republicans do not now think she is qualified to be president.

55%. Of Republicans. And the question wasn't "Is Sarah Palin the best candidate?" or "Would you vote for Sarah Palin over Barack Obama (or some other candidate). It was "do you think Palin is or is not qualified to serve as president?" And most Republicans don't think she is.

Look, there are not always two sides to every story. Sometimes an individual person just obviously is not up for the job. Sarah Palin appealed to a very narrow demographic which only got narrower, as fewer and fewer people were comfortable with aggressively defending this clueless loon as their future president, no matter how much she appealed to their jingoism. It's simply not a reflection on any broad category she belongs to (i.e., women) to point this out.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Olbermann vs. Stewart

I watch The Daily Show on my laptop over breakfast each day, and then I listen to Countdown on my drive to work. So I followed both sides of this exchange in near real time after a short lag.

Jon Stewart was absolutely right to call out Keith Olbermann as crossing a line. As someone who has tried to cultivate his "Edward R. Murrow" persona of serious commentary mixed with a little rabble rousing, Olbermann should have known better. When you are reduced to complaining about swearing in front of kids, or not taking the time to disavow every crazy thing an audience member shouts, you're not pursuing truth, you're just grasping at something to justify your position.

It's Keith's response in the last 30 seconds of the clip, though, that makes him still a class act in my book. When Jon Stewart went after Jim Cramer, Cramer got involved in an embarrassing week long pissing match before ultimately coming on the Daily Show and admitting that he was, in fact, full of it. Olbermann actually listened to the criticism, thought about it, and backed off rather than escalating.

Extra kudos to Stewart for calling out a guy who would ordinarily be an ally, and for being right.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Whites-only basketball. You have GOT to be kidding.

Via Think Progress:

“There’s nothing hatred about what we’re doing,” he said. “I don’t hate anyone of color. But people of white, American-born citizens are in the minority now. Here’s a league for white players to play fundamental basketball, which they like.” [...]

He pointed out recent incidents in the NBA, including Gilbert Arenas’ indefinite suspension after bringing guns into the Washington Wizards locker room, as examples of fans’ dissatisfaction with the way current professional sports are run.

“Would you want to go to the game and worry about a player flipping you off or attacking you in the stands or grabbing their crotch?” he said. “That’s the culture today, and in a free country we should have the right to move ourselves in a better direction.”

This isn't from the Onion, but I'm still suspicious that it's a joke. A joke that took in the Augusta Chronicle, sure, but as I survey the stories around the web they all seem to use that one article as a source. The guy who proposed this, Don "Moose" Lewis, appears to be a real person, a pro wrestler. Either he's really that stupid, or he's staging an event to deliberately foster an "evil" persona, for the ongoing soap-opera-for-men that is wrestling.

Breaking news: Democrats suck at politics

Stuff like this makes me repeatedly bonk my head in annoyance.

Under Massachusetts law, it'll probably take 10 days for the election of Scott Brown to be certified and for Brown to be sworn in as a Senator. Nothing nefarious -- that's just how orderly transfers of power work in a democratic system. Consequently, Paul Kirk will continue to serve as Senator up until the point that Brown is properly sworn in.

Barney Frank, God love him, doesn't think Kirk counts:

"I know some of my Democratic colleagues had been thinking about ways to, in effect, get around the results by working in various parliamentary ways, looking at the rules, trying to get a health care bill passed that would have been the same bill that would have passed if [MA AG] Martha Coakley [D] had won, and I think that's a mistake," Frank said. "I will not support an effort to push through a House-Senate compromise bill despite an election. I'm disappointed in how it came out, but I think electoral results have to be respected."

Jim Webb agrees, except ever so more so:

"In many ways the campaign in Massachusetts became a referendum not only on health care reform but also on the openness and integrity of our government process," Mr. Webb said. “It is vital that we restore the respect of the American people in our system of government and in our leaders. To that end, I believe it would only be fair and prudent that we suspend further votes on health care legislation until Senator-elect Brown is seated."

I watched a Daily Show episode this week in which Jon Stewart said something along these lines: "Oh. So apparently what is going to kill Obama's agenda is having only 59 allies in the Senate, which is more than the number that George Bush ever had, back when he did pretty much whatever the [bleeped] he wanted."

But as dumb as the new normal is, where Senate Republicans filibuster every bill every time regardless of content, what is even more stupid is that even leading Senators find it so easy to cut and run.

If Tom Delay had ever commanded a filibuster-proof Republican majority, which was about to end in two weeks, would he have said, "Aw shucks fellas, I guess we'd better put all legislation on hold in order to be fair to the Democrats"? Fuck, NO. What Tom Delay would have done was rush to cram as much legislation as possible into the next two weeks, in order to take maximum advantage of the existing time window.

Look, Democrats. Do I like it that the Senate is now this cutthroat, where both parties need to use every possible political trick in order to gain the upper hand? No. But it is what it is -- if you don't use every opportunity to get what you want, then you get steamrolled by Republicans, who have no such scruples.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Why so many Warcraft pickup group players are bad

I hate to indulge in another World of Warcraft post, but I don't have a separate gaming blog. Maybe I should start one, but I'm already stretched thin across three blogs, so it's going here. For you non-gamers, feel free to skip this post, unless it captures your interest. It's got some philosophical bits about teamwork and interpersonal relationships, so there's that.

I like patch 3.3, which introduced the ability to join random groups across multiple servers. Running instances is a lot quicker in general, and especially quick if you happen to be a tank, which I am. (Here's Vinpricent, level 80 protection paladin.) Lining up for a PUG (pickup group) takes about 20 minutes or so if you're a damage dealer, five minutes or less if you're a healer, and two seconds if you're a tank. I have at least one of each at various levels, so I've seen this difference frequently. It's because tanking is a more demanding and stressful role that most players do not like, but it's a ton of fun when done competently.

At least half of the PUGs I join have competent and friendly players, run smoothly, and are a pleasure to play. But I encounter bad PUGgers pretty regularly, and I think I've identified a common theme.

Many of these people are highly skilled as individual players, but they have a play style which does not tolerate any less than perfection from anyone else in the group. Everyone is assumed to be a flawless player, and if they fall short of this ideal, it is always the team's fault and not theirs.

Anecdote 1: The super damage dealer

I am training up a friend who is new to the game. He started a paladin of his own, so I encouraged him to try tanking. I was playing a low level mage with him.

We grouped with a low level hunter who was loaded to the hilt with heirlooms. I'm a pretty capable DPS ordinarily, but this guy is outpacing me by about 3-1 according to Recount. This is a big problem for an inexperienced tank, who cannot hope to keep with that much threat. Monsters are attacking him constantly. To add to the annoyance, this is another one of those guys who will race ahead and attack more groups first, if the tank is not moving fast enough for his needs.

I say "Look, dude, you have great DPS, but our tank is inexperienced and you need to let him establish threat a little more." He responds by saying that he ALWAYS beats everyone in DPS, and it's never a problem. He also does not want to turn off Growl on his pet, since he knows his pet will need to keep monsters off of HIM.

This is actually the most frequent kind of bad player I see. Some DPS players believe that maximizing damage is their only job, and they don't notice or don't care when their personal style is hurting the team.

Anecdote 2: The bully healer

Mistakes happen. People die. Sometimes it's easy to identify who's at fault. Sometimes it's not.

I'm tanking Prince Keleseth, a boss who freezes random players in ice tombs, making them take damage and preventing actions. Ordinarily the DPS should attack the tomb and break it. Unfortunately, the healer gets entombed, and nobody helps him. We have solid DPS and I can survive well, so we survive, but the healer dies moments before the encounter ends. There is no wipe.

He starts cursing and yelling that it's MY fault (bear in mind that he was nowhere near me when he got entombed). He demands the shard I won as "payment" for letting him die. I give it to him, not wanting to jeopardize the run over his tantrum. As the encounter goes on, he starts barking instructions and acting frustrated when they are not followed, even though we move through at a fairly rapid clip with no other deaths.

Finally, another player and I shut him up. I say "Listen, chill out or quit the group. I'm a tank, I can have another group in 3 seconds. You died once, it is not worth the emotional response you're giving." He says that when he's done he'll go back and play with his top tier guild, whose members are much better than me. Finally I say "Yeah, but you'll still be a big whiner." As we approach the final boss I tell our shadow priest out loud: "Please be ready to off-heal in case he rage-quits in the middle." He doesn't quit.

Anecdote 3: The lunatic

Another healer here, the instant the instance is entered he starts saying "Start chain pulling, this is too easy for me." Gamely I start establishing aggro on a group at a time, moving ahead before a group is fully beaten. He keeps saying "Full mana! I'm bored! PULL FASTER!"

So I pull faster. When there are too many mobs on us already, the group gets feared, pulling even more. I can't get enough aggro, the healer is too far away to be useful. Wipe. I feel stupid for listening to him.

The thing is, even if you have skills which work effectively with perfect groups -- high DPS, big mana pool for healing, the ability to chain-pull as a tank without regard for how well your healer is keeping up -- stuff happens. Patrols hit you, healers go OOM, the tank can't pull the mobs back from your overpowered leather-armor-wearing jerk butt. And when unexpected things happen, if you were playing to the point where you were just barely not dying, that will quickly change from "only mostly dead" to "all dead" pretty quick.

That's why I'm a conservative player no matter what role I'm in. I don't pull more than we can handle; I let my healer mana stay near the full end and don't complain; I watch Omen and switch targets or STOP dealing damage if we have a weak tank.

I just can't believe that so many players have a hard time comprehending the fact that if you have a play style which increases the likelihood of a wipe, you will progress MORE slowly than a group that is cautious and survives.

Festina Lente -- the more haste, the less speed.