Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Why I deserve part of the Power Ball jackpot

What follows is my most recent Orlando Sentinel Op-Ed - enjoy!
 
Once every 3-4 years, usually while standing in a local 7-11 store, I hear a voice that says, “Hey man, buy a lottery ticket.”  Like an idiot, I listen to the voice and metaphorically flush a dollar or two down the toilet.    When I do what the voice says I always pick my own numbers (more on that later) rather than let some computer program steer me wrong.  Of course I know that my numbers give me the same odds of winning the lottery as being struck by lightning while fighting off a great white shark sporting an “I love Donald Trump” tattoo, but so what?

This week, that darn voice was at it again.  I was in line to buy Gatorade wearing my lawn-mowing clothes.  These clothes – some hole-ridden jeans from the last century and a paint-stained “Bigfoot for President” shirt, allowed me to blend in with the Power Ball line without tipping people off that I am a professional economist with countless hours of probability theory work under my belt.

I did not want anyone to walk in and say, “Hey, Professor Chambless, what are you doing in this line?” so instead of picking my numbers I mumbled “quick pick, please” and got out of there.

On the morning of January 14th I was scanning this newspaper when there in front of me was a headline, “Economics Professor loses Power Ball jackpot for stupidly refusing to pick his own numbers.”

The winning numbers were 4 (my favorite baseball player of all-time and the guy my first son was named after); 8 (my high-school baseball number); 27 (my high school football number); 19 (my oldest son’s high school football number) 34 and 10 (my youngest son’s baseball number.)  What about 34?  Oh, nothing big there except this.

This season I am coaching a local high school baseball team.  One of the kids coming out for the team is a kid who reminds me of me back when I was a kid.  I have been discussing this guy all week with my sons.  That kid’s requested number?  You guessed it…..34!   This means all week somewhere, somebody was sending me cosmic hints.    All I had to do was stick with the numbers that made sense to me and then throw in the number sent from the heavens and I would be smoking a cigar right now trying to figure out how large of a cabin to build in Northern Minnesota.    I was even planning to give most of the money away!  Millions to my church.  Hundreds of thousands to friends and family and dozens to people I do not like much.

Since I was supposed to share in this incredible jackpot and was victimized by social pressure that economists should not buy lottery tickets, I am demanding the following.

I want to submit my case to the government and have it examined by the greatest lie-detecting machinery known to mankind.  When I pass this test, I want to government to set aside a portion of the tax revenue it will collect from the Power Ball and start a new welfare program for all truth-telling lottery losers.  I would be the first recipient of tax dollars from this fund.

After all, just because I made a poor choice and refused to put in the effort to work on my numbers does not mean I am not entitled.  I think in this case I can show that I am as deserving as other folks who ostensibly make the same claim on our tax dollars every day.

In the meantime, I think I will take my case directly to the three people who won and see if they would be willing to help out an economist who buys stupid lottery tickets while wearing Bigfoot shirts.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A message for crybaby college students

This is Not a Day Care. It’s a University!

Dr. Everett Piper, President
Oklahoma Wesleyan University
 
This past week, I actually had a student come forward after a university chapel service and complain because he felt “victimized” by a sermon on the topic of 1 Corinthians 13. It appears that this young scholar felt offended because a homily on love made him feel bad for not showing love. In his mind, the speaker was wrong for making him, and his peers, feel uncomfortable.
 
I’m not making this up. Our culture has actually taught our kids to be this self-absorbed and narcissistic. Any time their feelings are hurt, they are the victims. Anyone who dares challenge them and, thus, makes them “feel bad” about themselves, is a “hater,” a “bigot,” an “oppressor,” and a “victimizer.”
 
I have a message for this young man and all others who care to listen. That feeling of discomfort you have after listening to a sermon is called a conscience. An altar call is supposed to make you feel bad. It is supposed to make you feel guilty. The goal of many a good sermon is to get you to confess your sins—not coddle you in your selfishness. The primary objective of the Church and the Christian faith is your confession, not your self-actualization.
 
So here’s my advice:
 
If you want the chaplain to tell you you’re a victim rather than tell you that you need virtue, this may not be the university you’re looking for. If you want to complain about a sermon that makes you feel less than loving for not showing love, this might be the wrong place.
 
If you’re more interested in playing the “hater” card than you are in confessing your own hate; if you want to arrogantly lecture, rather than humbly learn; if you don’t want to feel guilt in your soul when you are guilty of sin; if you want to be enabled rather than confronted, there are many universities across the land (in Missouri and elsewhere) that will give you exactly what you want, but Oklahoma Wesleyan isn’t one of them.
 
At OKWU, we teach you to be selfless rather than self-centered. We are more interested in you practicing personal forgiveness than political revenge. We want you to model interpersonal reconciliation rather than foment personal conflict. We believe the content of your character is more important than the color of your skin. We don’t believe that you have been victimized every time you feel guilty and we don’t issue “trigger warnings” before altar calls.
 
Oklahoma Wesleyan is not a “safe place”, but rather, a place to learn: to learn that life isn’t about you, but about others; that the bad feeling you have while listening to a sermon is called guilt; that the way to address it is to repent of everything that’s wrong with you rather than blame others for everything that’s wrong with them. This is a place where you will quickly learn that you need to grow up.
 
This is not a day care. This is a university!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A Libertarian perspective on Syrian refugees

This won't take long....

As a Libertarian I believe that all human beings have a God-given right to life, liberty and their pursuit of happiness.  These rights do not come from government.  We are born with them. 

If a person in one place decides that their odds of having a life, liberty and greater happiness would exist in some other place, they should be allowed to leave the place where they are and move to the place they want to be.

When they arrive in the new place they should be guaranteed nothing but their three inherent rights.  No welfare, no special treatment, nothing.  The new arrival to the new place should be expected to look around and see opportunities where they exist and then pursue those opportunities. 

If charities, churches, mosques and synagogues want to chip in and help with the transition, so be it.  That is also part of Libertarian ideology, that we have the right to voluntarily part with our private property to aid other human beings.

Once the person is in their new home they need to understand that if they violate the right to life, liberty and property of others, the rule of law will deal with them.  As long as they stay out of trouble and simply pursue their interests - peacefully - the government should not bother them.

Apparently, one of the Paris attackers had come in to France under the guise that he was a Syrian refugee seeking protection from ISIS.  One. 

Now we are seeing an increasing number of American states blocking Syrian refugees.

This shows that our governments do not understand probability theory.

Look at the cities within the states blocking refugees.  There will be more people murdered in Houston, Orlando and Birmingham by American thugs than we will see murders carried out by fake Syrian refugees.

Yet, in our panic we are now doing what is mean, stupid and counterproductive.

The more people we turn away who just want a chance to have a better life, the more we create the impression that America is not what it was supposed to be - a place where the tired, hungry masses can pursue the American Dream.

Being  human beings and being an Americans should mean more than what we are doing now.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Can Democrats enjoy falling gas prices?

What follows is my November 8, 2015 column in The Orlando Sentinel.  Enjoy and pass it on to your favorite liberal!
 
Now that Thanksgiving is near, millions of Americans are making plans to get in a car and drive somewhere to enjoy turkey, football and loose clothing with friends and relatives. According to AAA, in 2014, 41.3 million people drove over 50 miles to enjoy this national holiday. In recent years, this annual road trip has not come cheap. Last year, the average national price of a gallon of gasoline was $2.81. The year before gas was $3.29. In 2012, it was over $3.40 per gallon. This year, barring some unforeseen calamity, it looks like American drivers are going to be able to fill their tanks for around $2, or less, per gallon.
 
This is welcome news for those of us that have budgets and would like to save money wherever we can. After all, for an SUV with a 20-gallon tank we are talking about savings of almost $28 per tank compared to three years ago. That is enough money to buy a really nice turkey or enough cans of cranberry sauce to keep your family in leftovers until Christmas.
Yet, I wonder if everyone is happy about this turn of events.
 
Clearly, the oil companies, OPEC and everyone working in the oil-rich regions of North Dakota and Texas are not happy. Profits are down, job losses are up and low oil prices threaten to destabilize parts of the country that have grown dependent on the oil boom economy.
But there is another group that might be — or should be — irked about the downward pressure on prices. That group is comprised of every non-hypocritical registered Democrat in the United States.
Consider the facts. Republicans do not really care much about climate change and often argue that the global-warming alarmists are relying on faulty, or worse, contrived "evidence" to push our country toward higher carbon taxes, the elimination of coal-fired power plants and into an economy that relies on windmills to keep our lights on.
 
Libertarian-types argue that if global warming is being caused more by human beings than natural cycles on the planet, then all we have to do is wait for profit-seekers to produce the energy-efficient appliances, long-lasting light bulbs and electric-powered cars that people might want to buy in order to save the planet. The last time I checked, the profit-motive is beautifully playing on our possibly irrational fears and we are seeing record production of all sorts of new "green" products.
 
Democrats, on the other hand, keep telling us that 100 percent of climate change is caused by human beings who selfishly choose to drive cars rather than take crowded, slow buses and enjoy air conditioning during the summer rather than sweat into buckets that we can use to water our … oh, that's right, we are not supposed to have lawns, either.
 
Democrats keep warning us that if we do not cut our CO2 emissions this very second, we are going to see Orlando homes called beachfront property while oranges will be harvested in Minnesota during month of January.
 
Therefore, if Democrats are honest, they will admit that falling gas prices is a horrific development because, by the law of demand, as gas prices fall, more gas will be burned, more CO2 will be released and Alaska will be one step closer to cactus farming.
 
Thus, the only honest solution for democrats this Thanksgiving is for them to stay off the roads and hope that somehow the oil companies and OPEC can find a way to drive prices back to $4 per gallon.
Anything less would be disingenuous.
 
Happy Thanksgiving and pass the garlic mashed potatoes financed by low gas prices.

Copyright © 2015, Orlando Sentinel

Monday, October 5, 2015

Oregon college shooting should surprise no one

What follows is my October 4, 2015 column in The Orlando Sentinel
 
On the very same day as the horrific shooting at a community college in Oregon, one of my lectures was loudly interrupted by a man yelling in the hallway of the building I teach in. My students were visibly jolted by this unexpected outburst, and in the seconds that passed, it became clear that if I simply ignored the noise, not much in the way of learning was going to take place. So, I walked to the door, opened it, entered the hallway and looked around.
 
From my vantage point, I could see dozens of students on the bottom floor talking, reading and having coffee. With nothing dangerous going on, I went back to work.
But what if something like the Oregon shooting had been going on? What then? Firearms are not allowed on the campuses of Valencia College. All we have in our classrooms to protect our students are color-coded cards telling us what to do in an emergency. The red card tells professors to hold the card up to indicate that assistance is needed.
 
Valencia students should feel relieved that if a gunman ever goes on a rampage during one of our lectures, I will be able to alert unarmed security guards by holding up a red card in the window of my classroom.
Second, school shootings are going to happen no matter what gun laws are on the books. When someone is mentally ill, or is sane but has criminal intent, guns will be found on the black market, and those guns will be used to kill people. The mass shooting years ago in Norway — a nation with tough gun laws — illustrates this reality. I would imagine carrying bombs around in many Middle Eastern nations is illegal, too, but even more people are killed over there.
 
President Obama pointed out — accurately — that in other developed nations these shootings do not happen as often as in the United States. Cultural anthropologists have offered insight as to why: When you have a nation of 315 million people with a vast array of cultures, socioeconomic and religious backgrounds, and value systems you are going to be more likely to see deviant, abnormal behavior than in smaller nations that are more homogeneous. The more similar people are in their sets of values and the more connected they feel to their fellow citizens, the less likely it is that you will see violence on a large scale.
 
Third, and perhaps most important, is the fact that criminals — even mentally unbalanced ones — are capable of engaging in rational thought. That is to say that before an act of violence is committed, human beings are able to recognize the likely benefits and costs of their actions.
 
For the Oregon shooter, killing as many people as possible was clearly his goal. In order to accomplish this heinous act, he had to conduct it in a place where the cost was as low as possible. The cost in this case would be measured by the probability of being slowed down, stopped, injured or killed.
 
Unfortunately, in our zeal to protect young people from guns, we have created the perfect environment for criminally insane individuals to murder people in large numbers.
 
I can only imagine what would have happened on the day I heard the man screaming in the hallway if he had been brandishing a gun. Thirty-two students would have been behind locked doors (with glass windows in each one) totally vulnerable to whatever caliber of weapon he chose to use.
 
As a gun owner, what if I were allowed, with a concealed-weapons permit, to be armed in my classroom? What if the professor in Oregon had been allowed to do the same?
 
Today we might be reading about a gunman who was stopped or killed by a law-abiding college professor. His victims might still be alive — and my students would be safer.
 
It is time for our state Legislature to recognize that until law-abiding citizens are allowed to confront criminals with the same threat of force, our schools will continue to be the ideal grounds for ending the lives of young people.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

It is time to pay college football players

What follow is my August 16, 2016 column in The Orlando Sentinel.  Enjoy!
 
 
Like millions of my fellow Americans, I love August. August means that seven months of sports purgatory (see golf, NASCAR and the never-ending baseball season) ends with the blowing of a whistle and the kicking of a football. Once this opening kickoff takes place, life in America returns to normal, and we can all sit back, relax and watch exploited young men crash into each other while institutions of higher learning rake in billions off their injured backs, heads and knees.
In other words, as a fan of college football in general (and the University of Oklahoma in particular), I annually participate in, and tacitly support a cartel that would put OPEC to shame. That organization is the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
 
According to the Department of Education, in 2013 alone, college football generated $3.4 billion in revenue. Out of that figure, top coaches like Nick Saban of Alabama and Urban Meyer of Ohio State earn millions of dollars per year in salaries and endorsements. Those same coaches, along with athletic directors, band directors, team doctors, field-maintenance supervisors and others, all were paid by universities to work at their craft and were free to leave for another school that might offer $1 per year more.
Not the players. College football players not only receive no salary, but are restricted by NCAA guidelines in where they can move if they want to change schools but continue to play football.
As a former college athlete and professional sports agent, I have seen firsthand what a farce it is when people say, "But they are getting a free education!"
First of all, nothing is free. These players work dozens of hours per week at their sport under much tougher conditions than most of the rest of us. Second, spending this time on football creates a huge opportunity cost in the form of time lost studying or the ability to pick a challenging major that would reward them in the labor market if football does not pan out. Moreover, this "free" education comes at the cost of injury risk that can shave years off a young man's productive life.
 
Let's face it. Football players like the former Gators quarterback Tim Tebow are essentially employees of their university. They work at football and create millions in ticket sales, jersey sales, video-game productions and television rights.
 
It is time to end the indentured servitude these young men face because of the NCAA monopoly.
Every high-school player in America, if approached by a college recruiter, should be able to say, "Well, I might be willing to attend your university, but this school over here is offering me $146,000 per year to play. What is your offer?"
 
Critics will argue that a market-based approach would create chaos. I would ask those critics how chaotic it would be if they had 10 offers from 10 different companies at 10 different pay grades. As long as someone can do math and has a map, there would be no chaos, just an orderly meeting of the forces of supply and demand.
 
Colleges should be forced to treat football players like they treat other potential employees. They should have to pay the market-going value and enter into contracts. Players should have the option of attending or not attending classes. Players should have the option of signing contracts of any length — one year to 10, if they choose, and switch to other schools once their contract expires — just like their coaches do.
 
Under this model, Tebow might still be the quarterback at Florida. After all, he was great there, but not so great at the NFL level. I am sure Gator fans would love to have him back.
 
In the meantime, as the new season begins, all of us college football fans should stop for a moment to reflect on what our lives would be like if we faced the same labor-market conditions as college football players.
 
If we are honest, we know that they have none of the liberties we enjoy. As a result, the only conclusion we can honestly reach is that the NCAA has successfully exploited young Americans by denying them the opportunities the rest of us have.
 
It is also worth noting that the vast majority of college football players at the top schools happen to be African-American. Many are from impoverished homes. The NCAA would do them and their cohorts a tremendous service by allowing market-based compensation to improve their lives.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

God has spoken to me through a movie scene

For quite some time now I have told people that as much as I think I know when I want to retire from teaching and writing God might have other ideas on how long he wants me to do this stuff.  Not that I have wanted to, but I have given in to the idea that when my time has come he will let me know (I am speaking of retirement, not death - although that is in his hands too.)

Well, today I heard him.  He came in through the following clip from the movie, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"  Watch this six-second clip then I will get back to you.


O.K., now that that is taken care of let me fill you in on what it means.

I am grading final exams from my four summer classes today.  I gave each of them a rare treat in my 24 years as a professor - a take home final exam. 

They got the exam in late June and it was due August 4th.  40 days to read only four chapters, watch some lectures online and answer five questions.  Every bit of each question could be answered by reading only four chapters and watching a few lectures.

In 40 days I could have translated the Bible into some ancient Navajo dialect.

In 40 days I could have learned how to speak Spanish, or walk to Tennessee or painted a good part of the Great Wall of China.

40 days later, most of my students turned in failing exams.  I mean grades that are so bad that it looks like they had 40 minutes to prepare for a test in particle physics while smoking weed.

Somewhere in my profane thoughts and loud declarations to my wife that there is no hope, no point and no reason for having hope, I heard Him.

Like James Earl Jones in the movie "Field of Dreams", I heard, "The man has done enough.  Leave him alone."

So that is it.  Six years to go.  In six years I will have done this stuff for 30 years.  Then Valencia will send me some retirement income and I can head to somewhere far away where there will be no grading, no writing, no blogging, no nothing but fishing for walleye, watching sunsets and not giving one rat's rear end what happens to this nation filled with (see video clip above).

I just hope during that six year stretch my students don't kill me off with their incomprehensible musings on things that have nothing to do with what I have asked them.