Sunday, September 30, 2007

Funk Fund -- Week 3

Looks like it's time to things with the booky to the next level. Here are this week's bets, per week one's guidelines:

-- $20 6-point teaser on Houston (-2.5), Green Bay (-1) & Dallas (-13) (payout: $52)
-- $10 straight bets on Houston, Green Bay & Dallas (payout: $19 each)
-- $5 3-game parlay on Houston, Green Bay & Dallas (payout: $36)

This week's total possible payout: $145

Current account balance: $-25

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Lengths Pols Will Go To Take Your Money

Someone please explain to me what America is coming to.

People being imprisoned for a minimum of one year for possession of cigarettes? Cars being impounded for possession of just three cartons? In Tennessee?? I mean, here in New York, sure -- but Tennessee??

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A Bollinger Critic

Scanning today's newspapers, Columbia University President Lee Bollinger seems to be getting near universal praise for his surprisingly harsh introduction of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The New York Sun said Bollinger did "pretty darned well"; The Daily News, which has led the charge against the appearance, said "Bollinger did a creditable job."

But not everyone appreciated Bollinger's toughness: Columbia undergrad John Host took to the Huffington Post to express his wish that Bollinger had "done better."
I found his petty insults (at one point he charged "I doubt you have the intellectual courage to answer these questions") to be unnecessarily aggressive and uncivil. He promised a "robust discourse" and delivered a bait-and-switch public admonition, to which Ahmadinejad rightfully took offense, as a guest of the University.
Now, there is a case to be made that Columbia breached standards of decorum by inviting a guest to its campus only for its chief to bash him. But it's odd Mr. Host took exception to the line, "I doubt you will have the intellectual courage to answer these questions." First, it's more a prediction than a slur. Second, Bollinger said far more caustic things ("you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator"). But mostly because it was obvious this is precisely what Ahmadinejad would do, and Bollinger, having some experience in intellectual skirmishes, knew it would be more effective acknowledging this up front, rather than pretending to be aghast afterward that his questions went unaddressed.

Meanwhile, harsh introductions aside, Ahmadinehad has already succeeded using his Columbia speech for purposes of propaganda. If Iranians believe the things they read in state-sponsored media, the Columbia appearance garnered him unearned legitimacy.

UPDATE: For those still unsure what to think about Columbia's invitation, I highly suggest Roger Kimball's blog post at Armavirumque:
Universities are institutions dedicated to the pursuit and transmission of learning and the furtherance of civilization. They are not circuses for the exhibition of politically repugnant grandstanding. Free inquiry is not a license for moral irresponsibility. At a university, as at every other human institution, freedom can thrive only when it is limited by allegiance to certain positive values--the value of historical truth, for example, or the moral truth that human dignity is worth preserving.

Monday, September 24, 2007

FunkyPundit, Newshound

Just took Pew's "News IQ" quiz and scored 12 of 12 -- though the questions seemed unfairly easy.

Put your own current-events knowledge to the test, here.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Funk Fund -- Week 2

First, a correction: Last week I immediately subtracted the bet amounts from the Fund, leaving it at $55 before the games began. I have since realized I forgot to include the price of the straight bets in the value of the possible payout (meaning, a $10 straight bet pays $20, not $10, as you're essentially doubling your money on 2-1 odds.) That means the current balance is actually $65.

This week's bets, per last week's guidelines:

-- $20 6-point teaser on Carolina (-4), Indy (-6.5) & Denver (-3.5) (payout: $52)

-- $10 straight bets on Carolina, Indy & Denver (payout: $19 each)

-- $5 3-game parlay on Carolina, Indy & Denver (payout: $36)

This week's total possible payout: $145

Current account balance: $10

Once again, only one bet hit, leaving the current balance at $30.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

What Ebbets Field Wasn't

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn highlights a New York Magazine piece contrasting the differences between Brooklyn's fabled Ebbets Field with the Nets Arena proposed for the Atlantic Yards:
But as a metaphor, it’s the exact opposite of Ebbets. Ebbets was a tiny, neighborhood-uniting orthodox baseball temple that was built, in less than a year, on an old dump crisscrossed by goat paths. Atlantic Yards is a huge, neighborhood-raping megadevelopment, pinned between two of its developer’s own malls, that violates every design principle of the borough’s small-scale, organic history. Construction is scheduled to take ten years. It is pure real estate, with sports as a footnote. The Nets haven’t grown, like the Dodgers did, directly out of the Brooklyn soil—they’ll be transplants, a squad of mercenaries paid to sell the neighborhood’s new regime. It’s hard to envision the natives finally bonding with the gentrifying hordes over $50 seats at a Nets game. (Bruce Ratner has skillfully scrambled the racial politics of the project, enlisting—some say buying—widespread black support and casting opponents as selfish gentrifiers.) Atlantic Yards is Dodgers nostalgia run amok: New Brooklyn getting rich on the dying myth of Old Brooklyn—a supposed tribute to the borough that may well end up defacing the Brooklyn it’s pretending to honor. The Nets are less a karmic reversal of the Dodgers tragedy than its logical conclusion. O’Malley ruined the borough by leaving; Ratner will ruin it by moving in.
I'm occasionally asked how a pro-growth, pro-development, free-market conservative such as myself opposes a project like the Atlantic Yards. This piece gets to the nut it: If preserving a neighborhood's character is a priority (and for me, it is), growth cannot be imposed from the outside; it needs to come from within, to be organic, and its sponsor can't cheat, using the heavy-hand of government to steal private property to make way.

'Columbia's Astroturf'

In today's Post, I take a look at how Columbia is managing its campaign to cultivate grassroots support for its planned expansion into West Harlem:
COLUMBIA University is making great efforts to pre vent community objections from derailing its plan for a massive expansion in West Harlem. But its methods seem to rely more on big-money power politics than on listening to the folks who live and work where the school wants to build.

At a meeting held last month by West Harlem's Community Board 9, for example, a good chunk of the school's "local supporters" looked to be patients from an East Harlem drug-rehab clinic.

Several people were outside handing out pamphlets castigating area business owner Nick Sprayregen, the expansion's most vocal critic. Visnja Vujica -- a recent Barnard grad and member of the anti-expansion Student Coalition on Expansion & Gentrification -- says she discovered that the pamphleteers were patients from East Harlem's Addicts Rehabilitation Center (ARC).

"I talked to one man, J.R., I think, who was wearing one of the 'Future of Manhattanville' stickers. He said he was paid; wouldn't tell how much, but said something like, When you're given pretty much a blank check, you don't ask questions," she said.

Read the rest here.

Accompanying is another piece look into Columbia's dealings with AKRF, an environmental consulting firm with a rich, storied history with the city:
TO realize its planned expansion in Man hattanville, Columbia University will need the power of eminent domain -- that is, the ability to force property owners to sell at a "fair" price, below what they'd otherwise hold out for. The prospect of such takings has probably caused more resentment than any other part of the school's plan.

Technically, the power would be exercised by the state-run Empire State Development Corp. (ESDC) -- which must first reach a formal finding that the area is "blighted."

But the ESDC has subcontracted the study that will make that determination to the consulting firm of AKRF -- which Columbia itself has already hired to help sell its overall plan to city officials.

Here's the piece.

Tonight, Manhattan borough President Scott Stringer will hold a hearing on the expansion. More fireworks no doubt to come.

October 12th

The end of Israel?

When Democratic Delusions Collide

"According to a Heritage Foundation estimate, some 70,000 families that would become eligible under SCHIP [a federal government-run health insurance program intended for poverty-stricken children] would at the same time also be paying the Alternative Minimum Tax aimed at 'the rich.'" -- Brendan Miniter, in today's Political Diary, describing one of 11 spending bill Congress is preparing to send to the president. He has threatened to veto 10.

Also good is today's Quote of the Day:
"The average net worth in 2006 of Forbes 400 members without a college degree was $5.96 billion; those with a degree averaged $3.14 billion. Four of the five richest Americans -- Bill Gates, casino owner Sheldon Adelson, Oracle's Larry Ellison, and Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen -- are college dropouts" -- from the new book "All the Money in the World: How the Forbes 400 Make -- And Spend -- Their Fortunes," by Peter W. Bernstein and Annalyn Swan.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Curing Your Case of the Muuundays

One disturbing/hilarious website at a time.

Hot Chicks With Douche Bags -- The site description is pretty apt: "Pictures of hot chicks with total and complete douche bags. With commentary."

Marry Our Daughter -- Like, except instead of books, buyers purchase teenage brides with only limited self-esteem issues. The testimonials lead me to believe it's fake.

Something tells me the Internets actually have lots more to offer. Know of anything?

Please kindly deposit links in the comments section. Your generosity is appreciated.

Quote of the Day

"Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself."

-- Mark Twain

'Funk Football Fund' - Update

Terrible kick off for the Funk Fund, losing all but one bet yesterday. With two big upsets -- the Bengals' loss to their home-state rivals in Cleveland as well as the Saints falling to Tampa Bay -- things were off to a bad start from the get-go.

The account now stands at $55.

Friday, September 14, 2007

'Funk's Football Fund'

This is the beginning of a new feature here on FunkyPundit. It's an experiment in progress. Should all go well, it will lead to fame and fortune. If not, it will be quietly abandoned.

Here's the back story. Three NFL seasons ago, I discovered the glory that is online gambling. Going halvsies with my bro-piece, $50 was deposited into a now-defunct online gambling account. Our goal was to bet weekly, but also smartly and conservatively, so that our fund lasted all the way to the Super Bowl. We succeeded, ending up losing around a hundred bucks on the last game.

The next season we did the same, but this time setting a rather more ambitious goal: lasting all the way to the Super Bowl without re-upping, and this time making $1,000 in the process.

We succeeded. Believe it or not, in early February I cashed a check for approximately $1,100.

Last season, the same, though this time the goal was upped to $2,000. And believe it or not -- it worked! Actually, we failed. Badly. We added more cash to the account on more than one occasion and ended up with nothing. It was humbling.

But that hasn't shaken my confidence in the betting strategy we've developed. Last season featured tons of weird upsets -- I don't know anyone who did well.

This season I'm going to try something new. I'm going to start with $100 fake dollars and see how the "investment model" of the 'Funk Football Fund' plays out. Here's how it works: Combining the security of hedge bets with a "wisdom of the crowds," futures-like take on the week's best bets, the model is meant to be conservative yet reliable. Essentially, each week I'll take the top three consensus picks as determined by the users of -- see here, for instance -- and use those as the basis for a series of bets. This week, Week 2, has 86% of Wagerline users thinking Cincinnati will beat its 7-point spread over Cleveland; 84% think New Orleans will beat its 3.5-point spread over Tampa Bay; 79% think Dallas will beat its 3-point spread over Miami.

(These are actually pretty big margins. Having obsessively monitored/used these Wagerline prognostications in seasons past, it's not often there's a 75-plus percentage consensus on anything.)

So that makes this week's picks Cincinnati, New Orleans, and Dallas. The first bet is a so-called 3-game teaser, where the line moves in your preferred direction by, in this case, 6 points. (Teasers can move the spread more than 6 points, but that lessens the payout. We'll use 6 for this imaginary fund.) Teasers also can come in multiple game varieties, whereas the outcome of the bet can be determined by 3, 4, 5 or more games. It's up to the bettor. Again, the harder one makes it, i.e., the more games, the larger the payout. For purposes of the Funk Fund, we'll keep it simple with three games. Because teasers move the line in your favor, they're probably the least risky bets in football. For that reason, the Funk Fund calls for it to be the biggest bet -- $20.

Next, straight bets. Betting straight-up on each of these three individual games provides more hedge security. Should either the Bengals, Cowboys, or Saints be unexpectedly blown out, the teaser may be lost, but two of the three straight bets are still in play. These can cover other losses. (Likewise, it's possible to lose all three straight bets, but win the tease, owing to the line moves.) Because straights are riskier than the teaser, we'll put $10 on each.

Finally, a parlay. Only through these bets can real money actually be made. Unfortunately, this is also what makes them so hard. To win a parlay, a bettor has to correctly pick two or more outcomes. (If the odds-makers in Vegas do their jobs well, the chances of picking a winner is 50/50. A three game parlay, where your bet is now dependent on the outcome of two games, thus reduces your winning probability to 25%.) Accordingly, we'll put $5 on a three-game parlay.

The payout for these bets are: $52 for a winning $20 3-game tease; $10 for each winning $10 straight; $36 for a winning $5 3-game parlay. In all, $55 will be bet for a possible total payout of
$118. On the flip side, $55 could turn into zilch.

This being the first week, things could turn sour quickly. Should every bet fail, continuing this investment model into the second week will be difficult, as there's only $45 left in the imaginary fund. If that should occur, we'll bet in the same fashion and in the same proportions, though with smaller amounts.

Incidentally, this isn't precisely the way I bet. I use Wagerline more as a resource than a guide. If, say, 75% of its users say the Eagles are going to top the Skins (my boys!), I know that's ridiculous and I'll abstain. I also sometimes see bets I consider a lock that Wagerline users seem to think are up in the air.

Current status: $45

I'll check back in Monday to see how things went.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Beastie Boys on Charlie Rose

Part 1, part 2, part 3.

Best question & answer:
Rose: What do you think of the current state of hip hop?

Ad Rock: I think it's fabulous what they've done with it.
(The Beastie Boys, it should be noted, refuse to slam contemporary rap, much to the dismay of the countless music journalists who try to bait them nonetheless.)

New Funk: 'A Sunday Smile'

New single off Beirut's forthcoming The Flying Club Cup. Check it out here.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Saving Columbia Records

Rick Rubin, as we all know, founded Def Jam records in his NYU dorm room in 1983. He's since gone on to reinvent the careers of The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond, the Dixie Chicks and countless other acts. This week's New York Times magazine looks at his latest challenge: saving Columbia Records and, quite possibly, the record industry itself.

The piece is an interesting take on an industry in full-fledged panic mode. With CD sales plummeting and companies like Apple reaping the lion's share of music download profits, once-dominant labels are struggling just to stay viable.

My question: Do we even need major record companies? Rubin seems to think so, pointing to their ability to spread new music to the masses. Yet one of his latest obsessions -- British-born Paul Potts -- has achieved notoriety almost entirely through YouTube. The primary asset of record labels is their ability to set artists up with record contracts, studios, and professional producers. But with technology becoming more affordable, there are countless smaller labels able to perform these same functions (albeit with the exception of a long-term record deal, though those aren't much use if all the major labels fold a few years hence).

The piece reminded me of an oped in today's Journal by Michael Lynton, CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment. (Sony, by the way, owns Columbia.) Lynton argues that contrary to assertions by the likes of Thomas Friedman, globalization is not "making the world more homogeneous." Instead, he says, while Hollywood films once flourished in foreign countries, these same markets are now being dominated by locally produced films. This, one imagines, is once again a product of the increasing affordability of technology, with the expanding wealth afforded by globalized trade, and Hollywood itself responding to new market demands.

Wealth and technology are decentralizing the power once afforded to the big players dominating industries like music and cinema, enabling up-and-coming talents to create mass followings unassisted.

So, can music survive without institutions like Columbia and Capitol? Hard to see why not.

'Triumph of the Heart'

Another great video from Bjork: