The Electric Commentary

Monday, January 31, 2005

The Carnival of the Capitalists

is up at Ashish's Niti.

Thanks to Ashish for the link, and don't miss this post from Dr. Tufte.

Krugman oversimplifies.

On Friday I linked to Pauly K's NYT column in which he claimed that the President misused a statistic regarding the life expectancy of African Americans. The President did indeed misuse that stat, but so did Pauly:

True, life expectancy at birth isn't the right statistic but neither is life-expectancy at 65. Consider the following simple example: suppose that 95 percent of blacks die before the age of 65 but that the 5% who survive to 65 have the same life expectancy as whites. Krugman would then claim that social security isn't discriminatory, but that would be absurd - 95 percent of blacks would be paying payroll taxes for all of their working lives and in return they would receive nothing.

As HedgeFundGuy points out a more relevant measure of life expectancy for social security is life expectancy at 20, when working-life begins, and at this age black life-expectancy is still a significant 6 years less than that of whites.

Life expectancy isn't the only thing that affects social security redistribution, however, marriage rates, number of dependents, disability, income and even the time pattern of income matter also. It may be that when all of these considerations are taken into account that on average social security is no worse a deal for blacks than for whites but this will be true only because social security is a hash of redistributionist tendencies few of which are well understood let alone well justified.

(From Marginal Revolution).

Iraq, The Democracy

Just in case you've been living in a hole under a shack in the middle of the desert, you should know that Iraq voted this past weekend. It seems to be an unqualified success so far, which is great news for everyone. I actually think that this will have an impact on security. When people don't own something they tend to lose interest in protecting it. For instance, rental property is almost always in worse shape then owned property, and crime rates around rentals are always higher as well. Up until this point, Iraqis have been living in a rented country (and I say this not only with regard to the US, but also with regard to Saddam, and many leaders before him).

These elections will create a sense of ownership for Iraqi citizens, and defending their country will become a noble pursuit. I think that up until this point helping the US military to maintain stability caused citizens to become stigmatized. Now, that should all change.

I also think that Iraqi citizens, even though they are not as well equipped, can do a better job of defending their own country just because they know their own country.

Perhaps this is overly optimistic, but it makes sense, and I hope that I'm correct.

For more info, click on pretty much anyone on the blogroll, but don't miss Professors Althouse and Smith. (And help out professor Althouse at Kevin Drum's site here.)

Glenn has a good roundup of everyone else, as per usual.

Dan Drezner's open thread is more interesting than most open threads.

Andrew is a must-read.

As is this post by Arthur Chrenkoff.

Check out Stephen Karlson too.

There's a lot out there, and you really can't go wrong.

I've got a fever, and the only prescription

is this Washington Post article:

Among the more amused viewers of the bit are the actual members of Blue Oyster Cult. "We didn't know it was coming," says Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser, co-founder and lead guitarist of the group. "We all thought it was phenomenal. We're huge Christopher Walken fans." He adds, "I've probably seen it 20 times and I'm still not tired of it."

Bruce Dickinson really wants you to read the whole thing. Never question Bruce Dickinson.

Friday, January 28, 2005


This guy is my hero.


In keeping with our K theme, Professor Karlson discusses students skipping class:

Northern Kentucky University has adopted a policy, which has the Superintendent's endorsement, under which students who do not show up for the first week of classes may be removed from the course rolls. That prompts one miscreant to object.

I have never been a fan of the attendance policy. This isn't because I have bad attendance myself, but because I have never agreed with the university having the right to dictate to the students how many times they may miss class without consequence.

Playing hooky in college is an interesting phenomenon. Later he quotes Jonathan at Cliopatria, who states that:

First, let me respectfully point out to Mr. Dressman that every student who attends NKU is subsidized to the tune of about 50 percent of costs. These funds come from state funding, the campus endowment, grants, donations and the like. Think of this as an automatic scholarship provided by the fine people of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, along with people from a host of organizations, corporations and alumni groups who have seen fit to invest in NKU students. They do so because they believe that a liberal arts education is good for both the individual and the wider community. Students are not simply customers; they are also the product.

Further, Mr. Dressman needs to be aware that he is attending an institution that was built with money other than his own. Current tuition only helps maintain the facilities and services that others generously helped to establish. When you cut class - missing class for a good reason is another matter - you throw away not only your own money but that of the generous people who helped to build this campus. That is a rather ungrateful thing to do.

All true. However, all of these contributions and subsidies to the college experience probably have something to do with students skipping classes. After all, what is their incentive, other than altruism, to not waste other people's money. This outcome is expected in a situation where students have largely been relegated to the role of free-riders (or at least cheap-riders). Read the whole thing.

Krugman, Kling, Krauthammer

A new regular Friday feature for the EC. Although their first initials are a bit troubling up there in the title section. Maybe I should call it the "Robert Byrd Special." Nah. Anyway, let's start with Pauly K, who, surprise of surprises, has now made good points in consecutive columns. This one debunks that claim that African-Americans don't benefit as much as other groups from Social Security due to a shorter life expectancy:

Here's why. First, Mr. Bush's remarks on African-Americans perpetuate a crude misunderstanding about what life expectancy means. It's true that the current life expectancy for black males at birth is only 68.8 years - but that doesn't mean that a black man who has worked all his life can expect to die after collecting only a few years' worth of Social Security benefits. Blacks' low life expectancy is largely due to high death rates in childhood and young adulthood. African-American men who make it to age 65 can expect to live, and collect benefits, for an additional 14.6 years - not that far short of the 16.6-year figure for white men.

Second, the formula determining Social Security benefits is progressive: it provides more benefits, as a percentage of earnings, to low-income workers than to high-income workers. Since African-Americans are paid much less, on average, than whites, this works to their advantage.

Finally, Social Security isn't just a retirement program; it's also a disability insurance program. And blacks are much more likely than whites to receive disability benefits.

Vitriolic rhetoric unbecoming of an Ivy League professor notwithstanding, he is correct about this. Although Bush's use of this statistic is not bigotry, as Krugman claims at the at the end of his column.

While you're at the NYT site, read this Op-ed by Robert Wright, it's very good.

Next, Arnold Kling answers a question from Megan McArdle:

Q:Why hasn't labour successfully colonised the non-manufacturing world, outside of the public sector?

In manufacturing, workers develop specific human capital. As someone who actually worked in a factory for a couple of summers, I can attest to this. You learn to operate the particular machinery in the plant, but that knowledge is of no value in a different plant.

In the service sector, skills are often transferable. You may have a license (to be a teacher, a nurse, or what have you) that makes you transferable. Or you may have a skill set (sales, general management, computer programming) that is transferable.

With specific human capital, there is mutual bargaining power. The company values your experience, but your opportunity cost is low, so they could try to keep your pay low and exploit you. So a union helps you out.

With generic human capital, you do not need bargaining muscle. If you are way underpaid, you simply take another job. So a union helps less.

And finally, Charles Krauthammer in the Washington Post on the Condi Rice confirmation:

You don't expect to see an iconic civil rights leader such as Andrew Young indignantly defending a Bush administration appointment. It took the Senate Democrats' attack on Rice to produce that unlikely scene.

Will it matter politically in the end? Can Democrats take the African American vote for granted? Perhaps, but it will be interesting to see whether Democrats will be willing to repeat this exercise if Bush should nominate Clarence Thomas to succeed William Rehnquist and become the country's first black chief justice. The Democrats' performance on the Rice nomination has opened precisely that possibility for the president.

What an excellent point. Late last week I mentioned that it was politically stupid to oppose this nomination (especially because Robert Byrd was involved) and this is a good example of why it was stupid. This useless posturing wastes political capital, and, while opposing one African American for confirmation may be no big deal, opposing more than one starts to look like a pattern. And if the President thought that nominating Thomas may have been too controversial before, he now has an opening.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

I bought an iPod.

So far I love it. Great user interface, very simple to use, and it sounds good. To celebrate, here's my first Shuffleplay:

1. Up the Devil's Pay, by Old 97's
2. Valley Winter Song, by Fountains of Wayne
3. We Will Become Silhouettes, by The Postal Service
4. Where the Streets Have No Name, by U2
5. Is Chicago, Is not Chicago, by Soul Coughing
6. Long Way Down, by The Goo Goo Dolls
7. Save It For Later, performed by Harvey Danger (by The English Beat)
8. Karma Police, by Radiohead
9. I Wanna Be Sedated, by Radiohead
10. Magic in the Air, Badly Drawn Boy

Not bad.

Did this really happen?

From Marginal Revolution:

The French government has just finished helping Walt Disney Co. bail out Euro Disney SCA, the operator of two Disney theme parks outside Paris. A state-owned bank is contributing around $500 million in investments and local concessions to save Euro Disney from bankruptcy. This comes after 17 years during which French leaders have spent hundreds of millions of dollars and countless hours to ensure that the land of Money could keep Mickey Mouse.

Some people need to stop watching cartoons

Professor Hurt comments on the recent "controversy" regarding Postcards from Buster, a children's show featuring the best friend of Arthur:

Obviously, federal funds come with strings in various settings, but I would hope that Spellings would reconsider this kind of content restriction. I can see where someone might get up in arms and believe that the makers of the show have personal political agendas and wanted to sneak in their own subliminal message. However, Postcards from Buster has portrayed an impressive diversity of families in its first year: racial diversity, religious diversity, including Muslims, Mormans, and Evangelical Christians, and geographic and socioeconomic diversity. So I can see how this episode fit into a pattern of wanting to show the realities of families in America.

My daughter goes to school with a boy who has "two moms." This is reality.


Andrew Sullivan has more:

This strikes me as pretty diverse - and certainly exposes kids to situations that are not the nuclear family. So why is it okay to present a single parent or no parents but not two gay parents? If Mormons are portrayed, why not gays? Why should young children be exposed to the tenets of Christian fundamentalism but not even learn a simple fact about life in Vermont? The lesbian couple are not front and center in the piece; they are background. They are Americans. And, according to the Bush administration, they must be airbrushed out of the country. Not a good sign.

Feel like taking an econ course?

I realize that I'm the only person in the world that thinks this sort of thing is enjoyable, but just in case, you can listen to a bunch of lectures by Arnold Kling here.

The Chinese are creating werebunnies

Actually, their reasoning makes a lot of sense. The more human an animal is, the more useful it is for testing drugs or growing "spare parts." Still, it's sort of weird.

(Via Drudge)


Ahren has more.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Budweiser aims for an untapped market:

That would be people with bad taste. Check out their new drink (and I'm not making this up, as Dave Barry would say, hat tip, by the way) B to the E. Allow me to fisk:

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Going against the grain in courting the young cocktail crowd, beermaker Anheuser-Busch Cos. is launching a new "brew" to go head-to-head with classic mixed drinks - traditional suds spiked with caffeine, fruit flavoring, herbal guarana and ginseng.

I was just drinking a beer the other day, and I thought, "this could use some ginseng."

The world's largest brewer's nationwide rollout this week of B-to-the-E - the "B" standing for beer, the "E" for something "extra" and shown as an exponent of B - came as beermakers look to piggyback strides liquor companies have made in luring young consumers to flavored and mixed drinks.

All of the beer companies tried this already. Bacardi Silver, Skyy Blue, and the immortal Zima. This ship has sailed.

Anheuser-Busch test marketed B-to-the-E from in the fall, eventually assessing in 55 U.S. cities whether the new "beer" appealed to 20-something consumers craving something zippy in their highly social, fast-paced lifestyles.

As part of my highly social fast paced lifestyle, I prefer dark beer. I wonder if these twenty somethings were giving sarcastic answers and the Bud crew just couldn't tell.

"It's producing a lot of excitement for this beer category in that consumers and bartenders are not looking at this as a typical beer," in many cases with B-to-the-E served over ice, said Dawn Roepke, the St. Louis-based brewer's brand manager of new-product development. "It's going right up against mixed drinks."

I think you meant to say that it's producing a lot of excrement.

She declined to reveal sales data.


Slightly sweet but tart and coming in the aromas of blackberry, raspberry and cherry, B-to-the-E is to be marketed toward "active 21- to 27-year-old experimenters looking for new tastes and options."

In other words, they're targeting women. Just say it.

B-to-the-E comes against the backdrop of the company's existing line of Bacardi liquor-branded flavored malt beverages - or malternatives - and the ever-increasing line of alcohol-free energy drinks, often used as mixers in clubs.

They all flopped.

Anheuser-Busch - maker of Budweiser, Bud Light and low-carb Michelob Ultra beers - trumpets itself as the first major brewer to infuse beer with caffeine, ginseng and guarana, the latter a caffeine-bearing herb used in a popular Brazilian soft drink.

Later tonight, I think I'll become only the second person to combine beer with Skittles.

Anheuser-Busch said each can of B-to-the-E packs 17 grams of carbohydrates, along with 4.5 percent alcohol by volume, 54 milligrams of caffeine and 145 calories. By comparison, Anheuser-Busch's Bacardi Silver Low-Carb Black Cherry has 2.6 grams of carbs and 96 calories per 12-ounce serving.

Not nearly enough carbs for me.

Before taxes, B-to-the-E generally will fetch $1.29 for a single can, $4.99 for a four-pack of 10-ounce cans, Roepke said. A bottled version is to arrive by the end of February, she said.

This is turning into a commercial. Hey, AP? How much do you charge?

Rival Miller Brewing Co. has no immediate plans for a similar product, but "certainly we'll follow the results of the product and be keeping a close eye on it," spokesman Pete Marino said. Colorado-based Adolph Coors Co. did not return calls for comment.

In other words, "I can't believe they're doing this. Tee hee."

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The FCC won't let me be and let me be me...

Andrew Sullivan and Ahren both link to a list of 36 indecency complaints recently rejected by the FCC. Buzzmachine has the full list. Read it, it's terrifyingly hysterical. All of the complaints were filed by a conservative group headed by this right-wing nut who runs this website which seeks to expose left-wing media bias whether it exists or not (for instance, in South Park, an obviously right wing/libertarian show).

This begs the question, why do we have an FCC in the first place?

Good question.

It all started when we learned how to broadcast information over the airwaves. This was a great technology and the people saw that it possessed unlimited potential to expand learning and understanding. Or, failing that, it possessed unlimited potential for people to watch other people eat horse testicles for money. Whatever.

The important point is that the electromagnetic spectrum was "a commons." If it was left in the public domain, every able producer of television and radio would crowd out every other producer and leave the new medium in worthless chaos. The solution to this problem was to establish private property rights out of the commons. This is always a good idea. When you establish property rights two good things happen. The former "commons" now has a guardian, and it also has someone who will use it efficiently.

Enter the FCC. It granted licenses for certain areas on the EM spectrum. This was a noble purpose. Unforunately, it is at this point that our story takes a turn for the worse. The FCC, rather than just selling licenses to the highest bidder, also required that the stations operate in the public interest, watch their language, and occasionally broadcast educational programming (MTV does this at 3:30 am, Monday morning). This was the beginning of the FCC's content regulation.

Fast forward several decades. Now we have these indecency guidelines. And all of this stuff. And this too. But don't worry, they're very concerned about freedom of speech:

The FCC and Freedom of Speech.

The First Amendment and federal law generally prohibit us from censoring broadcast material and from interfering with freedom of expression in broadcasting.

Individual radio and TV stations are responsible for selecting everything they broadcast and for determining how they can best serve their communities. Stations are responsible for choosing their entertainment programming, as well as their programs concerning local issues, news, public affairs, religion, sports events, and other subjects. They also decide how their programs (including call-in shows) will be conducted and whether to edit or reschedule material for broadcasting. We do not substitute our judgment for that of the station, and we do not advise stations on artistic standards, format, grammar, or the quality of their programming. This also applies to a station's commercials, with the exception of commercials for political candidates during an election (which we discuss later in this manual).

By now I'm sure you're asking yourself, "doesn't the first amendment prevent them from having content-based regulation?" Well, sort of.

It is important to remember that the First Amendment, important as it is, doesn't really amount to a hill of beans without the separation of powers. (Example: The following is Article 125 of the Soviet Constitution:

ARTICLE 125. In conformity with the interests of the working people, and in order to strengthen the socialist system, the citizens of the U.S.S.R. are guaranteed by law:
freedom of speech;
freedom of the press;
freedom of assembly, including the holding of mass meetings;
freedom of street processions and demonstrations.

These civil rights are ensured by placing at the disposal of the working people and their organizations printing presses, stocks of paper, public buildings, the streets, communications facilities and other material requisites for the exercise of these rights.

Enough said.)

Putting freedom of speech in the hands of a federal bureaucracy is a risky proposition. While the FCC's original purpose may have been establishing property rights, that task has become less important over time. With cable and satellite, the broadcast spectrum has increased immensely. As a result, over time they have simply morphed into a content-regulating body which caters to special interests (like any other federal bureaucracy). But we don't live in the Soviet Union, so why doesn't someone put a stop to this?

This is the crucial point. Because the FCC still controls the licenses of all of the broadcasters, it still has power over them. Before a station can challenge a ruling by the FCC, it has to think long and hard about its next license renewal. Broadcast licenses are worth billions of dollars and angering the FCC over a small indecency fine is sometimes not worth it. And, of course, stations will also self-censor in an effort to appease the licensing board.

Most FCC fines are clearly Unconstitutional. Content-based regulation of speech by the government must clear a high hurdle to prove itself Constitutional, and if challenged, most indecency regulations would probably fall (exceptions for obscenity, fighting word, etc., notwithstanding). However, the FCC dangles the power of the license over its subjects' heads like the Sword of Damocles.

The solution to this problem is to separate the body that grants licenses from the body that regulates content. Then, poor gasoline on the body that regulates content, and set it on fire. This will probably never happen, but fortunately it looks like cable and satellite providers may eventually replace broadcast TV, at which point the FCC will have nothing left to regulate. They may try to take a swipe at the new media (they do regulate them right now, but take a more hands off approach), but as the number of channels increases, licenses decrease in value and the power of the FCC decreases with it.

So, it seems that the best protection for the First Amendment (aside from the separation of powers) is simply to have a lot of people speaking.

Milwaukee Vote Fraud

Having lived in Milwaukee during the 2000 election and witnessing the "Cigarettes for Votes" scandal (as well as several Marquette students voting multiple times) I have a special interest in vote fraud. Today the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has two articles on the subject.

The first, from Greg J. Borowski:

The newspaper’s review, the most extensive analysis done so far of the election, revealed 1,242 votes coming from a total of 1,135 invalid addresses. That is, in some cases more than one person is listed as voting from the address. Of the 1,242 voters with invalid addresses, 75% registered on site on election day, according to city records.

While the number is not enough to have determined the outcome of the statewide presidential contest, the revelation prompted renewed criticism Monday by state Republicans and raised concerns at City Hall about how well records were kept on and after a frenzied election day.

Already, the newspaper has reported that about 8,300 more votes were cast than the number of people recorded by the city as voting. This appears to be due to cases where cards from those who presented identification and registered on election day could not be processed, a gap that the city’s own estimates had put at more than 10,000.

In any case, those are not included in the city database and are not part of the paper’s review, which involved checking each voter’s address against two separate lists of properties in the city.

A spot check of addresses that came back as invalid found cases where the address in question is a park, a baseball diamond and at or near the W. Wisconsin Ave. bridge. In most cases, though, there simply was no building at that address.

Charges have also been filed in an election day tire-slashing (from Derrick Nunnally):

Milwaukee County District Attorney E. Michael McCann announced the felony charges – each of which could result in a 3 1/2-year prison sentence and a $10,000 fine - in a rare news conference.

“This isn’t what goes on all the time in Wisconsin,” McCann said. “I don’t think that it takes a great deal of acumen to estimate what the intent was.”

The men charged with flattening 40 tires include Michael Pratt, 32, the son of former Acting Mayor Marvin Pratt, and Sowande A. Omokunde, 25, the son of U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Milwaukee). According to the criminal complaint filed in the case, the five men conspired, without the knowledge of top Democratic Party officials, to plaster Republican Party headquarters on W. Capitol Drive with Democratic signs and stickers, something they dubbed Operation Elephant Takeover.


Then read columnist Eugene Kane, always eager to excuse corruption:

The charges for the Great Tire-Slashing Case were felonies, which raises eyebrows when you figure that some folks can do damage to a living, breathing person and still get away with a misdemeanor. In most situations, this sort of property damage would be routine police blotter stuff without the presence of some political intrigue. But in this case, two of the men are the sons of high-profile Milwaukee politicians. Michael Pratt is the son of former Acting Mayor Marvin Pratt; Sowande A. Omokunde is the son of new U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore.

Routine police blotter stuff? Sabotaging a party's "get out the vote" effort on election day is routine (ed: In Milwaukee it has become routine.)? Kane indicates that this story would be less important if some of the slashers were not the adult children of high profile Democrats, to which I say, Duh. That fact makes the sabotage look like an act of political sabotage instead of an act of petty vandalism.

Eugene wants to have it both ways in this article. He wants to excuse the perpetrators behavior because of the pressures of being raised by prominent politicians, and at the same time excuse their parents (the "kids" involved, Michael Pratt and Sowande A. Omokunde, are 32 years old and 25 years old, respectively) from any responsibility for their actions. I happen to think that the age of the perpetrators makes the crime seem worse, not better. But that's just me.

Monday, January 24, 2005

On a lighter note...

I went to see the movie "In Good Company" over the weekend and was surprised. I went in thinking I would like it, and I did. But I thought I would like it because it looked like a light, formulaic, pseudo-drama with a little coming-of-age thrown in for good measure. I like stuff like that, especially when it's aimed at those of us struggling to feel our way through our twenties. Surprisingly, the movie turned out to be different, and better.

All told, it moved at a slower than expected pace, with light moments often book-ended by extreme close-ups. The audience is expected to interpret much of the nuance and humor in scenes through the faces of the actors, rather than through one-liners and poignant quotes. I guess that's why they call it acting. There are trials and there are tribulations, and even some hi-jinx. What really struck me though, is how much I could relate to Topher Grace's character, Carter Duryea. He's successful, but not. He's confident and cocky, yet vulnerable and unsure. He knows exactly where he's going, only to find that the brochure doesn't quite match the reality. He's me. He's every other self-assured 26 year-old, brimming with optimism, who finds himself not quite satisfied and searching for some meaning, some passion.

We are growing up in a time of prosperity and opportunity that our parents and grandparents only dreamed about. Even amidst offshoring, higher unemployment, global security concerns, there are more opportunities available to us than ever before. Why is it then, that I know very few people who can honestly say they enjoy what they do? Is there too much opportunity, too many choices? Has it become too easy to second-guess ourselves? Perhaps every generation goes through this. My parents seem to have it pretty figured out, although they won't share the secret with me. Something about everyone finding it on their own. And that's Carter Duryea, too.

Everything may be wrapped up a little too neatly, and Carter surely makes the right decision, the one that most real people in the same position wouldn't have made. But in the end, I knew what he was going through, and that's truly what going to the movies is all about.

For far too much information, you can read Roger Ebert's review here.

Is a spoiler warning good enough?

I'm taking some flack at the 50 book challenge for talking about a few important parts of The Dark Tower books (WARNING: IF YOU CLICK ON THAT LINK IT WILL TAKE YOU TO THE ENTIRE POST + COMMENTS). I put up HUGE spoiler warnings, but a few readers couldn't help themselves and they blame me (one at least mentioned a helpful piece of HTML that truncates the post), saying that they had to read it while scrolling past. What a bunch of crap.

So my questions are:

1. Is a spoiler warning good enough?

2. How long do you have to wait to talk about a surprise ending, like the Crying Game, for instance? The Dark Tower has been out for 5 months now. One commenter complained that I spoiled Song of Susannah. It was released 8 months ago. They are not exactly new releases.

I thought that the ending needed discussing, so I discussed it.

If I ruined it for you, I apologize. But it was not like I mentioned that Vader was Luke's father on my way out of the theatre, it's more like I mentioned it in the line at Blockbuster.

RIP Johnny


I was so naive as a kid I used to sneak behind the barn and do nothing.

Anytime four New Yorkers get into a cab together without arguing, a bank robbery has just taken place.

Democracy means that anyone can grow up to be president, and anyone who doesn't grow up can be vice president.

I know a man who gave up smoking, drinking, sex, and rich food. He was healthy right up to the day he killed himself.

When turkeys mate they think of swans.

He couldn't ad-lib a fart after a baked-bean dinner.


Danny points us to this TCS article on Social Security:

My first reaction to this line of argumentation was "Damn right! You had me at 'Americans are too stupid.'" The stupidity of the average American is a force not to be underestimated. It shapes our politics, molds our preferences, and controls our destiny. Our stupidity pours forth from our art and pop culture, poisoning the minds of foreigners not inured to its presence. It oozes from our newspapers, distorting everything in its path. Any argument that begins with the premise "Americans are stupid" is already halfway right.

Read the whole thing.

Tom Maguire does some math

on Social Security. Plus he rips on Krugman:

But hold on! Didn't Paul Krugman just ask for a "reasonable" estimate, and throw out 20% to 30% in Britain as a comparison? Based on the CBO number and some mental math, we came to 7%, which was quickly confirmed by a more elaborate calculation. Why, oh why is Prof. Krugman off by a factor of 300% to 400%? How can it be that he is misrepresenting the intelligence and hyping his case?

You've got me. Possible answers might include: (a) this was too complicated a calculation for a prospective Nobel Laureate; (b) this was an easy calculation but not a helpful result for polemical purposes; or (c) his beer was warm, and all the folks in Princeton speak English, so he thought he was in Britain.

Enjoy the weekend - pick (a), and put yourself up for a Nobel Prize.

Don't miss today's Snap Judgment.


Aaron Schatz: End of the first quarter, I called my friend Ian. I said, "What do you think? Is he good Ben or bad Ben today?" Ian said, "It doesn't matter. What I want to know is, how stupid was he to do that Chunky Soup rookie commercial? And then to have that broadcast during the most important game of his career? He's totally screwed." So that was Big Ben's rookie mistake, jousting with the Chunky Soup curse. I wouldn't be surprised if he hurt the thumb opening soup. He's now doomed to blow three shots at the Super Bowl before he finally makes it. (Oh, you want a serious answer? Everybody has played a full season of football at this point. They've had a year to learn the NFL. There are no rookies left in January.)

The Chunky Soup Curse fells another victim, like Kurt Warner, and Donny Mac, and Strahan, and the Bus before him.

Apropos the Spongebob Brouhaha

noted in this post, Instapundit notes the following:

HAVE I BEEN UNFAIR TO JAMES DOBSON over the SpongeBob affair? According to this editorial from ToonZone, the cartoon website, yes, I have, by falling for the New York Times' spin:

As Reuters describes it, Christian groups are attacking a video; the various cartoon characters and entertainers who appear in it are being criticized indirectly (if at all) for lending themselves to an agenda that these critics deplore. As the Times describes it, though, these groups are specifically attacking SpongeBob. And by sticking in an early and gratuitous reference to SpongeBob's popularity with gay men (a point utterly irrelevant to a story about the video), the Times creates the impression that Dobson is attacking SpongeBob for being a gay icon. No wonder a casual reader comes away with the impression that Dobson is attacking SpongeBob for being gay. . . .

And in making SpongeBob sound like a martyr, it appears to be trying to piggyback a rival agenda onto his very thin shoulders: Save SpongeBob from the bluenoses!

Cartoons don't deserve this. SpongeBob doesn't deserve this. And SpongeBob's creator, Stephen Hillenburg, certainly doesn't deserve to have his creation kidnapped and turned into a giant puppet in some freak protest parade, no matter what its cause.

To Dobson and the Times I've a simple message: Get your hands out of SpongeBob's square pants.

He also link to this post.

Basically, Dobson was not attacking SpongeBob specifically, but was instead attacking the overall message of the organization behind this video. I still disagree with him about homosexuality (much like Glenn) but it's certainly worth noting that his statement was not at all along the same lines as the "Tinky Winky" thing.

Just thought I would mention it. And I still agree with Ed's larger point, that the video itself is fine, regardless of what the sponsoring organization stands for.

The 50 Book Challenge: The Dark Tower

I'm joining the challenge. And I'm starting with a double review:

#1: Song of Susannah, Stephen King, Book 6 of The Dark Tower Series #2: The Dark Tower, Stephen King, The final 7th Book of The Dark Tower Series


I started reading The Dark Tower Series almost 20 years ago, and finishing it turned out to be more of a chore than a pleasure, which is oddly appropriate as it seems that this was Stephen King's attitude towards finishing the series. It is impossible to discuss these books without noting that King was obviously affected greatly by his near-fatal car accident. More on that later.

Song of Susannah find the gunslingers Roland, Eddie, Jake and Oy dismayed, as Susannah, the legless 4th member of their group has been possessed by a demon named Mia, impregnated by both Roland and the evil Crimson King (don't ask), and forced into modern day New York City (circa 1999). They also learn that Stephen King is important to keeping their world alive as they find a copy of King's Salem's Lot in the care of an antique bookseller which happens to feature personal details about Father Donald Callahan, an auxiliary member of their gunslinging troop. Eddie and Roland are dispatched through a magic door to 1976 where they must buy some land from a man named Calvin Tower to protect the Rose of the Tower (which keeps our world going) and to check up on Stephen King. Father Callahan, Jake, and Oy are dispatched to find Susannah and stop her baby from eating her.

That's enough of that. This is the superior book of the two. While the tale of Roland and Eddie running around Maine drags at times, and Stephen King's inclusion (more on this later) is irritating and pretentious, the story of Jake and Father Callahan is quite good. They discover that Susannah has been taken to a restaurant called The Dixie Pig where, unbeknownst to the regular folk in NYC, Vampires and Low Men regularly dine on human (or "long pork" as they call it). Father Callahan, whose faith failed him in Salem's Lot, redeems himself by taking one for the team, allowing Jake to make his way into the underground.

Through more magic doors and gunfighting the troop is reformed shortly after Susannah/Mia gives birth to a werespider (like Pennywise in It) named Mordred which promptly eats Mia and Randall Flagg in a 4 hour span. And with that we move on to...

The Dark Tower.

The Dark Tower is a big Tower at the middle of all realities. Attached to it are Beams which hold up the universe. The bad guy (the Crimson King) has telepathic people working to break the beams and destroy the universe and they're almost done. It is in this book that Stephen King became intolerable.

First of all, he uses his presence in the book to abdicate all responsibility for what happened. His claims that he is merely a conduit for the story serve a purpose inside of the story, but externally they allow him to treat his characters with complete contempt.

Stephen King has developed a sort of template, what I like to call the Stephen King Mad Lib, for books like this. There's a big ugly creature (in Maine, usually) and a group of people can stop it if they do the right things. If they do something wrong, one of them dies. If there is one person still left at the end, they win. Usually even the lucky "survivor" is maimed or dies in the act of winning. For examples, see It, Salem's Lot, Desperation, The Stand, The Tommyknockers, etc. Here the template gets the best of him. Eddie is killed for no good reason at all while stopping the beam breakers. Jake is killed by the car which was supposed to kill Stephen King (yes, that car crash even worked it's way in). And Oy is impaled by Mordred. I was even upset at the quick dispatching of Randall Flagg, villain in so many King books including The Stand. He deserved more than to simply be eaten by It.

In the story, Stephen King's character must survive or the universe will fall. He implies that there has always been some writer telling this tale (Robert Browning before him) and so saving that writer is necessary. And yes, it was as annoying to read that as it sounds.

Anyway, the single worst thing that happens in this book, after enough walking to cause Frodo Baggins to become sympathetic, is the treatment of Roland.


When Roland finally reaches the top of the tower (after defeating the Crimson King, no more than an old man throwing grenades), a bunch of really stupid stuff happens.

King talks endlessly about how our universe (and Roland's) only moves forward in time, never backward. Yet the Tower sends Roland back to the beginning of his quest, without memory, and implies that he has done this thousands of times already. But if his world only moves forward, how is this possible?

Stupid thing number two: King implies that if Roland would have remembered to bring the "Horn of Eld" with him (lost to him in the distant past) his quest would have ended. On his "new quest" after being sent back by the tower, he has the horn. My question to King: If the stupid horn will end the quest, why didn't you tell us THAT story? Instead, he renders all that his gunslinger has accomplished over the life of this story meaningless and needlessly tortures him to boot.

And he justifies this because he's not in control. He's just a conduit.


So to Stephen King I say, thanks for nothing. And to the driver of the car that almost took Mr. King's life, you actually did succeed in killing the story.

I recommend reading the first three books, The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three, and The Waste Lands, and stopping right there (and get the "old versions" if you can. He's re-edited them). That is where the series truly ended.

Next up:

The Deptford Trilogy by Robertson Davies (which is fantastic so far), which includes:

Fifth Business
The Manticore
World of Wonders

About those predictions, part 2:

I didn't fair quite as well on the late game, but I was correct about what really matter: the spread.

Still, let's take a look:

Prediction: BenRo will be picked off twice.
Reality: Ben was picked off three times. Sorry I showed so much confidence in you Ben.

Prediction: Troy Brown will return a punt for a TD.
Reality: Nope, but Rodney Harrison returned an INT for a TD. Not that those are the same in any way.

Prediction: The Steelers will not rush for over 100 yards.
Reality: 163 yards on the ground. Pretty impressive effort from the Steelers actually.

Prediction: Patriots, 24-17.
Reality: Patriots, 41-27.

Granted I was not quite as accurate in this game, but overall I think it was a very successful day.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

About those predicitions:

The Eagles/Falcons game just ended, Let's take a look at my predictions from this post.

Prediction: Vick will be sacked at least 5 times.
Reality: Vick was sacked 4 times. Not bad.

Prediction: Vick will have under 50 yards rushing and under 125 yards passing.
Reality: 26 yards rushing, 136 yards passing. Not too shabby.

Prediction: Vick will throw at least 1 interception (to Dawkins) and fumble at least once.
Reality: Vick threw 1 interception to Dawkins, and fumbled once. Wow.

Prediction: Final score, 28-10.
Reality: Final score, 27-10. Thank you, thank you very much.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Football Friday

There is a lot of good analysis out there. Start with Sports Guy, then read Aaron Schatz and Michael David Smith.

OK, now you're ready. Normally I'm terrible at predicting football games, however, when it comes to the last three games of the year I've been stellar. In fact, I have yet to predict a Super Bowl incorrectly.

Atlanta (+5) at PHILLY

There has been a lot of Hyperbole regarding Michael Vick this week. One gets the impression that he's the greatest thing since sliced bread. He has a very minor flaw, however, that allows defenses to occasionally stop him, as far fetched as that sounds. His kryptonite, his Achilles Heal, if you will, is his complete inability to complete a pass. While this liability is not such a big deal with, say, Randy Moss, (unless you have him throwing passes which no one could possibly stupid enough to try), it is a big deal when it comes to your quarterback.

Compounding this problem is the fact that the Eagle WRs without TO, long suffering bunch that they are, will not be the worst receiving corps on the field this Sunday. In fact, the TOless Eagles and talentless Falcons may be the worst combined WR group ever to play in a league championship game. Who do you think is better, Todd Pinkston or Brian Finneran? The answer is, somewhat surprisingly, neither.

Of course, Vick can run. The thing is that Vick has problems running against fast middle linebackers. Enter Jeremiah Trotter, the fine Philly MLB, recently back from injury. Vick is not going to be able to have his way with the Eagles as he did against Mike Martz's "defense." NFL conventional wisdom holds (incorrectly) that you have to run to open up the pass. The Falcons have to run because that's all that they can do.

The Eagles will load up at the line and absolutely dare the falcons to pass against them. The Falcons will not be equal to the task. The Falcons can be run on. Look for Westbrook to have a big game. Even without TO, the Eagles are still far and away the best team in the NFC. There is no reason that this game should be close. Philly is supposed to get 2 feet of snow, which is always a wild card, but the Eagles know how to handle the elements.

Eagles, 28-10

Specific predictions - Vick will be sacked at least 5 times. He will have under 50 yards rushing and under 125 yards passing. He will throw at least 1 interception (to Dawkins) and fumble at least once.

New England (-3) at PITT

This one is a tough call because the Steelers have a superior defense, but ultimately the Patriots are just a better team. Pitt relies heavily on it's defense, and Bill Cowher's porn mustache, to hold opposing teams in check. For all of the hype surrounding him, Ben Rothlisberger (henceforth BenRo) has been very ordinary, and in recent weeks the Steelers have won in spite of their young QB. The Steelers have a productive rushing attack in the same way that Allen Iverson is a productive scorer. He'll get his 26 points, even if he has to jack up 42 shots to do it. Stopping the Steelers running attack is really as simple as not being bothered by it. If you focus on the pass, they have problems moving the ball.

Bill Belichick will have BenRo confused and frustrated very quickly if the Steeler rushing attack falters and Bill will make sure that the Steeler running attack does just that.

The Pats are also the superior offensive team. The put up points, and rarely turn the ball over. The Steelers' best chance is to get a few turnovers and get a lead, but that's a tall order against the Pats. Not impossible, but tough. When the Steelers defeated the Pats earlier this year the Pats were without Corey Dillon and BenRo's thumb was fine. That has all changed. Defenses will keep this one close, but the experienced Patriots will come out ahead.

Patriots, 24-17.

Specific predictions - BenRo will be picked off twice. Troy Brown will return a punt for a TD. The Steelers will not rush for over 100 yards.

It should be fun.

Initially I thought that this was a hoax,

but it's not. If you're still in doubt after "playing" you can get there via FEMA's main site very easily.

(hat tip, Danny)

Fun Friday

The Incredible Hulk was bored, so he started a blog:


Hulk does not know where to start! OK Hulk knows! Hulk can start with good stuff!!

Jarvis cooked that turkey so good! It was tasty and if Ant Man hadn't rushed Iron Man when Iron Man was "Staring at that sweatermeat" that Wasp had (HULK NOT KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS!), it would have stayed tasty instead of falling on ground!

Thor got all mad over fight because they spilled his potatoes too and then Blue Captain America Man tried to stop fight and when he stepped on table to make the kick in their jaws, the TABLE FELL OVER and EVEN THE PIE FELL OFF.

Oh, Hulk is so sad about that pie. It looked good.

Some day I hope to live in a country

where Spongebob is free to marry Tinky Winky. From Ed Brayton:

First it was Jerry Falwell publicly claiming that Tinky Winky was gay; then a bunch of "pro-family" groups actually claimed that the animated movie A Shark's Tale was encouraging kids to be transvestites; now it's James Dobson's turn, taking aim at Spongebob Squarepants. His spokesman says that a new video by the We Are Family Foundation, featuring about 100 cartoon characters dancing to the song We Are Family to encourage tolerance and caring for one another, is "an insidious means by which the organisation is manipulating and potentially brainwashing kids."

Yeah, what could be more insidious than encouraging kids to be tolerant and caring? Come on, what's next, loving their neighbor? Turning the other cheek? Why, that would be downright Christ-like and we can't have that, can we? The video, it should be added, doesn't even
mention homosexuality, or sexuality at all. It was created after 9/11 by Nile Rodgers (a brilliant musician, songwriter and producer, by the way. He was the force behind a lot of great albums, most notably Steve Winwood's Higher Love) to help urge people to think beyond the easy stereotypes that allow us to demonize people we see as Them and, ultimately, to do things like flying airplanes into buildings and kill innocent people. How horrible! How insidious!


Do as I say, not as I do.

The ACLU is considering disciplining two board members for speaking ill of the ACLU:

Ms. Kaminer and Mr. Meyers began pressing for more information about certain practices last summer. Their pressure led to the disclosure that the organization had signed an agreement that obliged it to check its employees' names against government terrorist watch lists, the type of lists it has decried. They also discovered that Mr. Romero advised the Ford Foundation, his former employer, to use the language of the USA Patriot Act, which the organization is fighting, in its grant agreements.

Most recently, the dissident board members have criticized Mr. Romero's decision to do more extensive research on A.C.L.U. donors and members without fully informing the board what data would be obtained by whom. They say they were concerned that the organization is engaging in the same kind of research that it has contested as a violation of privacy when done by government agencies and corporations.

"They are going after the critics instead of the criticism, and I think that's a gross embarrassment and shameful for the A.C.L.U.," Ms. Kaminer said in an interview.

Mr. Meyers said any effort to punish or silence them would be a violation of the organization's commitment to free speech and the right to dissent. "I am a person who urges them and constantly reminds them that they must practice what they preach," he said, "and I am, therefore, their worst nightmare."

Someone dispatch the irony police!
(Hat tip, Orin Kerr)


Apparently that Michael Moore bodyguard story was not true. From Moorewatch:

Our full-time employee, Patrick Burk, is not “Michael Moore’s bodyguard.” Accordingly, the headline in the Fox News Web site story is false and misleading.

If you believe Patrick Burk was ever assigned to protect Michael Moore, or any number of other public figures, you might accurately report that “A bodyguard who was once assigned to protect Michael Moore...”

You could as accurately say “A bodyguard that was once assigned to protect President Clinton,” because Patrick Burk has also been assigned to protect President Clinton in the past - but you wouldn’t be accurate if you said “President Clinton’s Bodyguard.”

Patrick Burk is not Michael Moore’s bodyguard, nor was he protecting Michael Moore or in any way involved with Michael Moore on Wednesday night, when he (Burk) was checking in at JFK for a flight to Los Angeles.

Our apologies for the error.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd

should probably pick his battles a bit better:

Underscoring the Democrats' dissatisfaction, Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, an outspoken critic of the decision to go to war, announced late in the day that he would not allow the Senate to approve Rice without a few days of consideration of her testimony, and at least a token debate on the floor. His refusal to join in the unanimous consent of all Senators for a quick vote effectively torpedoed the administration's hopes to have her nomination approved today.

Robert Byrd is, of course, a former member of the Ku Klux Klan.

There is no chance that Dr. Rice will not be confirmed by the Senate, so all of this opposition is simple political grandstanding. Grandstanding, while annoying, does happen on both sides of the aisle. That being said, isn't Byrd's grandstanding on this issue incredibly stupid?

If only a few more people would watch "Bowling for Columbine"

unfortunate incidents like this might not happen. Alas.
(Hat tip, Instapundit)


Funny headline.

(Hat tip, Marginal Revolution)

Tonight's Entertainment

Tonight I'm going to see Chris O'Riley plays Radiohead. (He's a classical pianist.) It should be fun. If you're curious, here is an NPR interview with a few performances.

The Future of Public Law School

Over at the Conglomerate Professor Smith notes an interesting post by Brian Leiter, and another by Stephen Bainbridge (not exactly two peas in a pod):

Brian and Steve are both right. Gone are the days when the law school can be a cash cow for the universities. Legal scholars are more expensive than professors in many other departments, and law school programs are increasingly resource intensive. While law school alumni often provide substantial support, tuition dollars are essential to the funding structure. Virginia and Michigan were ahead of the curve in "privatizing" their law schools, and those states have benefited. Wisconsin should follow their lead.

Read the whole thing, and when you're finished, read Professor Hurt's take on the Coors-Molson merger (which is of particular interest to me):

As in all great merger stories, there is a family quarrel at Molson, with Chairman Eric Molson pushing the merger and cousin Ian Molson, former Deputy Chairman, arguing against the merger. Ian has been trying to find other merger partners, but faced an uphill battle straight out of an M&A textbook. Coors and Molson have an existing partnership whereby Molson brews, markets and distributes Coors beer in Canada. This partnership accounts for 20% of Molson's operating profit and 13.8% of operating earnings. This agreement seems to have a "Change of Control" provision whereby upon Molson merging with anyone else, Coors takes over sales and marketing of Coors Light in Canada, with Molson being obligated to continue to produce and distribute Coors for 10 years under the same contract terms. The cost of this provision to other would-be suitors has been valued at $50 million annually. Therefore, the merger is only economic for Coors, and no other merger partner. A classic example of how a long-term contract can give a company some synergy and integration but also tie its hands.

And, as she goes on to point out, what's truly important is how this affects Miller.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Lileks is angry.

Bath and Body Works is discontinuing his favorite soap/shampoo! Seriously! Check it out:
If I find myself tense, coating myself in a thick paste of Orange Ginger moisturizer has no noticeable effect on my life, other than to make me feel unduly damp, and emit squishing sounds when I sit. But the aromas are nonetheless pleasing. If you have set foot in your stores recently, you will notice the accentuated preponderance of floral and spicy scents, as though someone had swabbed the walls with an expensive prostitute.

The Brewers new owner

Mark Attanasio wrote this letter to the fans.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Normally I side with Walmart,

and I suppose this isn't really their fault. But this is crap.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

There is a scene in The Life Aquatic where Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson) misses his turn on guard duty because he's listening to Jane Winslett-Richardson (Kate Blanchett) read Marcel Proust to her unborn baby. While he's away pirates board the ship at the exact moment that Pele Dos Santos (Seu Jorge) reaches the climax of David Bowie's "A Space Oddity" which he sings in Portuguese while sitting at the stern of The Belafonte.

There is a lot going on in The Life Aquatic, and almost every scene is composed of several little moments, jokes, and tunes so that you always have to be on your guard or risk missing a few. Murray plays Steve Zissou, the Jacques Cousteau-like seafarer who is on a mission to find and kill a Jaguar Shark (which may or may not exist) which ate his best friend on his last voyage. Unfortunately Zissou hasn't made a hit movie in nine years an lacks funding. Fortunately, Owen Wilson, who may or may not be Zissou's son shows up and agrees to invest the money he recently inherited from his deceased mother in Steve's new film. If this all sounds like nonsense, it is, but Wes Anderson's protagonists can always get away with the absurd because he always sets them in an absurd context. Very few people can claim to be world famous oceanographers (and this movie features not one, but two).

Wes Anderson's movies are always staged and acted as if they were plays. His characters are always under the watchful eyes of an audience. There is a reason that Max Fisher is a play write, and why Royal Tenenbaum is the wealthy patron of a famous family. These people, to some extent, exist to be watched. Zissou is no different. When we are allowed to look inside his ship, the Belafonte, the 3rd wall is removed for our benefit, as if we were looking at the H.M.S. Pinafore. The aforementioned Jorge provides most of the soundtrack on his acoustic guitar, all in Portuguese, and all David Bowie. He is supplemented by a Casio keyboard which seems to have been designed circa 1984.

Anderson also maintains his trade mark bright color scheme and larger-than-life accessories. The Belafonte is equipped with an actual yellow submarine, and all observed marine life is computer generated. Some have accused him of disguising his lack of substance with pretty colors. I just think he wants to be sure that you see everything worth seeing.

This movie is very funny, but I don't want to give away more than the commercials already do. One of my favorite lines in Rushmore occurs when Max is out to dinner with Rosemary and Luke Wilson. Max refers to Luke as a Nurse. Wilson retorts that he is wearing OR scrubs to which Max replies, "oh are they?" If you think that that is funny, you'll probably laugh at The Life Aquatic.

So what is it about? Primarily it's about Steve's loneliness. He doesn't really have a family to speak of, and his best friend was just eaten. He is estranged from his wife, his maybe-son can't really connect with him, and with the exception of Klaus (Willem Dafoe) who longs to be Steve's friend/son, the crew members are just background. He tries to create a family and to build bonds with those he encounters no matter what. Sometimes it is appropriate and sometimes not. In the end, everyone he gathers shares a special moment, which is really all I can say.

The bottom line is that it's good. If you enjoy quirky films, or Anderson's other films, you will probably like this one. But it's a weird flick. It's highly stylized and probably not for everyone (just check out Ebert's review) but I liked it a lot.

Sound Bite Culture is No Defense

Giving the public vague snipets of information that does not clearly define policy objectives is no excuse to use when the policies fail or are misunderstood. If the information given is so vague that it can easily be misinterpreted or is demonstrably false, then the politician deserves the criticism even if it is from pundits on the other side of the aisle. The sound bite and the "complicated reason" must always match.

WMDs were not just one of many reasons for the Iraq war, they were the primary reason, and not just for there "ease of sound bite" quality. Saddam Hussein had fewer connections to terror than the House of Saud, the Ayatollahs and many other governments across the globe. The democratic peace theory could never be sold to the American populace, nor could it be sold to the UN Security Council; that is why WMD was moved to the forefront.

Furthermore, not all intelligence within the US Government pointed to WMD. After all, we hadn't been there since 1998, nor did we have any field agents (to the best of available information) in Iraq until the leadup to the war had already begun, and there were many within the CIA that didn't agree with Tenet's "slam dunk" case. The last US inspector we had in Iraq said that there was almost no possibility of Iraq developing WMD since he had left the country.

Also, maybe the reason that Iraq and 9/11 got lumped together is because the President, and Vice President mentioned them together at every opportunity and connected the two through the global war on terror. According to insiders such as Richard Clark and Bob Woodward, the President sought a connection to Iraq immediately following the 9/11 attacks, so he himself must have thought the two were indirectly if not directly related.

If Bush wants America to democratize the world, then we should be straight with the populace and tell them.

Running Against Scarecrows

Ryan mentioned the old "Bush/Republicans lied" idea below, which always gets me in a bit of a snit, which is strange considering I don't really feel the need to defend the President. But for all of his true faults I am amazed that the idea that Bush lied about Iraq still manages to creep its way into civil discourse. This got me to thinking about a trap that all politicians set for themselves. Let's call it the "Strawman Trap."

Any given politician will usually offer several justifications for a given policy. One justification will usually be a "sound bite." This justification is in the form of an advertisement. Ideally, it captures the essence of the argument while at the same time lodging itself in the unsuspecting populace's brain. One of the problems with sound bites, however, is that because they are simple, they are also vague, open to misinterpretation, and occasionally false. They always start out as strawman arguments on the politicians behalf, but because they are simple, the strawman can quickly become mutinous.

The second justification is the "complicated reason" and it is intended for policy wonks. This is the real explanation, but explaining it would take a long time, and hearing it would bore most people. Usually the justifications are somewhat related, but sometimes they are not. When the sound bite and complicated reason don't match, that politician is in for a long couple of months.

Iraq was certainly an example of this. WMDs were one of many justifications for the war in Iraq, and they quickly became the sound bite. I always believed that the true justification was the spread of democracy in the Middle East. Liberal pundits seized on the WMD meme, driving it harder and harder as it became clear that none would be found. They claim that "Bush lied" (which is silly. All domestic and foreign intelligence, and Bill Clinton before Bush, believed the same thing). However, this was and is a straw man argument. The belief that WMDs existed in Iraq was only one of many many reasons for the war. It made a good sound bite, and it seemed likely that they would be found at the outset, but eventually Bush lost control of this strawman and he paid for it.

Other strawmen soon joined the ranks of a quickly swelling straw army. Some claimed that the President insisted that Iraq had a hand in 9/11. He never did, as doing so would have been incredibly stupid. They were and still are connected to terrorism (especially in Israel), but not 9/11. However, the facts could not stop this strawman from joining the fray as well.

But this is old news. A brand new strawman trap is gaining strength right now, and it deals with the privatization of Social Security. There are few sure things in life. There are death and taxes. There is the fact that Pokemon was invented to teach children the joys of cockfighting. And then there are Paul Krugman's Tuesday and Friday New York Times columns in which he will bash the idea of Social Security privatization.

Krugman has seized on the sound bite argument that Social Security is in crisis. Bush has pushed this idea himself as it plays to a lot of voters. Every election Democrats push the idea that Republicans will cut Social Security in a sad attempt to pander to old people. If Republicans can convince everyone that Social Security is in dire straits their attempts to change it (for good or for ill) will not encounter the same kind of resistance. This is the sound bite argument.

Krugman has a point that calling the problems with Social Security a "crisis" is overstating things a bit, but it's not the true "complicated" argument, and he knows it. The true argument is as follows.

Right now, current workers pay old people. There are currently a lot more workers than there are old people. This makes the arrangement tolerable. In fifteen years or so the number of workers to old people will be about 2/1. That is not a very big margin. While we will still be able to fund Social Security with those numbers, either taxes will have to go up, or benefits will have to be cut. (See Arnold Kling's articles on the subject.)

Krugman appears to advocate maintaining the status quo. At some point the status quo will either fail or impose a much more serious burden on workers. I would like to know Krugman's take on the actual complicated problem, and not just the sound bite. While I'm quite sure I will disagree with it, at least we will have something to discuss. Until then, he's just taking up valuable NYT real estate.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Required Reading

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity. But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check -- a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God's children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of the Negro. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.
We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. we must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" we can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor's lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew our of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Not Just Another Day

"One person armed with the truth is a majority."
- Martin Luther King Jr.

Apparently 51 million people armed with lies is a majority as well.

Wish you were here MLK. Respect.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Scnappi Site Hacked!

Earlier Paul shared the comical story of Schappi the German Croc (from Egpyt). The site has since been hacked as a response to Schnappi's burgeoning popularity and subsequent selling out.


Schnappi Site

And a loose translation of the hacker manifesto...

Down with Commericalized Schnappi!


When Schnappi became famous in the last month, it was funny. But, like everything worthwhile, Schnappi was commercialized.

We say: Down with that!

Friday, January 14, 2005

What 's on the CD player?

Today I'm listening to The Postal Service's, Give Up.

The Postal Service was formed by Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello of Dntel, and the album is excellent. It's synth-pop, but it's atypical in that it's bubbly and happy, whereas most synth-pop (at least in my experience) is discordant and depressing (like Depeche Mode). If you're familiar with the soundtrack to Garden State, Postal Service actually wrote From Such Great Heights (which gets acoustic treatment from Iron and Wine), one of the highlights of the album, and it's a testament to Postal Service that I prefer the synth-pop version of something to the acoustic version of something. They're very unique (although they remind me a little of Liam Lynch and Matt Crocco's Sifl & Olly Show songs) and worth a listen.

Have you seen that documentary about Harvard?

You know, Van Wilder?

Wow, Harvard students are lame.

Via Ahren:

Following complaints that it does little to promote campus social life, the Ivy League school has hired its first "fun czar" -- Zac Corker, a recent Harvard graduate whose job is to build community spirit and help stressed-out students unwind.

Corker knows a few things about kicking back. As an undergraduate, he helped organize numerous social events and put together a Web site -- -- aimed at protecting students' "right to party."

Described by the student government chief as "a creative schemer," Corker has gone from student to administrator in a few short months. In exchange for room, board and a modest stipend, he now serves as the go-to guy for students who have ideas about social events but don't have the time or knowledge to navigate the school bureaucracy and bring them to fruition.

Tom Jones was not involved...

This is what happens when Pentagon officials spend too much time playing Ratchet and Clank. has an article about some of the Pentagon's wacky, wacky weapons programs:

Most bizarre among the plans was one for the development of an "aphrodisiac" chemical weapon that would make enemy soldiers sexually irresistible to each other. Provoking widespread homosexual behaviour among troops would cause a "distasteful but completely non-lethal" blow to morale, the proposal says.

Other ideas included chemical weapons that attract swarms of enraged wasps or angry rats to troop positions, making them uninhabitable. Another was to develop a chemical that caused "severe and lasting halitosis", making it easy to identify guerrillas trying to blend in with civilians. There was also the idea of making troops' skin unbearably sensitive to sunlight.

Doesn't this sound like the kind of thing that tends to create Spiderman supervillains?
(Hat tip, Drudge)

New Packer GM: Ted Thompson

It's official.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Why I Am a Liberal

I’ve experienced first hand the good that can come from the power of the state. After running a business for over three years, I was dead broke, in debt, and without any formal education or vocational training at the age of 23. I wanted to become a productive member of the middle class, perhaps start up another business at some point, but I knew I needed to get myself educated and establish a financial base first.

Enter the state: I initially reenrolled at Minneapolis Community and Technical College (a state school) because their extremely cheap tuition was all I could afford. I received an extremely quality education there by many instructors who although qualified to teach at any prestigious institution, chose to teach to underprivileged city kids who needed it.

Once I was 24, I transferred to the University of Minnesota. Because of my age, I was considered an independent, and was eligible for Pell and Minnesota State grants. The state’s assistance has provided me with a world-class education at a university considered in the top 50 on the planet; without this aid, I would’ve never been able to pay for such high quality teaching. Besides the amazing school system, the city’s state subsidized transit system allowed me to lead a quality life for 5 years without owning a car; I still use it to this day to avoid parking and traffic concerns. I am now on track to lead a productive life, start a career, and contribute to the system that brought me up.

Generous UN Tsunami Aid

The Commons links to this letter to the editor in the Daily Telegraph:

Sir - Having survived the tsunami in Sri Lanka, I have one abiding memory of the aftermath.

On New Year's Eve, I was returning to my evacuee relief centre, when I passed one of Colombo's finest restaurants. It was with surprise and dismay that I saw it was filled with freshly suited UN officials, their finely polished official cars and dutiful drivers parked ostentatiously outside (News, Jan 10).

I went to bed early, on the floor of a sports hall along with 500 other displaced tourists. I couldn't get into a hotel; they were full of aid officials.

Tarquin Desoutter, Battle, E Sussex

To protest the KKK Bake Sale

The Black Panthers are having a Bike Ride! (From Noam Scheiber)

Michael David Smith

on EC favorite, Ed "Hercules" Hochuli:

The league admits that penalties decline in the playoffs but claims that’s because good teams don’t commit penalties and good teams make the playoffs. That’s just not true. In reality, there’s no statistical correlation between the number of a team’s penalties and its winning percentage. Good teams are more aggressive, and aggressiveness leads to penalties. Winning teams also tend to be smarter about taking penalties at the right times; it’s often advantageous to take a delay-of-game penalty rather than waste a timeout.

In truth, each year the NFL has 11 referees working 11 playoff games, and each year Hochuli gets more face time than any other ref. Maybe that’s because he’s the only one who doesn’t back off from making the tough calls in the playoffs. Maybe he’s too anxious to throw his flag. Or maybe he just wants a wide audience to see his bulging pecs. Whatever the reason, Hochuli and his crew consistently call more penalties than any other group of officials in the NFL at playoff time.

Consider some of the numbers. Saturday’s Chargers-Jets game had 17 accepted penalties for 124 yards, all in regulation. This weekend’s other three games all had fewer penalties for fewer yards, with an average of 12 for 84 yards.

Last season, the 12 playoff teams averaged 6.3 penalties for 51.6 yards a game during the regular season. In the playoffs, those same teams averaged 4.6 penalties for 34.5 yards a game. That was a drop of 27% in terms of penalties per game and 33% in terms of yards per game. Then Ed Hochuli refereed the Super Bowl and promptly gave us a game in which the teams combined to accept 20 penalties for 133 yards.

Read the whole thing.

Germans are weird.

First, read this.
Then, look at this, and listen to the first version..

And remember, if you can't get it out of your head, all you have to do is listen to Warren Zevon's Werewolves of London. It can get any song out of your head, guaranteed (Note: Except Werewolves of London).

Here is a loose translation of the lyrics:

I am Schnappi the little crocodile

I live in Egypt, which lies directly on the Nile

At first I lay in an egg

Then snip, snap, snapped myself free


I am Schnappi the little crocodile

Have sharp teeth and (they're pretty nice?)

I snap for myself what I can snap

Yeah I snap as well as I can


I am Schnappi the little crocodile

I like to snap, it's my favorite game

I sneak up on my mom

And show her how well I can snap


I am Schnappi the little crocodile

And I can never have too much snapping

I bit my dad in the leg

And then I fell right asleep


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