The Electric Commentary

Friday, April 29, 2005

Creative uses for Rock, Paper, Scissors

Dan Drezner has an interesting (and shocking) post regarding this NYT article:

Takashi Hashiyama, president of Maspro Denkoh Corporation, an electronics
company based outside of Nagoya, Japan, could not decide whether Christie's or
Sotheby's should sell the company's art collection, which is worth more than $20
million, at next week's auctions in New York.

He did not split the
collection - which includes an important Cezanne landscape, an early Picasso
street scene and a rare van Gogh view from the artist's Paris apartment -
between the two houses, as sometimes happens. Nor did he decide to abandon the
auction process and sell the paintings through a private dealer.

Instead, he resorted to an ancient method of decision-making that has
been time-tested on playgrounds around the world: rock breaks scissors, scissors
cuts paper, paper smothers rock....

Read the whole thing.

Fun Friday

I meant to do a lot more posting today, but work got in the way.

So, this afternoon when you're killing the last few hours before the weekend starts, why not watch a few cartoons.

Start with Magical Trevor, here and here.

Then check out the last two E-mails to Strongbad, which were very amusing.

Gotta go. Have a great weekend.

Is this The Diamond Age?

I just finished The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson, which caused this TCS article to catch my eye:

But that deep system of embedded cultural legacy is being silted over; a new tide of silicon-based sedimentation is coming, and coming fast. On Friday, The New York Times' review of the new Nicole Kidman movie, "The Interpreter," clocked in at 978 words -- I counted. That same day, April 22, the Times printed a 1272-word review of a new videogame, "Jade Empire". That's right: the videogame review was nearly a third longer than the movie review.

Of course, that's only fair, since "Jade" is a lot more entertaining than "Interpreter." Yet still, movies have a vastly bigger place in the Times' pantheon: the review of "Interpreter" was on page E1 of the entertainment section in the hard copy, with a color photo, plus another black and white photo on the jump page, while the "Jade" review was on page E36, with just a single small black and white photo.

In The Diamond Age, entertainment as we know it today is derisively referred to as being "passive." Videogames and movies have essentially merged into "ractives" (short for "interactives") starring "ractors." The consumer plays a part in every ractive, but it still proceeds like your basic movie.

As videogames become more plot driven and more advanced I think it is certainly possible that we will see a day in which video games cannot be distinguished from movies. I don't think that videogames can ever truly replace movies, because people do not always want to be interacting with their entertainment. Passivity is relaxing. But eventually I think movies will have to start viewing complex videogames as a big threat.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

The Story of The Family Guy

The New Republic is often at its best when it when it strays off into pop culture. This article on The Family Guy is quite entertaining:

Indeed, I must confess that I never caught the show during its initial airing, dismissing it at the time as a crude knock-off of its Fox neighbor, "The Simpsons." Of course, I wasn't entirely wrong--but there's both more and less to it than that. On the whole, "Family Guy" is a less-rich variation on the theme of dysfunction than Matt Groening's show. McFarlane never ventures into anything resembling sentimentality, which can't be said of "The Simpsons," in which the stability of family offers a moral bedrock. "Family Guy"'s callousness is of a piece with its comic mode, which can be described as the fusion of two strains in contemporary American comedy: the knowing lowbrow gratuitousness of "South Park," Robert Smigel, and the Farrelly brothers and the geeky pop-culture obscurantism typified by the TV-weaned generation of sketch comedy ("The Ben Stiller Show," "Mr. Show," Wet Hot American Summer). Jokes about penis size and bestiality sit alongside pop arcana gags involving the Kool-Aid mascot, "The Electric Company," and Yakov Smirnoff. (More than anything else on TV, "Family Guy" apotheosizes the Python-esque non sequitur.)

At its most inspired, the show combines pomo references and exuberant smut. In one episode, Peter visits Brian in prison but gets distracted by the visiting couple next to them, who recreate Midnight Express's infamous jail visit scene--except this time it is a dog splaying her six nipples on the glass partition for her incarcerated mate. In another episode, the Griffins stay the night in a dingy hotel room. Looking around the place, Stewie notes the filth around them: "Oatmeal. Spittle. Semen. This must be where Wilford Brimley was strangled by Bob Crane."

Don't Panic!

I'm a big Douglas Adams fan, but I was initially skeptical about adapting The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (THGTTG) into a movie. The books are very episodic, and there is no overall goal that the characters are striving for. I mean, they learn the answer to life, the universe, and everything, somewhere in the middle of the story.

That being said, the movie, which comes out tomorrow, looks like it has potential. A few reviews are starting to make the rounds, and the Trib's is pretty positive:

Even so, there's a lot to love about Garth Jennings' high-spirited, unhinged adaptation of Adams' collective work, most notably the casting of Martin Freeman (of the BBC version of "The Office") as the novel's unwilling hero, Arthur Dent.

Freeman embodies Englishman Dent's barely-stifled annoyance at being the last human male in the universe, thanks to Earth's untimely demolition for an intergalactic freeway. Billions die, but he's saved by friend Ford Prefect (Mos Def), who is actually an alien visiting Earth to research a new entry for the universal best-selling book, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."

Just when Arthur thinks his Thursday morning can't get any worse, he and Ford face torture at the hands of bloated galactic bureaucrats, the Vogons, then are promptly rescued by the insane, two-headed president of the universe, Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell), and Trillian ("Elf's" Zooey Deschanel), an Earth girl who previously rejected Arthur at a cocktail party.

And all Arthur wants is a cup of tea.

So I am now cautiously optimistic.

A Gift to Bloggers Everywhere

The President is speaking this evening on his plans to fix Social Security, and other issues. It should be fun for everyone.

I actually thought he was giving a speech last night, but it turned out to be Bill Walton. Which explains why he kept referring to Social Security as a "special, special, entitlement." My bad.

Kweisi Mfume is quasi-fuming.

Apparently the NAACP leader was inappropriately rewarding women with whom he had close relationships.

I don't really have much to offer in the way of commentary, I've just always wanted to write this headline.

Update: "Kweisi Mfume is quasi-infumed" is also good, but infumed means "smoked" which doesn't seem quite right to me.

Update 2: Wow, I had a bad, bad typo on this post for quite a while. I would like to make clear though, that it was only a typo. My sincerest apologies if anyone read it and was offended by it.

Where's the Bear Patrol when you need them?

This bear was captured just 8 blocks from my parents house.

I'm with Homer:

"We're here! We're queer! We don't want any more bears!"

- Homer and mob

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

What is with the Packers?

First Ahman Green, now Al Harris.

What are we, the frickin' Trailblazers?

Interesting stuff

There is so much great stuff today that I didn't even get to my daily NYT and Washington Post.

Virginia Postrel
has a ton of great posts. Just keep scrolling, and make sure you read about Chicago's new retro McDonald's.

Glenn Reynold's catches the NYT fibbing here, and some insight into the president's waning poll numbers here.

And Professor Smith writes about cheese.

I've got a good feeling about today.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Why was the President's military tenure cut short?

Perhaps someone in the military found out about this.

(Hat tip, Ace)

Thomas Sowell on Race, Racism, and the South

I'm not sure that I completely agree with this, but it is definitely interesting:

What is not nearly as widely known is that there were also very large disparities within the white population of the pre-Civil War South and the white population of the Northern states. Although Southern whites were only about one-third of the white population of the U.S., an absolute majority of all the illiterate whites in the country were in the South.

The North had four times as many schools as the South, attended by more than four times as many students. Children in Massachusetts spent more than twice as many years in school as children in Virginia. Such disparities obviously produce other disparities. Northern newspapers had more than four times the circulation of Southern newspapers. Only 8% of the patents issued in 1851 went to Southerners. Even though agriculture was the principal economic activity of the antebellum South at the time, the vast majority of the patents for agricultural inventions went to Northerners. Even the cotton gin was invented by a Northerner.

Disparities between Southern whites and Northern whites extended across the board from rates of violence to rates of illegitimacy. American writers from both the antebellum South and the North commented on the great differences between the white people in the two regions. So did famed French visitor Alexis de Tocqueville.

None of these disparities can be attributed to either race or racism. Many contemporary observers attributed these differences to the existence of slavery in the South, as many in later times would likewise attribute both the difference between Northern and Southern whites, and between blacks and whites nationwide, to slavery. But slavery doesn't stand up under scrutiny of historical facts any better than race or racism as explanations of North-South differences or black-white differences. The people who settled in the South came from different regions of Britain than the people who settled in the North--and they differed as radically on the other side of the Atlantic as they did here--that is, before they had ever seen a black slave.

Slavery also cannot explain the difference between American blacks and West Indian blacks living in the United States because the ancestors of both were enslaved. When race, racism, and slavery all fail the empirical test, what is left?

Culture is left.

Read the whole thing.

Why do we tip the beer guy?

I attended the Cubs-Reds game last night, and on two separate and unrelated occasions my friends and I got to discussing why it is that we tip the beer vendor, but not the cotton candy vendor.

This is a little strange, if you think about it. I suppose it stems from the fact that we tip bartenders, but this is also a little strange. Bartenders, after all, serve basically the same function as chefs, (the chef makes food, the bartender makes drinks) and we do not tip chefs. We tip waitresses because they are attending to our needs. If they fill up our water and promptly bring us our food, we tip them well, but we have to go and find the bartender ourselves, wading through countless drunk people only to be passed over several times by the bartender because we're not a girl in a halter top. Bartenders should be tipping us.

The beer vendors at baseball games are more like waiters, so I suppose it makes sense to tip them, but why then do we not tip the cotton candy guy? He brings that delicious spun sugar directly to your seat. Doesn't he deserve, y'know, a little something for the effort?

The answer of course, is no. The reason, I believe, is as follows.

When the cotton candy guy comes around, he is trying to sell you on the idea. Very rarely do I crave cotton candy, but if I'm in the right mood, and he does a good job of selling, I might purchase some cotton candy. On the other hand, when the beer guy comes around, I engage in rather cutthroat competition to garner his attention. At a baseball game, you generally have to yell, wave your hands all around, and make a bit of a fool of yourself to summon the beer man.

The cotton candy man is like a door to door salesman. Clearly he is benefiting from your purchase. If you're not in the mood, he is an annoying disturbance. On the other hand, the beer man is in possession of a coveted scarce resource.

It would seem that we tip him first and foremost as a reward for choosing us over the drunk guy in the belly shirt 3 rows in front of us, and secondly, so that he will come back when we need him again. We're bribing the beer man. The cotton candy man? We can take him or leave him.

In short, we tip bartenders, beer vendors, and the like, because they bring us beer. We do not tip the other vendors, because they do not bring us beer.

You can read more about the economics of tipping here.

Monday, April 25, 2005

What I Think of Aaron Rodgers

The NFL Draft took place last weekend, and the highly touted Cal QB Aaron Rodgers fell all the way to #24, and the Green Bay Packers. So, what do I think of Rodgers?

1. If a highly touted player falls during draft day, and you pick him, you will probably get good value for him. Just remember, this guy was supposed to go at #1 for a long, long, time. Now, just because you're a QB at #1 does not make you a sure thing, (Couch, Couch. Pardon me, I have a cold) but it does mean that you have potential. Getting that potential for $18,000,000 less than it probably should have cost is a good thing.

2. The Pack really needed defensive linemen. I was hoping that either Marcus Spears or Erasmus James would fall to 24, but neither did. At that point you are probably not going to get value if you pick a DE, so going for a potential franchise QB is not a bad risk.

3. The Packers problems are too great to fix with the draft alone. They still need someone to provide a consistent pass rush, but this was also a problem last year. If any of their secondary players or linebackers can play, they will, at the very least, be no worse than last year.

4. The "Tedford Curse" is nonsense. Jeff Tedford has been a QB coach at Fresno State, Oregon, and Cal, and he's produced some rather mediocre pro QBs, including David Carr, Trent Dilfer, Kyle Boller, Joey Harrington, and (ugh) Akili Smith. People were reportedly scared to take another "Tedford" QB this year, which hurt Rodgers. However, the only information that you can gain by looking at Tedford's record is that;

a. He is a better QB coach than most NFL coaches.

b. He has created winners with inferior talent.

c. His QBs have been good enough in college to be drafted by some truly terrible teams (Detroit, Houston, Cincinnati (when they were wretched), and Tampa Bay (again when they were wretched). Only Boller was drafted by a good team, but they had maybe the worst offense in the NFL at the time, and have only marginally improved during his tenure.

5. Rodgers is smart. He scored a 35 on the Wonderlic, and he has a commanding personality. I heard him interviewed on the Dan Patrick Show the other day, and Dan asked him about Alex Smith, and at first Rodgers made the standard comments about how they like and respect each other. Then Patrick played Rodgers a clip of Smith talking about why he's a better prospect. When Patrick came back to Rodgers, Rodgers basically stated that their physical skills are about the same, Smith is a little quicker but neither will be a big scrambler, but Smith worked in a typical college Fun & Gun offense, which is true, and a good deal of college QBs that come from wide open offenses do not work out so well, which is also true. Basically, he did everything but refer to Smith as Ty Detmer.

I like that.

6. Rodgers has talent. Big kid with a big arm. Good technique (unlike Kyle Boller), smart, and accurate. He may still be a bust, but there are no sure things in football, and he may be the next big thing.

7. This is the time to address the Favre situation. Next year will probably be too late.

8. I feel bad for Craig Nall, because I think he's a good NFL QB. If he's not the starter here in two years I hope that he catches on somewhere else.

So, I think it was a good pick. They could have done more to address their defensive woes, but you need to draft for the future as well as for the present. It is the sign of a team with a plan. Teams with plans tend to succeed, whereas teams that react, like the Redskins, tend to flounder.

CTA Update

The cash starved CTA has a new toy:

Much like airlines that plunk pilots into the cockpits of flight simulators, the CTA will soon begin using bus simulators before putting students behind the wheels of real buses on practice courses and in on-the-street training. Officials predict the technology, funded through the Regional Transportation Authority, will provide an additional safety edge once bus-driving school graduates hit the mean streets of Chicago. The transit agency turns out new drivers after an intensive but brief 19-day training program that covers everything from driving defensively to learning routes."It's one thing to explain to students what will happen on the street. The simulated scenarios are very realistic and will give students a chance to practice a lot of the maneuvers beforehand without the intimidation of being on the actual vehicle," said Stubblefield, a 15-year CTA veteran.

And how much will this cost the poor CTA, which allegedly needs $55 million by July 17, or else?

Eighteen bus simulators, spread among the CTA's eight bus garages, cost the transit agency $1.5 million. The devices are manufactured by FAAC Inc., of Ann Arbor, Mich.

Obviously bus drivers do need some training, but is this really more effective than actually driving a bus? And do they really need 18 simulators? This seems like wasteful spending from a company that constantly cries poor.

Dan Drezner on the Average American

Dan Drezner links to all sorts of good stuff this morning, in praise of the average American. This piece by Steven Johnson in the New York Times Magazine is especially interesting:

For decades, we've worked under the assumption that mass culture follows a path declining steadily toward lowest-common-denominator standards, presumably because the ''masses'' want dumb, simple pleasures and big media companies try to give the masses what they want. But as that ''24'' episode suggests, the exact opposite is happening: the culture is getting more cognitively demanding, not less. To make sense of an episode of ''24,'' you have to integrate far more information than you would have a few decades ago watching a comparable show. Beneath the violence and the ethnic stereotypes, another trend appears: to keep up with entertainment like ''24,'' you have to pay attention, make inferences, track shifting social relationships. This is what I call the Sleeper Curve: the most debased forms of mass diversion -- video games and violent television dramas and juvenile sitcoms -- turn out to be nutritional after all.

This article raises several good points about how television shows have increased in complexity under the noses of many television critics. Johnson is absolutely right; too many people judge a TV show's value by looking at the violence content or the sex content, but in reality, a show like Deadwood, which contains every form of vulgarity known to man on a regular basis, is a much more complicated and interesting show than the hokum that they used to peddle out as entertainment.

Read the whole thing.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Before I go...

(Note: I'll be out tomorrow, see you Monday.)

Check out Tex's blog, where he has a list of requirements for students attending Bob Jones University (and a link to more). Apparently God finds movie posters, televisions, and jazz music to be offensive.

Excellent Quotes, Part 3

Baseball Prospectus 2005 contains a lot of good information about baseball, and to liven up what would otherwise be a rather dry book of statistics, the writers offer surprisingly witty commentary for every player. The entry for John Vander Wal is especially amusing:

Today is gonna be the day
That he’ll slap a pinch-hit single for you
By now you should have somehow
Wondered how at 34 he slugged .562
I don’t believe that anybody
Thought he’d last 14 years except his mom
Because maybe
We tip our caps to his playing
And after all
He was our Vander Wal

(You can read more here.)

Excellent Quotes, Part 2

From P.J. O'Rourke's Parliament of Whores.

Context: I've liked O'Rourke's work for quite some time. I actually subscribed to Rolling Stone in college specifically to read his stuff (and I now subscribe to the Atlantic Monthly for the same reason). O'Rourke is obviously a conservative, and writes from a conservative perspective. What I like about him is that he is a very skeptical conservative. Most humorists have to be skeptical to be funny, otherwise they would never have anything to ridicule. O'Rourke is at least as hard on Republicans as he is on Democrats. Anyway, this is my personal favorite:

The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer, and remove the crabgrass on your lawn. The Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work and then they get elected and prove it.

And I should probably mention this one too:

Every government is a parliament of whores. The trouble is, in a democracy, the whores are us.

Excellent Quotes, Part 1

I'm not in a blogging mood today. Instead, here are some quotes from books I'm reading. Let's start with The Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson.

Context: The Diamond Age is one of Neal's "future dystopia" books, along with Snow Crash (I have not read Zodiac, and don't know anything about it). In both of these books humanity has fragmented itself by race and culture in a sort of hypersegregation. The following conversation takes place between the moralistic and proper Neo-Victorians. This is an interesting view on hypocrisy:

"You know, when I was a young man, hypocrisy was deemed the worst of vices," Finkle-McGraw said. "It was all because of moral relativism. You see, in that sort of climate, you are not allowed to criticise others -- after all, if there is no absolute right and wrong, then what grounds is there for criticism?...

"Now, this led to a good deal of general frustration, for people are naturally censorious and love nothing better than to criticise others' shortcomings. And so it was that they seized on hypocrisy and elevated it from a ubiquitous peccadillo into the monarch of all the vices. For, you see, if there is no right and wrong, you can find grounds to criticise another person by contrasting what he has espoused with what he has actually done. In this case, you are not making any judgment whatsoever as to the correctness of his views or the morality of his behaviour -- you are merely pointing out that he has said one thing and done another. Virtually all the political discourse in the days of my youth was devoted to the ferreting out of hypocrisy.

"You wouldn't believe the things they said about the original Victorians. Calling someone a Victorian in those days was almost like calling them a fascist or a Nazi.”

Both Hackworth and Major Napier were dumbfounded. “Your Grace!” Napier exclaimed. I was naturally aware that their moral stance was radically different from ours—but I am astonished to be informed that they actually condemned the first Victorians…

"Because they were hypocrites... the Victorians were despised in the late Twentieth Century. Many of the persons who held such opinions were, of course, guilty of the most nefarious conduct themselves, and yet saw no paradox in holding such views because they were not hypocrites themselves -- they took no moral stances and lived by none."

"So they were morally superior to the Victorians -- " Major Napier said, still a bit snowed under.

-- even though -- in fact, because -- they had no morals at all."

"We take a somewhat different view of hypocrisy," Finkle-McGraw continued. "In the late Twentieth Century
Weltanschaaung, a hypocrite was someone who espoused high moral views as part of a planned campaign of deception -- he never held these beliefs sincerely and routinely violated them in privacy. Of course. most hypocrites are not like that. Most of the time it's a spirit-is-willing, flesh-is-weak sort of thing."

"That we occasionally violate our own moral code," Major Napier said, working it through, "does not imply that we are insincere in espousing that code."

"Of course not," Finkle-McGraw said. "It's perfectly obvious, really. No one ever said it was easy to hew to a strict code of conduct. Really, the difficulties involved -- the missteps we make along the way -- are what make it interesting. The internal, and eternal, struggle between our base impulses and the rigorous demands of our own moral system is quintessentially human. It is how we conduct ourselves in that struggle that determines how we may in time be judged by a higher power."

(From The Diamond Age, pages 190-191.)

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Caesar's Bath

Ed Brayton, taking a cue from John Coleman, has a list of 5 things that he "just doesn't get." These are things that Ed's peer group holds in high esteem. I thought that I would make my own list:

1. Reality TV Shows

Ed and I agree on this one. I don't think that further explanation is necessary.

2. Angelina Jolie

I just don't see it.

3. Jam Bands

By playing all of those long solos, taking up time that could be used for other songs, aren't they stealing from me?

4. Michael Vick

Who wants a quarterback who can't pass?

5. President Bush

People get really agitated about Dubya, but to me he's just another mediocre to poor president. He does some things well, and some things poorly. He's certainly not my favorite president, but it's not hard for me to imagine someone worse. I just don't understand what it is about him that gets people so riled up.

Apparently there is a new Pope

That was fast. My money is on the Italian. No, wait. That's my wager in the Sausage Race.

Update: It's the Brat!

Oh, wait, I mean the German.

He'll replace the Polish.

The World's Richest Country?

I don't know how I missed this NYT story about Norway:

Dining out is just too pricey in a country where teachers, for example, make about $50,000 a year before taxes. Even the humblest of meals - a large pizza delivered from Oslo's most popular pizza joint - will run from $34 to $48, including delivery fee and a 25 percent value added tax.

48 bucks for a pizza?! You call that living?

Not that groceries are cheap, either. Every weekend, armies of Norwegians drive to Sweden to stock up at supermarkets that are a bargain only by Norwegian standards. And this isn't a great solution, either, since gasoline (in this oil-exporting nation) costs more than $6 a gallon.

All this was illuminated last year in a study by a Swedish research organization, Timbro, which compared the gross domestic products of the 15 European Union members (before the 2004 expansion) with those of the 50 American states and the District of Columbia. (Norway, not being a member of the union, was not included.)

After adjusting the figures for the different purchasing powers of the dollar and euro, the only European country whose economic output per person was greater than the United States average was the tiny tax haven of Luxembourg, which ranked third, just behind Delaware and slightly ahead of Connecticut.

Read the whole thing. I often mention that real consumer purchasing power is the best indicator of wealth. Just look at the prices of pizza as an example. If you are a relatively poor US citizen you can get a pizza from a chain for about 7 bucks (sometimes as low as 4 bucks). Even if you make half as much as a comparable Norwegian poor person, you can sill buy almost 3.5 pizzas for every one purchased by poor Olaf. And indeed:

Contrasting "the American dream" with "the European daydream," Mr. Norberg described the difference: "Economic growth in the last 25 years has been 3 percent per annum in the U.S., compared to 2.2 percent in the E.U. That means that the American economy has almost doubled, whereas the E.U. economy has grown by slightly more than half. The purchasing power in the U.S. is $36,100 per capita, and in the E.U. $26,000 - and the gap is constantly widening."

(Hat tip, Jodi).

Monday, April 18, 2005

Big Football News

Next year will be Monday Night Football's last years on ABC. They are moving to ESPN in 2006.

Sunday Night Football?

That's moving to NBC.

Legislating Rainbows

In today's NYT, Bob Herbert lovingly discusses FDR's "Second Bill of Rights."

After talking about the war, which was still being fought on two fronts, the president offered what should have been recognized immediately for what it was, nothing less than a blueprint for the future of the United States. It was the clearest statement I've ever seen of the kind of nation the U.S. could have become in the years between the end of World War II and now. Roosevelt referred to his proposals in that speech as "a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race or creed."

Among these rights, he said, are:

"The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation.

"The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation.

"The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living.

"The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad.

"The right of every family to a decent home.

"The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health.

"The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident and unemployment.

"The right to a good education."

Why not just promise everyone their own private jet and an end to the kicking of cute little puppies? The purpose of having constitutional rights is not to make a bunch of crazy utopian promises. Constitutional rights exist to let you know what the government will not be doing. This FDR speech gets much more attention than it deserves. (Homer Simpson came up with a similar idea in this episode.) As a public service, here is a modern day translation of the actual Bill of Rights, followed by the "Second Bill of Rights" (original text in normal type, modern translation in italics).

The Bill of Rights

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

You guys just worship whoever you want, say whatever you want, and write whatever you want, and we'll stay out of it. We also won't make up our own religion like the Brits did. I mean, that was just wacky. Also, you can even gather in front of our building and shout mindless slogans at us. And you can always ask us to for assistance if you feel you've been treated unfairly. We may ignore you, but you can ask.

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

It's a scary world out there, so no one is taking away your guns.

No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Your house is your kingdom, and we can't just barge in and use you as a cheap motel. In the event of some disastrous wartime national emergency we may change our minds on this, but we have to pass a law first.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Not only will we not put troops in your house, but we won't even come in unless we have a very good reason. We won't just look through your stuff, or your person, without going through a big ordeal first, with judges and hearings.

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

We realize that, as a government, we have a propensity to persecute certain people. Therefore, if we do prosecute you for something, we only get one shot at it, and then you go free. If you are accused of a serious offense, it is your peers who will decide to indict you, not us. You don't have to help us make our case, and we can't take your stuff.

In fact, if we take anyone's stuff without asking we'll pay them a fair amount.

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

We can't just leave you languishing in prison awaiting trial, we have to hurry. We have to keep you well informed, let you see your accusers, let you summon favorable witnesses, and you get to have a lawyer.

In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

We don't get to decide your guilt. Your peers will do that. And what they say, goes.

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Not only can we not keep you languishing in prison awaiting trial, we can't set an impossible bail either. Nor can we make you pay us an obscene amount. And we will not engage in any torture or sadistic punishments. But really, that should go without saying.

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

This is all we could think of right now. There may be a few other things that we can't do to you. We'll try to use our best judgment, but if you think of any, you may want to amend this document. Just in case. We are, after all, the government.

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

The rest of this document, you know, the part that comes before these Ten Amendments, spells out what the federal government may do. There may be a few things that the fed would like to do, that have not been stated in the Constitution. They may not do these things. The states may do these things, and the people may do these things, but the fed may not. Frankly, we think that we've given them enough to do, and that if they are charged with any more tasks, they probably won't do a very good job. If something big comes up and you all decide that they should be doing something else, then you can amend this document. Until then, they should mostly stay out of your business.

Now let's look at the "Second Bill of Rights."

1. The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation.

We will give you a job, but only a really bad job.

2. The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation.

But don't worry. Your job may be bad, but we will also give you cold hard cash.

3. The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living.

And if you're a farmer, we'll artificially raise your prices. To all non-farmers worried about starving, see previous amendment.

4. The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad.

We don't like some competition, so we'll help you deal with that. We're not exactly sure which competition is fair and which is unfair, but we think that we'll know it when we see it. We do know that as a business gets bigger we will become more suspicious of it. We will also have a lot of trade restrictions.

5. The right of every family to a decent home.

Have a house.

6. The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health.

And some "free" health care too. Can I get you anything else? You know, you're looking a little pudgy, why don't you go exercise?

7. The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident and unemployment.

We'll take care of everything. After all, we're the government.

8. The right to a good education.

As soon as we figure out how to provide one of these, everyone will have one.

See the marked difference between the two? The real Bill of Rights keeps the government off of your back. It is distrustful of government. BOR #2, on the other hand, simply makes a bunch of crazy promises without explaining how it will pay for anything, or create something like "a quality education for everyone." It expresses ideals without any realistic plans for implementation of those ideals. It would have been as useful (and as realistic, in my opinion) for Roosevelt to suggest that we all move to Candy Land.

The Bill of Rights is a serious document expressly stating what the government can not do. The "Second Bill of Rights" is nothing more than empty rhetoric designed to make desperate people feel good.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

The Carnival of the Capitalists

is at Thanks to Brian Gongol for the link!

For some reason, Brian's blog is blocked by my employer's firewall, which is unfortunate as he is consistently interesting and amusing. Make sure to check it out during non-carnival time.

I already have a pesky commenter (which is always fun).

Friday, April 15, 2005

Watching Out For Your Children

At The Slate, Dana Stevens bemoans the potential lost of the Parents Television Council's "Worst Clip of the Week Gallery:

One of my favorite TV-related stops on the Web used to be the Parents Television Council's "Worst Clips of the Week" gallery. Ever since 2001, the broadcast-decency watchdog group has been combing through the cesspool that is television for what it deems the single most objectionable scene of the week, then posting the result to its Web site for convenient public download, complete with a handy label identifying the offending material ("Gratuitous sexual innuendo"; "Necrophilia"; "Explicit scenes of patently offensive sexual and excretory functions.") If you're too lazy to watch TV but still like to keep up on your outrage, with a simple click of the mouse you can revisit South Park's "Whore-off," Without a Trace's "Teen Orgy Party," or the controversial "Dentyne Fire Ad," in which a woman chews the stimulating gum as she introduces her boyfriend to her parents, leading to—go to your room, kids!—a spontaneous make-out session on the couch.

Check out the gallery here.

I certainly support Dana in this endeavor:

Please join me in encouraging the Parents Television Council to restore "The Worst Clips of the Week" to its former glory. How will we know what not to watch unless we watch it?

The 50 Book Challenge: #11, Freakonomics, #12, Lummox

The 50 Book Challenge

#11. Freakonomics

Steve Levitt is certainly doing a bang-up job promoting Freakonomics. Since I posted this item on Wednesday I get about one Technorati hit per hour from Steve's blog, which is just searching the blogosphere constantly for reviews.

Freakonomics may be the most interesting economics book ever written, because it is more like a mystery, an expose, and a blog, than it is like an econ book. The book contains several short chapters on a variety of subjects, often linking two subjects that have nothing to do with each other in some creative way (sort of like Beer Pong and health care, for instance, except Steve compares teachers and Sumo Wrestlers.)

The most interesting topic in my opinion covers the effects of legalized abortion on the crime rate. I don't want to give too much away, but basically, he asserts that when violent crime started falling in this country, it was likely due to the fact that the US had legalized abortion a teenaged number of years earlier. Levitt makes no judgment as to whether legalized abortion is right or wrong, he merely draws out the connections. (Note: Malcom Gladwell wrote one of the back-cover endorsements for Freakonomics. Ironically, a major point of Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point is contradicted by Levitt in this section.)

One of Levitt's great strengths is a willingness to take on controversial topics from the left and right. He has no concern for political correctness. Several times while I was reading it my brain was telling me that he can't be right because I believe something else to be true, but his evidence is always solid, and cannot be dismissed out of hand.

The book moves quickly, never lingering on one subject for too long, and it makes its points clearly and concisely. Stephen Dubner actually does the writing because Levitt claims that he's not much of a writer, and this appears to have been a good decision, as Dubner manages to keep up a hectic pace throughout.

I highly recommend Freakonomics, and I would also advise you to read it in tandem with the aforementioned, The Tipping Point.

One more thing. Steve Levitt has been discussing Moneyball over at his blog, and I think he's wrong, because I think he is ignoring, or at least underplaying the A's philosophy towards pitching. However, Steve has hinted that he will write a more detailed argument later, so I will also wait a while before I get into it too much.

#12. Lummox

Mike Magnuson is a smart guy, and a man's man. A lot of reviews would probably have used a "but" in that last sentence instead of an "and," but doing so would undercut the entire point of the book. This is an autobiographical tale of Mike's life from his late teens into his thirties, in which he lived in a sort-of-abandoned elementary school, worked in a juvenile detention facility, worked in a factory, went to college several times over, lived with feminist lesbians, and consumed a truly heroic amount of alcohol.

Danny recommended this to me as it largely takes place in Eau Claire, WI, where my brother attended college, and it certainly has an authentic Wisconsin feel to it.

I suppose this is more or less a story of Mike overcoming his Lummoxness in a world that looks down on such behavior, but I'm not sure that it is correct to say he overcame anything. I think that throughout the book Mike realizes that he is viewed as a blue-collar slob, and that this fact is held against him. However, I don't think he ever sees it as a problem, so it may be unfair to say that he really overcame anything. Mike took what life dealt him and managed to be mostly happy with it, which is nice.

Man, I could sure go for a High Life.

On Deck:

Gravity's Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon
The Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson
Parliament of Whores, by P.J. O'Rourke

Krugman, Kling Krauthammer

Our regular Friday Feature returns, and it's a good one today.

Pauly K starts us off with the typical criticisms of the American health care system:

In 2002, the latest year for which comparable data are available, the United States spent $5,267 on health care for each man, woman and child in the population. Of this, $2,364, or 45 percent, was government spending, mainly on Medicare and Medicaid. Canada spent $2,931 per person, of which $2,048 came from the government. France spent $2,736 per person, of which $2,080 was government spending.

Amazing, isn't it? U.S. health care is so expensive that our government spends more on health care than the governments of other advanced countries, even though the private sector pays a far higher share of the bills than anywhere else.

What do we get for all that money? Not much.

Most Americans probably don't know that we have substantially lower life-expectancy and higher infant-mortality figures than other advanced countries. It would be wrong to jump to the conclusion that this poor performance is entirely the result of a defective health care system; social factors, notably America's high poverty rate, surely play a role. Still, it seems puzzling that we spend so much, with so little return.

After reading my NYT today, I was sitting at my desk thinking to myself, "Wow, Pauly said a mouthful. I don't really have time to deal with all of that."

Enter Arnold Kling:

The small cabal wants to launch an attack against a long-time enemy. To justify the assault, the cabal claims to have definitive proof, when in fact its conclusions are grounded in group-think and based on flimsy evidence. Will Paul Krugman, brave crusader for truth, stand up to the cabal? Not in this case. Instead, he is their leader.

Moving on a bit:

I also believe that it is beyond reasonable doubt that the United States does not enjoy a significantly lower measured infant mortality rate than other countries. However, it is likely that the numbers are sensitive to the treatment of pre-term infants. In the United States, it is not uncommon for a baby to be delivered three or four months before the due date, where otherwise there would be a miscarriage. It is not uncommon for these low birth-weight babies to die.

Health care economist David Cutler devotes a chapter in his
recent book to the costs and benefits of U.S. treatment of pre-term infants. He points out that "Mortality for the smallest infants...roughly two pounds, fell from 90 percent in 1950 to about 40 percent today." Cutler argues that although saving these infants is very expensive -- he cites a typical cost of $100,000 -- we are getting our money's worth, based on standard economic measures of the value of life.

Cutler does not make any international comparisons. However, one can imagine that in other countries a larger share of high-risk pregnancies end up as miscarriages. Those countries will have higher fetal death rates, but probably will have lower measured rates of infant mortality.


That same OECD briefing offers a sliver of data pertaining to what could be a very persuasive indicator about the differences between the U.S. and other countries. It looks at spending by age bracket in two countries -- France and the United States. In the United States, per capita spending in the 19-44 age group is about $2500, compared with about $5000 in the 55-64 group and about $8000 in the 65-74 group. In France, per capita spending is about 1200 euros in the younger age group, rising to 2500 euros and 3500 euros in the older age groups, respectively. Thus, the pattern of relative spending is very similar in the two countries.

This is potentially interesting because we know that where the U.S. differs most from other countries in the structure of our health care finance system is below age 65. Over age 65, we are like other countries, in that government pays for the bulk of health care spending. Thus, if the reason that the U.S. spends so much on health care is that we do not have government health insurance, you would expect the U.S. to spend close to the same amount per capita on the elderly as other countries do. The big difference should be in spending on those under 65. However, that is not the pattern that we observe. Instead, it would appear that the standard of health care in America simply calls for more services to be used than in other countries, regardless of whether spending is controlled privately or by the government.

Read the whole thing.

Finally, Charles, on the Nationals.

Trivial Pursuit

Dan Drezner links to this article by Brian Curtis in The Slate on my favorite game of all time. Brian sums up the recent problems with the game as follows:

Then came the Internet: How could Trivial Pursuit survive in the age of Google? The Internet has rewritten the rules of the game. The old measure of the trivia master was how many facts he could cram into his head. The new measure is how nimbly he can manipulate a search engine to call up the answer. The ABC show Who Wants To Be a Millionaire included a lifeline called "phone-a-friend," in which a desperate contestant was supposed to call upon the knowledge of a smart companion. Seconds after the contestant dialed for help, you could hear the guy on the other end pecking away at a keyboard—Googling—and I thought, This is it. Trivia is dead.

That's overstating it a little. Trivia lives; it's generalist trivia, the kind of fluency that Trivial Pursuit prized, that's ailing. Just as the Internet splintered trivia into thousands of niches, Trivial Pursuit has contented itself with turning out games like "90s Time Capsule" and "Book Lover's," and, more frighteningly, those devoted solely to the vagaries of Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. Gone is the proud generalist of the original Trivial Pursuit, who knew the most common Russian surname (Ivanov) and the international radio code word for the letter O (Oscar). In his place is the specialist, who knows every inch of Return of the Jedi. There are many of us who have a nagging fear we belong to the latter group. "What jungle planet do Wookiees hail from?" a Star Wars card asks. Let's say, hypothetically and only for the sake of argument, that I know the answer. Who is supposed to be impressed by that?

First of all, Trivia is not dead. The love of trivia is not so much a quest for knowledge as it is a personality defect. No amount of Googling will replace the love of storing useless information in one's mind.

Secondly, Trivial Pursuit, for me, died the day they replaced the "Literature" category with the "Wild Card" category. I think they lost a lot of their die-hard fans that day, and die-hards are responsible for making a game iconic in the first place.

Thirdly, Trivial Pursuit has increasingly resorted to what my brother calls "Fun Fact" questions. These questions tend to show off the knowledge of the card-writer rather than testing the knowledge of the game players. Fun fact questions tend to be impossibly difficult. In order to give you a fighting chance, Fun Fact questions are frequently multiple choice. They often sound like this:

What is the ratio of Yaks to people in the country of Nepal: 4:1, 8:1, 20:1?


Of every 1000 cows in the US, how many are lactose intolerant: 1, 100, 500?

The fun of playing a trivia game is in showing off what you know. When the question is just a guessing game, it is no longer fun.

Finally, the proliferation of specialty versions of the game (Will and Grace Trivial Pursuit, WWE Trivial Pursuit, and of course, Trivial Pursuit Trivial Pursuit) has destroyed the credibility of the game. We recently purchased the "Book Lover's" edition of the game, and rather than containing questions about classic or iconic books, it contains questions about the Barnes & Noble top 100 list over the last 4 years or so. Unless you've read every pop-sensation to grace the B&N window display lately, you have no chance of finishing the game. Trivial Pursuit sold out the Book Lover's edition! That is just wrong.

I think I'll play Settlers of Catan instead.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

An Early Mother's Day Gift

Featuring the baddest mother on the planet. (Next to Shaft, of course.)

(Hat tip, Beth)

You can't spell "Hell" without "L"

Most of you, if you are reading this, have probably driven through Chicago at some point. If you live here, you know that getting around the city is a pain, especially by car. Traffic moves slowly, yet people still manage to drive like maniacs. There is no place to park, especially in the winter when it is official city policy (I'm not kidding about this) that you may save a parking spot that you personally shovel out by placing deck chairs in it while your car is gone. Moreover, it is enforced through neighborhood vigilante justice (for instance, keying an offending car, spraying it with the hose and freezing it shut, etc.).

One would think that in a dense urban area like this, a well run public transit system could not help but be profitable. And you would be correct. Hopefully, someday, we will have a well run public transit system in Chicago, but until then, we have the CTA, which is holding the city hostage over its alleged "lack of funding:"

The CTA board Wednesday set July 17 as date for a doomsday scenario that calls for cutting service nearly 40 percent by scaling back the entire system to the Sunday schedule, with only a few exceptions.

Aimed at filling a $55 million budget gap, the scenario calls for eliminating 54 bus routes and the Purple Line express, lengthening wait times 68 percent on all buses and trains and laying off more than 2,000 workers.

"There's not enough funding to maintain anything close to our current rush-hour schedule. So those commuters will face a significant challenge of getting to work," CTA board president Carole Brown said. "Buses and trains will be significantly more crowded, and all customers face more of a wait time."

The CTA is obviously lying, and they are not doing a very good job of it.

Let's say that you own an airline that flies two routes. Route 1 flies from Chicago to Vegas, and it's always full, every flight. Route 2 flies from Gary, Indiana to Fargo, ND, and usually has only one customer. He sits in the back muttering to himself stinking of cheap gin and cigarettes, and occasionally tries to sell the flight attendants M&M's to benefit his church. Your airline suddenly finds itself $55 million in the red. Do you cut "route 1," or "route 2?" If you answered "route 2," congratulations. You are smarter than a CTA board member. If you did not answer "route 2," I'll give you a minute to wipe the drool off of your keyboard before I move on. There you go. (Note: If you answered "route 1" you are probably the kind of person that makes my daily commute miserable. Read more about yourself in this post.)

During rush hour, CTA trains are completely packed. Obviously, you are going to make more money running full trains, and collecting say, 50 fares per car per 15 minutes, than you would make during off-peak times when you pull in only 10 fares per car per 15 minutes. So why, if cash is in short supply, would you make a statement like this:

"There's not enough funding to maintain anything close to our current rush-hour schedule. So those commuters will face a significant challenge of getting to work," CTA board president Carole Brown said.

This is obviously fear-mongering in an attempt to get free money from the city/state, but I believe there is another purpose as well. Currently many customers pay for their ride using cash at the turnstyle or with a rechargeable CTA card (dispensed and recharged at vending machines at most "L" stations). The result of this is that fares paid to the CTA are paid in small amounts, every time someone rides, and widely dispersed throughout the system.

A few months ago Illinois started charging cars on the tollways double the toll if they did not acquire an I-Pass transponder (you can read about it here). Imposing I-Pass systems on commuters allowed the state to cut toll-booth costs by automating more booths (reduced labor costs) and reducing the amount of cash involved in day-to-day transactions. The CTA has its own I-Pass like device, known as the Chicago Card Plus. The CCP is hooked up to a customers bank account and "charged" with about $50 at a time which can be used to pay fares. When that $50 starts to run out, the card automatically recharges itself by taking money out of your bank account. The CCP is also more convenient to use than cash or a CTA card.

The CCP is a huge boon to the CTA. Instead of customers making small payments, repeatedly, throughout the entire system, they pay a large fee up front to a central location. This fee requires no effort to collect, no vending machines at every station, and no employees handing out transfers.

Take a look at the proposed fare increases under the CTA's "Doomsday" scenario:

A 25-cent base fare increase on buses and trains, boosting fares to $2. Riders with transit cards continue to pay $1.75 for a bus ride.

Elimination of 25-cent transfers, requiring payment of a full fare for each trip for cash users. But transfer costs with Chicago Card, Chicago Card Plus and weekly or monthly passes don't change.

Boosting reduced fares for seniors, students and people with disabilities from 85 cents to $1.

Notice that anyone using CCP, or weekly or monthly passes (in other words anyone paying a large sum up front) does not suffer any increase:

However, for customers using Chicago Card, Chicago Card Plus and weekly or monthly passes, fares, including transfer fares, would remain at current levels.

So, instead of convincing people that the CCP is a good idea, the CTA is instead going to be "forced" to raise the rates of customers who do not switch to CCP, just as the state "convinced" people to switch to the I-Pass by doubling the non-I-Pass rate.

The CTA's scare tactics are nothing more than advertisements for the Chicago Card Plus. If they were serious about cutting routes they would propose cutting service to poor areas of Chicago, or cutting off-peak service in wealthier areas. It is these routes that lose money, and perhaps, with regard to transit in poor areas, a subsidy might be justified. But the CTA did not do this. Instead of threatening a relatively small number of poor people they threatened a large number of relatively wealthy people. The "doomsday" threat could only be a political move, because it is certainly not much of a business move. They want a subsidy, and the want an increase in the number of Chicago Card Plus users.

With regard to service cuts, do not believe a word they say.

Update: I have to add one more thing. The Chicago Card Plus requires the user to have access to a computer and a checking account. Many poor people in the city, those who really rely on public transportation, do not have access to either of these things. Therefore, this fare increase will weigh disproportionately on the poor.

Also, I should point out that on CTA buses the seats are sometimes made of a black acrylic substance. This substance will occasionally stain your pants.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Freakon' at the Slate

Steves Levitt and Dubner are writing a series of articles for The Slate to promote the aforementioned Freakonomics. You can read today's entry here, yesterday's entry here, and Steve Levitt's blog here.

Sheepshead is the best card game ever.

Period. And the biggest Sheepshead tournament in the country recently took place in Milwaukee.

If you know how to play, you may have at some point wondered why the value of a king in Sheepshead is so strange. It is worth 4 points, which is more than a queen or a jack, but it has no power, whereas queens and jacks are very powerful. The answer:

Camaraderie is built into the card game's history. Most accounts date Sheepshead back to Middle Europe in the late 1700s. Back then, peasants allegedly invented the game "Schafskopf" to vent their frustration over the government. The king card was given a lower rank.

The name had nothing to do with sheep, either. It referred to where the game was usually played - on the head of barrels or kegs known as Schaffen.

How can you not love a game based on ridiculing authority figures and drinking beer?

The article fails to mention whether or not the tournament uses "Southeastern Wisconsin" rules (Note: These are the correct rules) in which the strong hand calls an ace as his partner, or the "Northern Rules" (or, "Stupid" rules) in which the player holding the jack of diamonds is automatically the partner. The Northern method involves less strategy and more luck, and it is not nearly as fun to play.

One thing is certain. It is only a matter of time before "The World Series of Sheepshead" sweeps the nation.

Update: No Mauering Allowed! Professor Karlson weighs in.

Back in Action

First of all, thanks to Oscar for the link. And I'm proud to be testing anyone's First Amendment beliefs. Plus Oscar is a Mets fan, and I respect all Mets fans for not taking the easy way out.

I developed a rather awful cold on Saturday afternoon, just in time to make life at opening day in Milwaukee miserable. I still had fun, and it was cool to see Russell Branyan put this theory to the test, with his (allegedly) 463 foot home run off the scoreboard in center field, but baseball just isn't as fun if you keep sneezing in your beer.

To compound this problem, I'm also quite sunburned, and people have been staring at me all day.

On my "day off" yesterday I completed my taxes, looked at a few apartments, and started Steven Levitt's Freakonomics. I'm 104 pages in so far, and it's very interesting. Great info on cheating teachers and sumo wrestlers, poor and rich crack dealers, and the link between abortion and crime. I recommend reading it in tandem with The Tipping Point if you haven't read it already.

Now, off to work.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Nasty Cold #2

I'm at home sneezing and coughing, so blogging will be light.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Bill on The Dark Tower

Bill Farah writes the most positive review of The Dark Tower series that I have read, and makes some good points. There are many spoilers, so be warned.

But I still disagree with him about the ending, and I don't think that people were that surprised. My reaction was more along the lines of "I think he might end it this way, but it would certainly suck if he did." And then he did. Bill may be right about the horn as a red herring, but if he is, it's an utterly unnecessary one. What is the point of having introducing a red herring with 13 pages left, other than to piss off your readership? If it is a red herring for Roland, it's still stupid because he is unable to remember any clues after "it" happens.

I think that writing stories with mushy endings is often perceived as courageous, but I believe it to be cowardly. It is much more difficult to make a decision as to what happens than it is to leave with ambiguity. It's a cop out. A way of avoiding a difficult decisions about characters that you may care deeply about. Bill calls it a "hard ending" and it is certainly a hard ending for the characters, but it did not have to be a hard ending for the readers. Heroes often die, or end up tortured, or lose the girl, but generally their actions have a purpose. An ending, hard or not, generally provides some meaning and context to the heroic actions taken. What King did was render his tale meaningless, and that is why people are upset. They don't like investing their time in a meaningless tale.

But I'm finished talking about the tower now. True torture would be starting it again and feeling as if I needed to finish it again and once again enduring a torturous non-ending. Perhaps King was sending a subtle message to everyone.

Update: My old review can be read here.

Madison Guilty of Tavern Subsidies.

In an effort to fight binge drinking in Madison, WI, the government has officially taken the bold step of subsidizing taverns.

You see, on Thursday the anit-trust suit filed by three UW students was dismissed by Dane County Circuit Court Judge Angela Bartell. The suit was based on a voluntary drink special ban instituted by the Madison bars. Basically, the bars (under pressure from the government) got together and decided to raise all of their prices. This is clearly an anti-competitive practice.

Her rationale for dismissing the case (which seemed like a very strong case to me) was that the drink special ban was not voluntary:

bar owners were forced into the voluntary drink-special situation only after they received pressure and demands from the City of Madison in Sept. 2002.

Therefore, the bars were not fixing prices; the city was. Great. If things like this make you angry, take a look at this quote from Alderman Mike Verveer:

Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, said if the students’ case had been successful, seven-day-a-week drink-special bans would have been reinstated, and many student-favorite bars would have gone out of business.

In other words, had they not raised their prices on weekends, we would have forced them to raise prices all of the time, and put some of them out of business. I'm glad to hear that the government has nothing better to do than think about ways to funnel money from cheap taverns into the pockets of expensive taverns. Very progressive.

I like Madison. It's one of my favorite places on earth. But the local politicians really are a bunch of jackasses.

Update: Dan wrote about this when it was first filed here.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

An age old question...

What the heck is Goofy, anyway?

Professor Hurt has the answer. (Hint: Goofy is NOT a dog.)

Soda v. Pop

It's about time! Eric Rasmusen points to a linguistic map of the United States. As everyone from Southeastern Wisconsin knows, "soda" is the correct term. Much of the country is, unfortunately, wrong. Especially those of you who say "Coke" for all carbonated beverages. Seriously, what kind of a place allows "Pepsi" to be "Coke?" Or Orange Crush? If you ask someone for a Coke, do they ask you "what flavor?" What if you say Coke? Will they just be confused and ask again?

And don't get me started on Minnesotans with their "grey ducks." Just a bunch of duck racists if you ask me.

(Note: And don't bother pointing out that we Wisconsinites refer to"drinking fountains" as "bubblers." I freely admit that this is incorrect with one exception. Chicago actually has "bubblers" installed all along the lake front. The difference, by the way, is that drinking fountains force water out of a spigot, fountain style, while bubblers use a small, steady release of air, causing the water to bubble up.)

(Hat tip, Marginal Revolution)

Update: Our friend Mitchell e-mails:

I have been told by numerous people that the term "bubbler" became a Wisconsin term because a Wisconsin company that made water fountains was named Bubbler. Whether that's true, I don't know, but the people that have told me seemed quite convinced that they were around in their younger days.

I have also been told that certain areas of New York City use the term bubbler, and last time I was in New York I actually heard it used, although it's possible that I just overheard another tourist from Wisconsin.

Update 2: Check out this site, and notice the cow drinking out of the bubbler.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

A Song About Llamas


$2.2 Million

The decision is in. This is the amount that former Milwaukee Chief of Police Arthur Jones cost Milwaukee. Actually, I though that it would be more.

I just got in right now.

It's going to be a busy day. If I were you, I would head over to Danny's place. And this seems pretty interesting. And Althouse (here, here, and here) and Glenn have pictures of their beautiful campuses. (Gordon has a picture too. Heh.)

And read this Steve Levitt post on"Moneyball." I found it at Marginal Revolution, so you may as well take a spin by there too. You can read about this crazy guy.

And I agree with Eugene on what the next Pope should be named. Drezner has an interesting post on Brooks and Krugman.

Don't draft a Big Ten RB!! Aaron Schatz makes a strong case here.

That should hold you for a while.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Carnival of the Vanities

Is at Incite. Check it out.

And thanks to Beck for the link.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Boston is thinking of instituting an I-Pass like system.

I hate all tolls, especially when they are implemented specifically to make driving irritating. This seems to be the case here.

You can get the details here, along with an interesting constitutional argument.

Here is an one of my old posts on the subject.

The Wisconsin Film Festival

I attended the Wisconsin Film Festival this weekend, and managed to squeeze in three movies.

The first was Dandelion, a coming of age story about a kid named Mason who lives in a farm community. His family (and really, every family in the area) seems very dysfunctional, as does Mason himself, until he spends two years in a juvenile detention facility for a crime he did not commit. He comes out a better person, and has a positive impact on everyone around him. He manages to dodge the rampant drug use in the community, and to pick up a steady girlfriend. Telling anymore will give away too much, but overall, it's worth seeing.

At times, it hits you over the head with dysfunction. Mason's mother is quickly established as an alcoholic, as she pours a glass of vodka for herself at the slightest hint of conflict. However, over time it seems like she is never without a full glass, even though she shows few signs of intoxication. While I'm sure that rural areas have their share of problems, this particular farming community had a bigger drug problem than my Chicago neighborhood. This seems unlikely.

Still, it is beautifully filmed, and the two leads Vincent Kartheiser and Taryn Manning are very good. It reminded me a bit of American History X, and The Shawshank Redemption, crossed with American Beauty, set in the boonies.

The second film was Stranger: Bernie Worrell on Earth. This is a documentary on the life, and the contributions to music, of Bernie Worrell, the electronic keyboard player of Parliament and the Talking Heads. The movie focuses on the rock stars that have worked with Bernie (David Byrne, George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, Tina Weymouth, Mos Def, etc.), and they all agree on three things:

1. Bernie is extremely talented. And indeed, this seems to be the case. He was a classically trained phenom in his youth who would sneak out to jam with Parliament at their barbershop. His signature sound gives P-Funk that Mothershiply goodness. Where Phil Spector came up with the "wall of sound," Bernie seems to have produced the wall of strangely appropriate psychedelic white noise. There would also be no Snoop or Dr. Dre songs without Bernie. They sample him liberally.

2. Bernie is nuts. He speaks nonsense, when you can understand him at all. They all say that he's great to work with, and maybe he is, but you can tell that his mind is somewhere else.

3. Bernie got screwed. Of course, a lot of recording artists were screwed, forced to sign away their rights. Bernie was one of them. In spite of co-authoring several P-funk hits he sees no residuals. Consequently he lives in a Motel Six.

An interesting short film at only 39 minutes, although you’re left wondering why Bernie remains so poor if David Byrne and George Clinton are so concerned about him.

The last movie I took in was also the worst. It's called War I$ $ell, and it is allegedly a documentary about government propaganda. It is, in fact, a rather heavy-handed screed against the war in Iraq. Given that fact, it is a terribly ironic movie.

I find Nazi propaganda, its unique style, and its startling potency, fascinating, and I expected this movie to cover the topic at least a bit. The Nazis are barely mentioned.

The gist of it is that current American propaganda is similar to that used by Woodrow Wilson during World War One. That the Nazis are barely mentioned is a stunning omission, and it is only one of several stunning omissions. Many hacks are interviewed claiming that Americans, in general, have been brainwashed. The members of the Bush Administration come across as brilliant manipulators, which, as you know, they are not. We learn shocking things like:

1. The government has an agenda, and attempts to push that agenda. (I'm shocked! Shocked I tell you!)
2. The government will sometimes lie to you!
3. When the country is at war, the government will attempt to rouse support for that war.
4. The Nazi's learned propaganda from the US and England. Propaganda was apparently invented circa 1900 in one of these countries.

The film fails by failing to distinguish good wars from bad wars. War is itself evil. While it is fair to question American involvement in any number of wars, the idea that our involvement in WWII was somehow wrong is despicable. The film repeatedly states that people are not naturally warlike and that something must persuade them to go to war. The West is blamed for every evil in existence, and it's populace are treated as sheep.

At least when you see a Michael Moore film, Moore is up front about his topic. Obviously F-911 was going to be an antiwar film ridiculing the Bush administration. Nothing wrong with that, this is America. This film pretends to be a scholarly, sober documentary. I won't go into every little detail here, but if you want a fun night of nit-picking poor arguments, it may be worth a rental. If you're already against the war in Iraq, just rent F-911 again. If you're for it or in the middle somewhere, you will probably feel insulted. This movie, like all propaganda, has nothing but contempt for its audience.

The Carnival of the Capitalists

is up at Law and Entrepreneurship News.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Will we adapt?

Yes. USA Today had an interesting series of articles relating how rising gas prices are affecting various segments of the population. It's light reading, to be sure, but an interesting look at little things that are already changing and the factors people consider in making lifestyle decisions.

"Perhaps more important, in scores of small ways — for truckers and travelers, for commuters and consumers, for cabbies and others who depend on their cars to make ends meet — today's fuel prices are beginning to alter lifestyles across the nation."

View the series below:

Paycheck Effects

The point here is that, yes it's going to be tough, especially on lower income jobs and commuters. It's a virtual certainty that in the next several decades some very dramatic changes will take place in the way we live and work. I am a bit worried though that rather than let our economy work as it's meant to, our elected officials will end up making a dumb decision and we'll end up owning our very own Middle Eastern country.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Barbarians at the Gate

Ann Althouse seems to have been the victim of a hostile takeover!

She should immediately consult Gordon Smith and Christine Hurt at The Conglomerate, now featuring professors at The University of Wisconsin-Marquette Law School. (Go Golden Badgers!)

Vegetarian Meat

may be right around the corner. From Marginal Revolution:

I predict that the animal welfare movement will expand dramatically in the next several decades as in-vitro meat becomes widely available. In-vitro meat is "made in the laboratory" meat - it's real meat but grown in "vats" rather than on animals. In-vitro meat has already been grown in thin slices, thick steaks are harder because fresh meat must be fed nutrients by a blood supply and that requires an incredibly complicated network of capillaries and veins. But really, who is going to notice the difference in a McDonald's patty? I bet thin meat tastes a lot better than tofu.

I can't wait to have a steak tree growing in the back yard.

Paul Krugman Column Spiked by The New York Times!

We have obtained a copy of the column through a reliable source at the New York Times. You should definitely read the whole thing.

Social Security Solutions :
A Modest Proposal.


When I was forced to return early from my vacation by those who would privatize Social Security, I promised to provide a plan to save the system. It took me a bit longer than I would have hoped.

You see, I’ve argued from the beginning that Social Security is not actually in crisis, and that these actuarial doomsday assessments serve only to buoy the aims of conservatives who would see grandma and grandpa replacing the urinal cakes at the local Shakey’s Pizza well into their 90s. It is obvious to all but the densest supply side economist that this problem can only be solved by drastically higher taxes, or by cutting benefits to current and future generations, most likely via means testing, or raising the retirement age.

The first option is a strong possibility. Taxes have been at historic lows in the US for over 20 years now. A Social Security (and Medicare) tax increase would certainly be a noble endeavor, however a tax increase of the magnitude required may not be politically palatable (at least to those living in the non-reality based portion of the country). Still, Democrats and principled Republicans should push for some tax increase, even though the economic consequences would be dire. After all, if we create more “customers” for Social Security, it will become increasingly harder to scale back or “reform.”

Cutting benefits plays into the hands of the Bush Administration and their bid to create a class of elderly slaves to work the oil fields of Alaska. Social Security is perhaps the greatest development in the history of the US, and instituting any cut would only serve to leave the program vulnerable to future cuts. This is not a precedent worth setting. For Democrats and Liberals it should be a non-starter, as should any talk of private accounts.

Private accounts, in which workers would be able to set aside money in a 401K-like fund, and suffer a matching loss of future benefits, have been touted as a cure all by the administration. Unfortunately, most people simply can not handle the awesome responsibilities of money management. We are not all economics professors at Ivy League Schools, and assuming that the populace will invest responsibly is akin to assuming that a pig will save some of his slops for later. Keeping money safely in the hands of the government is the only way to ensure that it will not be spent before a person’s retirement.

So what are we to do? The problem, (which is still not a crisis), is largely due to the fact that the ratio of workers to retirees is shrinking. A healthy Social Security system takes money from current workers and gives it to the retired. To maintain it, we either need to increase the number of workers, or decrease the number of retirees. That being said, here is my 10-point plan.

1. Increase the worker base by taxing stay-at-home moms. Working moms are already contributing their fair share to the system, while at the same time paying for their children’s care by third parties. There is no reason why a stay-at-home mom should not be taxed the value of the day care services that she is providing to herself.

2. Tax sled dogs, Seeing Eye dogs, helper monkeys, and other functional animals, as if they were workers. This option has the added benefit of never having to pay anything out.

3. Sedan Chairs for those over 65 years of age. The government could institute a program of Sedan Chair transportation, instantly creating four workers for every elderly person in America

4. Soylent Green.

5. Tax library patrons on the amount they save by borrowing books. This will also boost book sales and create jobs, at a very small cost.

6. Institute an income tax on robots, mechanical devices, microwave ovens, etc., for the wages that would have been necessary if workers had performed these services.

7. Move the system towards self-sufficiency by instituting state-run Bingo games and slot machines, with proceeds going into the Social Security System. The government could easily provide this service, and it would save tens of millions of dollars in transaction fees.

8. Remove the change from all fountains.

9. Allow foreign workers to enter into the Social Security System. Many foreign workers don’t have a state run retirement plan that compares with ours. It would be a great humanitarian gesture, and at the same time increase the worker base by millions if not billions.

10. Finally, we should heavily tax private retirement accounts. After all, when we save Social Security you will no longer need them.

If we follow these 10 simple steps, we can prevent the Neoconservative cabal from shipping our elderly into a holding facility in the Yucca Mountains. Now, if you will excuse me, I must be getting back to my vacation.

I was sad that I was unable to put together our normal Friday feature of Krugman, Kling, and Krauthammer, and I am indebted to our anonymous informant for providing this.

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