Tom starts off 2009 with queries concerning economists, Michael Jackson and the UA band

It's a new year, and I've got questions:

OK, which one of you 8,742 economists who got trotted out in front of the TV cameras last summer (and probably got paid!) correctly predicted that I'd be paying $1.45 a gallon for gas today? Don't be shy; raise your hand. Are you standing in the back there?

That's what I thought. None of you geniuses had a clue.

I hate that they put you on TV. I hate the fact that economics is taught and treated in the media like it is some kind of science. I really hate the fact that they give a Nobel Prize in it.

You know that old story about why Alfred Nobel didn't establish a prize in math? Supposedly, Nobel's longtime squeeze (but not wife; he never married), Sophie Hess, had a fling with a famous mathematician, Gösta Mittag-Leffler, prompting Nobel to exclude math from his list of categories for prizes. The story is almost certainly not true, although I would really like it to be.

Nobel's endowment grew at a staggering rate, so the stiffs in Sweden decided to add a category. The prize for economics was established in 1969, probably because they figured they wouldn't be able to get away with giving one in mood rings. So now, the six categories are Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, Literature, Peace and Guessing.

This year's winner, Paul Krugman, teaches at Princeton and writes a column in The New York Times. He's thought-provoking, but he's also wrong just about as often as the rest of the morons. I think he won the prize because he used the word "depression" in his book title. Ooooohhhh, scary stuff!

As I sit down to write this, the price of a barrel of oil is at $35.62. Back during the summer, when it was scratching at the $150 mark, half of all economists predicted that it would zoom past $250 within a couple of months. Another half said it would stabilize around the $150 level, and yet another half thought it might drop back down to around $100.

That's right: Three halves! Even my math skills go to hell when discussing economics.

I didn't see or read about one economist who thought that it would drop down to $50, let alone crash down into the $30 range. (I hope that all of those speculators who drove the price up lost their butts.)

A couple of weeks ago on 60 Minutes, the oil minister of Saudi Arabia was showing off all the new technology they're using to pump oil out of the ground, but then he bemoaned the fact that prices had fallen so sharply. He said that Saudi Arabia needs a barrel to cost at least $55 to keep his country's economy rolling.

Oh, poor babies. Things are so bad that the terrorist groups they're funding are wearing last year's bomb vests.

Then I saw some economists associated with the University of Arizona talking about how it's going to take years for the housing market to rebound, and that the nation will continue its downward slide until late 2009 or maybe later. They have nothing to back that up. It just seems safe, because negative talk is more likely to work as a self-fulfilling prophecy than upbeat talk.

You know how all of the right-wing talk-show hosts are screaming that Chuck Schumer is going to try to institute a fairness doctrine on radio talk? Well, I think that would be ridiculous. However, I do think that every economist who appears on TV, the radio, the Internet or in the print media should be allowed to say whatever they like, but they must end their talk with, "That's my guess. What's yours?"

Did you happen to see that the person who identified himself as Michael Jackson's "sole spokesman" is named Dr. Tohme Tohme?

Who would do that to a person? How are we supposed to take that guy seriously? I wonder if he ever worked for Duran Duran.

What was the UA thinking?!

I realize that particular question opens up more possibilities than Googling the word "sex." But I have one specific thing in mind here.

I was reading a financial breakdown of the UA football team's trip to the Las Vegas Bowl. It's obviously a huge undertaking, what with travel, lodging, food and all the rest of the attendant costs. But then I saw that the UA marching band had to go up by bus (their trip spanned parts of four days, but, amazingly, they only spent one night in a hotel, hopping on the bus and returning to Tucson right after the game), while the cheerleaders got to fly.

My main question is: Since when are cheerleaders more important than the band? (My deeper question: Why are there still cheerleaders? We'll deal with that some other time.)

I've been to football and basketball games, and the band is money. They get people into it. The only time a cheerleader ever elicits a cheer is when one falls down trying to do one of those stupid "C'mon, go Cats!" things.

Cheerleading may have played a role back in the day, but after Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland graduated high school, not so much.

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