The Electric Commentary

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Is Hugo Chavez Generous

for selling below-market oil in the US?


The Best Video Games Ever

I used to play a lot of video games back in the glory days of the classic 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System. I'm still of the opinion that the average NES game is far superior to anything that has been produced subsequently. This is partially due to the fact that I am terrible at those "first person shooter" games like Halo and Doom and Wolfenstein 3D, but it's also partially due to the fact that I don't really have time for video games anymore. I can't remember that last time I actually turned on one of my video game systems.

I always used to get a few video games for Christmas. My mom was a pro at landing the most popular titles of the season for me, even going so far as to allegedly bribe the Toys R Us workers on occasion. For this I am eternally grateful. I may suck at modern video games, but I was an absolute stud at the old NES (by which I mean I was a giant nerd). I could beat Mike Tyson with my eyes closed (it's not as hard as it sounds, he follows the same routine every time you fight him), I played Ikari Warriors all the way though even though it had a bug that would make you become randomly trapped forever, and my fingers were fast enough to play Track and Field to the point that the score reset. In short, I spent way too much time on the stupid thing, which makes me especially qualified to pick out the best games ever made.

I won't restrict the following list just to the NES, even though the NES was truly great. That would ignore the whole Madden series, arcade games, etc. So, without further ado, here are the 10 best video games in history (if history ends in the year 2000, with the Playstation, which it does).

10. Contra (NES)

I bet I've played Contra through to the end about 1000 times, sometimes with the code (up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, select (for 2 players) start), and sometimes without. Contra has a great plot. Fierce aliens have invaded the Earth's most inhospitable regions, and the government has dispatched two commandos without shirts or automatic weapons to fight off this threat. Fortunately the Aliens have apparently stashed superior weapons in helpful boxes throughout their territory, which allows you some chance of survival.

Contra moved from a 2D side scroller, to a first person shooter seamlessly, although it is worth pointing out that one of your enemies in the first person portion of the game does jumping splits across the screen. This may be the reason that the aliens were ultimately unsuccessful.

Best Part: The vertical Water Fall, which created tension between you and your partner. If you didn't move fast enough, you were dead. Of course, this is a double edged sword, as Contra allowed you to steal a life from your partner in the even that you died.

Worst Part: The Fireball Gun. What is the point?

9. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Arcade)

You show up to the arcade to play your daily dose of Narc or Super Monaco GP, and what do you find in the prime-time up front location, but this for player masterpiece. Featuring a killer soundtrack, state of the art graphics (at the time), a huge screen, and four player action, TMNT spawned about ten million clones while making every "rented out arcade" birthday party a fantastic experience.

Without TMNT, there is no Simpsons game, no Final Fight, and no Avengers (OK, so it wouldn't be all bad. Avengers was a TMNT style game in which you could play as Iron Man, Captain America, Vision, or Hawkeye. It may be the single worst game of this genre ever created. Just terrible all around. You really have to see it to believe it).

Of course, I would be remiss not to mention that TMNT wouldn't exist without Double Dragon, but while DD is similarly classic it is inferior in several respects:

1. It is very slow.

2. The bad guys are ruled by a character named Willy. Willy is the only member of the gang with a machine gun. I always thought that this gang would have benefited from laying off a few people and buying a few more machine guns.

3. The jump-kick is far too effective, and set off a trend in which the jump-kick is too powerful in all similar games. See: Bad Dudes, P.O.W. I also blame Jean-Claude Van Damme for this.

4. The TMNT movies are superior in every way to the Double Dragon Movie (except for Allysa Milano), from their inclusion of Vanilla Ice, to the excellent song "9.95." Good stuff.

8. WWF Wrestlefest (Arcade)

I don't like wrestling, but I can say without hyperbole that this is the best wrestling video game ever made. It was a great 4 player party game, it moved nice and quickly, and it had an excellent roster: Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior, The Earthquake, The Big Boss Man, Sergeant Slaughter, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, Mr.Perfect, "The Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase, Demolition: Axe and Smash, and The Legion Of Doom: Hawk and Animal.

The game was a 4 player arcade game and you played mainly in a Royal Rumble format. The best part was when you managed to weaken someone enough to use a finishing move, especially if that finishing move was the Earthquake's, which involved jumping really high, and landing, butt first, on the fallen guy's chest.

This particular move took a long time to pull off, and it was inescapable, which made it all the more excruciating for your opponent. Just a well put together party game that has never been equaled.

I've always thought that it should be easy to make a good wrestling game. After all, wrestling is fake, and that is a major restriction on it. But video games can allow characters to pull off moves that would normally kill someone. You're freed from typical wrestling conventions. Why this seldom translates into a good fighting game is beyond me.

7.Baseball Stars (NES)

Baseball Stars is, without question, the greatest sports video game not to carry an official MLB, NBA, NHL, or NFL license. It is also the forefather of all sports games that allow you to design your own players.

In Baseball Stars you start with a team of varying skills. You get to pick a specialty (big hitters, consistent hitters, good pitchers, a few others, and my favorite, "veterans") but that's it. You then set up a league and play games against other teams. With the revenue taken at the gate you can upgrade your players.

The gameplay is fantastic with some of the most realistic fielding in any baseball game ever. The most dominant team in the game is the American Dreams, featuring "Babe," "Hank," and "Pete," and they are truly awesome.

It was very satisfying to build up a team of dominant players over time, and until the most recent Madden games, no one had pulled off the "upgradeable player" model as well as this simple little Nintendo game.

6. The Legend of Zelda (NES)

When the NES first arrived on the scene, there hadn't been a significant advancement in video game creativity in years. Most games were played only on one screen. They were very repetitive, with only minor changes on every level. Pacman is an excellent example. Super Mario Brothers changed all of this by introducing an action game with definitive goals, a definitive ending, and widely varying levels.

Then Zelda was released and took it up another level. Zelda combined the best elements of role-playing games like Final Fantasy (which had yet to be invented) and Super Mario Brother, blending mind-bending puzzles with constant hack-and-slash action. And it was a blast to play.

The atmosphere in the dungeons is genuinely creepy, the weapons at your disposal are unique and fun (I love the boomerang), and the game is HUGE, featuring two completely separate quests, both of which are engrossing. Zelda is actually more like Grand Theft Auto than most people realize. Sure there are quests in Zelda, but in general the world is open ended, and allows you a great deal of creativity.

No one really created another game like Zelda for years, and few have done it as well.

5. Mike Tyson's Punch Out (NES)

This game is great for several reasons.

1. It featured a rapist as its final boss.

2. It freely utilized all manner of ethnic stereotypes, from an alcoholic Russian, to a turban-wearing Indian, to an Asian guy who used broken Engrish, to the obviously gay "Super Macho Man."

3. At the time, the graphics were jaw-dropping. Even in the commercials (Now you're playing with Power!), this game looked truly impressive. Big characters and bright colors; what more could you want?

4. Your character was a "little person" (which allowed you to see your opponent without your character getting in the way. Much better than the transparent green guy from the arcade).

5. Mike Tyson licensed himself into a game in which he could be defeated by a "little person."

6. The code to get immediately to Mike Tyson is still stuck in my head. It's 007-373-5963. This may also be Mike Tyson's Social Security Number.

I'd still rather play this than almost any other fighting game, and you will search long and hard before you find a superior boxing game: Ring King, Super Action Rocky, Evander Holyfield's Real Deal Boxing, Buster Douglas Knockout Boxing (yes, this game really exists). Your best bet is "Legends of the Ring," but Punch-Out will always be the champ.

4. Castlevania

Not only is this game great, but many of its sequels are also great The Playstation sequel, Symphony of the Night, is probably the system's finest game, and I've always had a soft spot for Castlevania 2: Simon's Quest, because it used Moonlight Sonata as it's theme, and it stumped me for about a month at one point.

Castlevania's story is the culmination of a strong human desire to have every movie monster in one place at the same time. They tried it in the Munsters, and they tried it in Monster Squad, but no one succeeded until Castlevania.

Dracula has apparently started renting his place out to other monsters, including two mummies, Frankenstein's Monster and Igor, (no Dr. Frankenstein, though) Medusa (Clash of the Titans must be responsible for this), and even Death himself. You play Simon Belmont, a vampire slayer who has decided that stakes and swords are inferior to the humble whip. Fortunately, as is often the case, Dracula has scattered boomerangs, axes, holy water grenades, time-stopping devices, and useless daggers all around the castle to help you out. He has also left out a few steak dinners, and bags of money with dollar signs on them.

The passage through the clock tower, and the final, silent climb up the staircase to the tower still ranks as one of the greatest moments in video game history, and just when you think that Dracula is going to be a big pushover he turns into a giant white demon thing that is much faster than you are. One of the most challenging and rewarding games ever made.

3. Super Mario Bros. 3

SMB2 was a bit of a disappointment. It was completely different from the first game, and, as it turned out, it was not a Mario game when it was first released in Japan. SMB3 brought everything back as it should be. This is obviously the best Mario game.

It's fun, it looks great, and it is used in the finale of the Fred Savage masterpiece, "The Wizard." SMB3 took platform gaming to a new level. It introduced powerups like the Hammer Bros. suits, the raccoon tail, and even a giant green boot that you could ride in. The worlds vary greatly, the characters are big and colorful, and they respond well to your controls. Every platformer released since that moment owes a debt of gratitude to this game for setting the standard.

2. NHL 95 (Genesis)

Most people prefer NHL 94. These people are crazy. NFL 95 had several important advantages over it's predecessor:

1. The acceleration button in 95 makes your player go in the correct direction. In 94 it made your player go the way that he was facing regardless of the situation. It was cumbersome.

2. While the cheap wrap-around trick works in both games, if you have penalties turned on it doesn't work quite as well in 95.

3. 95 allows you the opportunity to win the Lady Bing trophy. I can't say enough about this feature.

4. I'm not sure about 94, but I believe that 95 was the first 4-player compatible hockey game for Genesis.

5. Exception: I believe that 94 was the last year that EA had fighting in the game. Boo to that decision.

Hockey games have a very positive history in video game lore. NES Ice Hockey, with the skinny guy, the medium guy, and the fat guy, is still a fantastic play, as is Konami's Blades of Steel, but Hockey peaked with NHL 95.

1. Tecmo Super Bowl

Finally, I could play a football game that included Don Majkowski, Sterling Sharpe, Michael Haddix, Keith Woodside, Perry Kemp, Ed West, and Jackie Harris. TSB was the first football game to get everything just right. It had real rosters, it kept season stats, and it had legends like QB Eagles, QB Bills, and QB Browns. It even had cheerleaders.

It took everything good from Tecmo Bowl and fixed everything that was wrong. Once I rushed for 3000 yards with Otis Anderson, and he missed 4 games that year (Dave Megget filled in admirably). Everyone has a TSB story like that.

And you actually knew the players, from Lawrence Taylor's ability to block all place kicks, to Sammy Smith's constant fumbling, to neon Deion's constant interceptions. And, of course, if you were leading the 49ers by less than a TD with under 2 minutes to go and they had the ball, you were screwed.

It's still fun to play to this day, and I'm shocked that it hasn't shown up as a bonus feature on some other game. Subsequent TSB games are uniformly terrible, but this one was perfect.

Honorable mention:

Tetris (Multi)
Aerobiz (Multi)
PilotWings (SNES)
Jerry Glanville's Pigskin Footbrawl (Arcade)
Gunstar Heroes (Genesis)
Final Fantasy 7 (Playstation)
Pro Wrestling (NES, Which has the same theme song as Nintendo Baseball for some reason.)
RBI Baseball (NES)
Bubble Bobble (NES)
Madden, in general. (Multi)
Super Dodgeball (NES)
Super Bomberman 2 (SNES)

If you're curious, the worst 5 games ever are:

5. Bill Laimbeer's Combat Basketball (SNES)
4. Fraction Fever (ColecoVision)
3. Revolution X (Arcade)
2. Urban Champion (NES)
1. Custer's Revenge (Atari 2600)

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Krauthammer is wrong on torture.

I like Charles, but he makes a poor argument in his most recent column, especially when he discusses the "ticking time bomb" scenario:

And even if the example I gave were entirely hypothetical, the conclusion--yes, in this case even torture is permissible--is telling because it establishes the principle: Torture is not always impermissible. However rare the cases, there are circumstances in which, by any rational moral calculus, torture not only would be permissible but would be required (to acquire life-saving information). And once you've established the principle, to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, all that's left to haggle about is the price. In the case of torture, that means that the argument is not whether torture is ever permissible, but when--i.e., under what obviously stringent circumstances: how big, how imminent, how preventable the ticking time bomb.

That is why the McCain amendment, which by mandating "torture never" refuses even to recognize the legitimacy of any moral calculus, cannot be right. There must be exceptions. The real argument should be over what constitutes a legitimate exception.

Let's Take An Example that is far from hypothetical. You capture Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Pakistan. He not only has already killed innocents, he is deeply involved in the planning for the present and future killing of innocents. He not only was the architect of the 9/11 attack that killed nearly three thousand people in one day, most of them dying a terrible, agonizing, indeed tortured death. But as the top al Qaeda planner and logistical expert he also knows a lot about terror attacks to come. He knows plans, identities, contacts, materials, cell locations, safe houses, cased targets, etc. What do you do with him?

It is a vast logical leap to conclude that torture should be legal simply because a scenario exists in which we may find torture useful. Sometimes it is useful, even necessary, to exceed the speed limit, but we still have speed limits.

Alex Tabarrok posted a nice rebuttal to Krauthammer's assertions two weeks before Charles even put pen to paper:

But it does not follow from the "ticking time bomb" argument that torture should be legal. The problem with making torture legal is that the government will abuse its powers. I do not trust the government, any government, to use this power responsibly. Leviathan must be heavily restrained, especially when it comes to torture.

Here is where economics can make a contribution. By making torture illegal we are raising the price of torture but we are not raising the price to infinity. If the President or the head of the CIA thinks that torture is required to stop the ticking time bomb then they ought to approve it knowing full well that they face possible prosecution. Only if the price of torture is very high can we expect that it will be used only in the most absolutely urgent of circumstances.

The torture victim faces incredible pain and perhaps death at the hands of his torturer. If these costs are to be born by the victim then we had better make damn sure that the benefits are also high and the only way we can do that is to make the torturer also bear some of the costs. Torture must not be cheap.

There are some things (many things, actually) that are too serious to leave to the whims of the government, and the ability to intentionally inflict massive amounts of pain is one of those things. McCain is absolutely right on this issue, as you would expect him to be.

Combating terrorism with random terror.

This seems like a well-thought-out policy:

Miami police announced Monday they will stage random shows of force at hotels, banks and other public places to keep terrorists guessing and remind people to be vigilant.

Deputy Police Chief Frank Fernandez said officers might, for example, surround a bank building, check the IDs of everyone going in and out and hand out leaflets about terror threats.

"This is an in-your-face type of strategy. It's letting the terrorists know we are out there," Fernandez said.

The operations will keep terrorists off guard, Fernandez said. He said al-Qaida and other terrorist groups plot attacks by putting places under surveillance and watching for flaws and patterns in security.

All terrorist bank robbers are now trembling in their boots.

"Are you being sarcastic?"

"Dude, I don't even know anymore."

Have you heard "Bush Was Right" yet? Whether you're a cynical Gen X-er, a die-hard neocon, or a lover of Billy Joel rip-offs, there's something for you here.

Andrew Sullivan has more on the band, "The Right Brothers."

Why leave America to visit America, Jr.?

The Canadian government has been toppled. Here's Ace:

So it comes as a huge surprise to me that the opposition party managed to bring down the Canadian government yesterday. Unemployment's at a 30-year-low, the country runs both budget and trade surpluses, there's health care and education for all and relatively low crime rates. Yet the opposition bloc used a little misappropriation of funds charge to oust Prime Minister Paul Martin's Liberal Party, accusing them of losing its moral authority.

Here's the NYT. The embattled Liberal government's proposed solution? Raise spending while cutting taxes! Brilliant!

In the past few days, the government has announced more than $20 billion in aid for the lumber industry, as well as social programs to benefit native populations, students, immigrants, disabled people, the military, the arts, crime prevention and mass transit. The government also announced cuts of about $30 billion in personal and corporate taxes over several years, as well as cuts in taxes on dividends.

See, we're not so different from our neighbors to the north.

Here's Megan McArdle:

This morning on Fox News I heard an anchor trying to make this "relevant" to Americans by pointing out that Bush would not be endorsing Prime Minister Martin for reelection, since he has been a thorn in the side of Mr Bush's administration for quite some time. My goodness, who cares? I mean, have y'all been to Canada lately? The Canadians are not exactly anxiously waiting to know which way George Bush thinks they could vote. In fact, if Mr Bush really wants to scuttle Mr Martin's chances, the best way to do so would be to saturate television networks near the Canadian border with advertisements enthusiastically encouraging Canadians to vote Liberal in the strongest possible terms.

Here's a poll from the CBC:

The new poll - conducted between Nov. 21 and 25 - shows a cynical electorate that's deeply divided. While 47 per cent of those asked said it's time to turf the Liberals, the same number said the country would be better off under the Liberals than under the Conservatives.

The poll suggests voters have little faith in their federal political leaders and that an overwhelming majority - 73 per cent - don't really expect politicians to keep their election promises once they are in power.

Almost two-thirds of those asked said when it comes to honesty and integrity, all parties are pretty much the same. Yet 94 per cent said honesty and integrity in government are either somewhat or very important in determining how they plan to vote.

"Good for you, son. If there's one thing America needs, it's more lawyers. Can you imagine a world without lawyers?"

The following offends me as a lawyer and as a sports fan:

Specter, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said at a news conference Monday in Harrisburg it was "vindictive and inappropriate" for the league and the Eagles to forbid the star wide receiver from playing and prevent other teams from talking to him.

"It's a restraint of trade for them to do that, and the thought crosses my mind, it might be a violation of antitrust laws," Specter said.

He goes on to say:

"I am madder than hell at what he has done in ruining the Eagles' season," the Pennsylvania Republican said. "I think he's in flagrant breach of his contract and I believe the Eagles would be within their rights in not paying him another dime or perhaps even suing him for damages."

But Specter said, "I do not believe, personally, that it is appropriate to punish him [by forcing him to sit out the rest of the season]. He's not committed a crime, he's committed a breach of contract. And what they're doing against him is vindictive."

Specter is all over the map here, and his opinions don't seem to make any sense at all. He doesn't like Owens and he thinks the Eagles might be able to sue him, but he's concerned that they are being vindictive. What? And this is clearly not an antitrust case in any way shape or form. I'll just refer to my former law professor Matt Mitten, who is quoted in the article:

Matthew J. Mitten, director of the National Sports Law Institute at Marquette University, said, "We're in the labor arena, not antitrust."

And that is that.

Grand Funk Railroad paved the way for Jefferson airplane, which cleared the way for Jefferson starship. The stage was now set for the Alan Parsons project, which I believe was some sort of hovercraft.

The Sex Pistols, Blondie, Black Sabbath, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Miles Davis have all been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Ann Althouse has Black Sabbath's reaction:

"It's about time," Black Sabbath drummer Bill Ward told Reuters, adding that he had long ago given up on getting inducted.

"What bothered me was not necessarily that Black Sabbath was being passed over but that hard rock and heavy metal was being passed over ... Bands that created heavy metal music or brought it into the foreground ought to have gone into the hall of fame some time ago, quite honestly."

Ozzy Osbourne added:

Mmff uhnk mfff kaayyyn keddd sksdjs sjfff. Rfffeeeay frrrroddd man.

I completely agree.

Evil television under fire.

They curb violence but they allow this:

Check out the C-SPAN feed right now to check out testimony and moralizing senators yammering on about just how evil the world of cable and satellite TV and radio is--and how much it demands government content regulation. Earlier, Sen. Mark Pryor went off on how he's "scared to death" for his kids to turn on the boob tube if he's not there to cover their eyes. A woman from the Christian Coalition just wrapped up comments about how she shudders for her country when she reflects that God loves only the Disney Channel.

There is more. Read the whole thing.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Providing resources to those that need them most

Zygote Games, is the maker of "Bone Wars: The Game of Ruthless Paleontology." Zygote is currently promoting this special offer:

Limited time, special offer to people living in Kansas or shipping to Kansas! Go to our special ordering page for more information and a press release.

Why give a discount to Kansas? Why not Wyoming or Vermont? Simple: the Kansas Board of Education has attempted to give equal space in the state public school biology curriculum to the doctrine of "Intelligent Design," claiming that it is a "scientific theory" about the origin and development of life. It isn't, of course, and when real scientists complained that "Intelligent Design" fits none of the criteria for an actual scientific theory, the Board responded by redefining "science" so that it is no longer limited to the search for natural explanations for phenomena.

So we're doing our part for science. BONE WARS is all about how scientific theories get developed and tested (along with being about lying, stealing, and conniving). Maybe our game can do what the schools in Kansas won't.

What a great company.

The Progressive Wal-Mart

In the WaPo, Sebastian Mallaby has an excellent op-ed on the "progressive success story" that is Wal-Mart:

Wal-Mart's critics allege that the retailer is bad for poor Americans. This claim is backward: As Jason Furman of New York University puts it, Wal-Mart is "a progressive success story." Furman advised John "Benedict Arnold" Kerry in the 2004 campaign and has never received any payment from Wal-Mart; he is no corporate apologist. But he points out that Wal-Mart's discounting on food alone boosts the welfare of American shoppers by at least $50 billion a year. The savings are possibly five times that much if you count all of Wal-Mart's products.

These gains are especially important to poor and moderate-income families. The average Wal-Mart customer earns $35,000 a year, compared with $50,000 at Target and $74,000 at Costco. Moreover, Wal-Mart's "every day low prices" make the biggest difference to the poor, since they spend a higher proportion of income on food and other basics. As a force for poverty relief, Wal-Mart's $200 billion-plus assistance to consumers may rival many federal programs. Those programs are better targeted at the needy, but they are dramatically smaller. Food stamps were worth $33 billion in 2005, and the earned-income tax credit was worth $40 billion.

Critics of Wal-Mart tend to ignore the benefits of Wal-Mart's prices. While you can make a fair argument that Wal-Mart does drive down wages, that is not the only side of the equation.

Mallaby makes a strong case. Read the whole thing.

Mooch is out in Detroit

The firing of Steve Mariucci was announced by the Lions moments ago. Expect Green Bay fans to immediately call for the firing of Mike Sherman and hiring of Mooch even though Mariucci has done little to show that he can be a successful coach in the NFL (although I'm willing to cut him some slack, as the Lions have one of the worst front offices in football).

The Lions loss to Atlanta on Thanksgiving Day was one of the worst coaching performances I've ever witnessed. When you run the ball only 12 times against a team that allowed Samkon Gado to rush for over 100 yards and 3 scores, and you're averaging 5.8 yards per carry (excluding QB runs), and you pass on almost every snap even when the game is still close, maybe you deserve to get fired.

Heck, maybe you were trying to get fired.

Brad Johnson's Big Advantage

First and foremost, Daunte Culpepper is a better QB than Brad Johnson, make no mistake about it. Last season Daunte led one of the best offenses in the history of the NFL, and he has been consistently great for his entire tenure. One bad season does not a bad QB make.

Moreover, Brad Johnson isn't even primarily responsible for the current (and inexplicable) Viking winning streak. In the Vikings' recent win over the Giants, the Vikings only managed to score on returns and on a game winning FG by Paul Edinger. Johnson was terrible in that game.

That said, Johnson is a better fit right now because of his field vision, and because of his immobility.

I've watched Culpepper play for a long time, as the Vikings are the Packers' fiercest rivals. Culpepper has a tendency to focus on one receiver. When that receiver was Randy Moss, this strategy worked well.

I'm willing to bet that if you looked at QBs who run on a regular basis, that you would see a disproportionately high percentage of their passes thrown to their number one receiver. If you're a running QB, it's in your best interest to spend some time waiting for #1 to get open rather than checking down to a second option. At some point it makes sense to throw to the inferior 2nd or 3rd option, but the more often you get the ball to your best receiver, the more productive you will be. If you can buy some time with the run you can wait basically forever, because you always have the option to take off running, and when you're the enormous Daunte Culpepper that may frequently be the best strategy.

If, like Brad Johnson, you can't run, you are forced to spread the ball around. You are forced to go through your progressions to prevent yourself from getting killed by the oncoming rush. The only other option that you have is to throw the ball away, but if you spend life in the pocket, even that option may not be there for you.

When Randy Moss was a Viking it made sense for Culpepper to largely ignore his other options, and to keep plays alive for Moss. Moss could outfight almost anyone for a ball, and when defenses rolled coverage in his direction it would often leave Nate Burleson and Kelly Campbell uncovered.

Now that there is no "dominant" receiver on the Vikings, Culpepper's tendency to focus on one player resulted in a steep increase in turnovers. It also exposed Culpepper to more punishment, as he waited for plays that never developed.

Culpepper is not a "running QB" in the Michael Vick sense. He scrambles when necessary to buy time, and when the defense gives him some room he will take advantage, but he is a pass-first QB, and a fine pocket passer. His problem this season was that he never adjusted to having 2nd and 3rd options that were the equal of his 1st option.

Brad Johnson is old, and to me it looks as if he has a dead arm, but the guy is smart, and he goes through his reads meticulously. He makes the defense spread itself out, and makes them pay for double teams.

As a general rule, if you have a QB with the ability to keep plays alive, it is in your best interest to have a dominant #1 receiver. If, on the other hand, you have an immobile pocket passer, it is strategically better to have a more balanced corps of wide receivers.

Drug Dealing Cheerleaders!

Pharmaceutical companies are recruiting cheerleaders to become salespeople. Here's the best line of the article:

Known for their athleticism, postage-stamp skirts and persuasive enthusiasm, cheerleaders have many qualities the drug industry looks for in its sales force.

Apparently the government has been cracking down on "free gift" inducements from the drug companies, forcing them to resort to attractive women to gain a competitive edge:

But now that federal crackdowns and the industry's self-policing have curtailed those gifts, simple one-on-one human rapport, with all its potentially uncomfortable consequences, has become more important. And in a crowded field of 90,000 drug representatives, where individual clients wield vast prescription-writing influence over patients' medication, who better than cheerleaders to sway the hearts of the nation's doctors, still mostly men.

We also get this interesting tidbit:

One informal survey, conducted by a urologist in Pittsburgh, Dr. James J. McCague, found that 12 of 13 medical saleswomen said they had been sexually harassed by physicians. Dr. McCague published his findings in the trade magazine Medical Economics under the title "Why Was That Doctor Naked in His Office?"

What a sordid business. Something to think about next time your doctor prescribes a drug for you.

(Hat tip, Jodi)

Sunday, November 27, 2005

And I thought that Minnesota was crazy for not selling beer on Sunday.

Apparently it's illegal to sell almost anything on Thanksgiving Day in Massachusetts, as Whole Foods learned this past Thursday:

What high crimes and misdemeanors was the upscale grocer plotting? It was going to open its doors for business on Thanksgiving. Shocking! It was going to sell fruit and vegetables and milk and desserts. And why? Because, as company executive David Lannon told the Globe last week, Whole Foods knows that on the most food-oriented day of the year, some consumers run out of ingredients. ''It proves to be a very busy morning for people to get flour or baked goods," Lannon explained. ''It's for people . . . who say, 'Ooh, I need more butter or another bunch of celery.' "

In short, Whole Foods was going to make its wares available to Massachusetts customers on Thanksgiving -- just as it does for customers in Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and two-dozen other states nationwide. Bay State consumers panicked over an eleventh-hour shortage of dried apricots or hazelnut extract would have been able to get what they needed before the in-laws showed up at the front door. Whole Foods employees wouldn't have been required to work, but those volunteering would have earned double pay. Willing seller, willing buyers, willing workers -- an economist looking at such an arrangement would have seen the free market at its best.

The attorney general of Massachusetts looked at it and saw a crime. In a stiff letter to Whole Foods last week, Attorney General Thomas Reilly noted that under Chapter 136 of the Massachusetts legal code, ''the performance of work on legal holidays is prohibited, unless permitted by a statutory exemption." If Whole Foods opened its doors on Thanksgiving, the letter warned, it could face ''criminal and equitable enforcement actions to enjoin violations of the Blue Laws."

That's from an article by Jeff Jacoby at Read the whole thing.

A tip of the cap to Ed Brayton, who has more here.

So, just how big are American farm subsidies?

From the book Raising Less Corn, More Hell: The Case For The Independent Farm And Against Industrial Food, by George Pyle, via Marginal Revolution:

Over 2001 and 2002, America's 25,000 cotton farmers received more subsidies -- about $3 billion -- than the entire economic output of Burkina Faso in a year. Two million people in Burkina Faso live partly or fully from cotton farming.

The NYT 100 Notable Books of the Year

can be found here.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm thankful for football. Hey, it's almost game time. I have to go.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


Photgraphic bacteria!

Biofuels are bad for rainforests!

Landmine Arrows! is cool.

TO Loses.

He didn't have much of a case, in my opinion..

Fun Friday: Wednesday Edition

Since I might not be around on Friday, here are some fun links to get you through the weekend.

First off, here's the Homestar Runner Fall Float Parade. Homsar as the Shriners. Classic.

Here's Peter Griffin v. Michael Moore.

Here's a Family Guy skit that Ace mentioned the other day.

Here's the latest Magical Trevor. Catchy.

And finally, Stupid Sexy Flanders!

The End of Bar Time

If we have a recurring theme here at the EC, it is that bar time is stupid. It creates a situation in which thousands of drunk people all hit the roads simultaneously, and it provides a goal to shoot for when drinking.

Tonight, England will start allowing some establishments to stay open 24 hours. England has a notoriously badly behaved drinking culture, and I will be very interested to see how this policy works out. The government is instituting a crackdown on alcohol related crime with the new licenses going into effect:

Licensing Minister James Purnell said the new laws would be coupled with the "toughest ever crackdown on alcohol fuelled violence".

A rise in the number of arrests could be a measure of the success of powers in the Licensing Act, he said.

Mr Purnell told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We are not saying that crime itself will go up."

"What we are saying is that we are giving the police more powers and we do expect there to be more prosecutions."

He then added:

"It is absolutely clear that the current system has not worked," said the minister.

"Let's not penalise the majority of responsible drinkers because of the crimes of a minority.

"There should be a very clear principle here - that if people are not causing harm to others, government should get out of their personal lives."

Amen. How did this guy get in charge of licensing? And can we get him over here?

There are, as always, naysayers:

Shadow culture secretary Theresa May said the logic of the government's plans was "absurd".

She told BBC News: "The government has got it the wrong way round.

"They should have been doing something about binge drinking before looking at extending the licensing hours."

First of all, government's ability to do anything about binge drinking is fairly limited. Secondly I'm willing to bet that the alcohol-related crime rate goes down in England in short order. And finally, what the heck is a "shadow culture secretary?"

Kudos to England. This is a step in the right direction.

What are you reading now?

Since I just told everyone what I've finished reading, here's what I'm currently reading.

Middlesex, by Jeff Eugenides

I'm almost finished. It's good, but not really a page turner.

The Cornish Trilogy, by Robertson Davies

Last year I read his Deptford Trilogy, which is one of my favorite books. Here is my review.

The Know It All, by A.J. Jacobs

Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman

I've got sixteen hours worth of transit in front of me this weekend, so I'm looking forward to making some serious headway on all of these.

Warning: Shameless Advertising Plug

You may have noticed that we carry a few Amazon ads on the blog. Instead of braving the crowds on "Black Friday," why not simply do your shopping from the comfort of your own home on the good ol' internet?

And, if you plan on doing any shopping on Amazon this year, why not go through this (or your favorite) blog? It doesn't cost you a penny more and we get a small (but not insignificant) portion of the proceeds (about 5%). Good old capitalism in action.

Just click on one of our side banners, or on the search bar at the very bottom of the blog. You don't even have to buy the products that we're advertising, you just have to get there from here.

Thanks for your support.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Guest Post: David Orgas

David Orgas is one of the most interesting people I've met. As far as I can tell, he has a photographic memory. He runs a complex fantasy football league that I'm lucky enough to participate in, and, as far as I can tell, he has never forgotten anything football-related in his life. Recently David completed work on Dare to Dream: The Alan Kulwicki Story, (he is the writer, director, and executive producer) which you can purchase on eBay here. (If the previous link dies, search for "Kulwicki movie.") I haven't seen the movie yet, as it was just released on DVD, and I don't live near any of the locations where it is being screened, but I will see it soon. I'm not a Nascar fan at all, but Kulwicki's story is pretty amazing regardless of how you feel about Nascar, and David is an excellent storyteller. Here is a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article about the making of the movie. You should check it out, especially if you have a Nascar fan in the family.

David is also a big Packer fan, and he broke down this terrible season as follows:

There are two main reasons for the Packers' abysmal record this season:

Personnel and Coaching.

Personnel: When the receiving corps took major losses the Packers brass did nothing to shore up the holes except bring Andrae Thurman back. Tonight he ran an "in" on the interception return for a TD when Favre threw an "out". When Favre throws an "out" and the receiver runs an "in" you can be certain that the receiver was wrong. Especially if the receiver is Andrae Thurman. On the final Packer drive, he let a pass go right through his hands inside the 10 yard line. Both hands were on it, the defender did not deflect the ball (as Michaels suggested might have occurred) but he dropped it anyway. Had he caught a ball placed in his hands by Favre we would have had 1st and goal from the 7 or 8 and a chance to go up by 4 points.

Good thing we didn't sign Andre Davis after he was cut by the Patriots earlier this season. He's only a receiver who caught an average of 40 balls per year for the Browns with deep speed and the ability to return kickoffs for scores. We don't even have that! Chatman is a sub-par return specialist who is extremely limited as a receiver. He missed a ball on that last drive just before Thurman's drop. Unless he is uncovered running crossing routes he has little value. Davis could have helped in both areas with his size/speed.

Personnel: Jason Horton is in our secondary.

Coaching: It took Sherman half the season to realize Adrian Klemm cannot play guard. He still hasn't figured out that Wil Whittaker cannot play either. Every game Whittaker gets beat badly (I mean, he completely misses his blocks and assignments). Eventually he may realize that he could move Tauscher inside to RG and start Kevin Barry at RT. Tauscher has played more snaps at RG than Whittaker may ever play (since Sherman is likely to be fired at the end of the season and no other coach would be likely to play Whittaker again).

Coaching: If KGB cannot stop the run in the second half of games then KGB needs to come out until a passing down occurs. This is simple logic. Bryant McKinnie is not a road-grader as a run blocker and yet he made KGB look like a rag-doll most of the game.

Coaching: If the only player the opponent can complete a pass to is their TE, then we should cover their TE. Of course, this has been a re-occurring theme.

Coaching: Mike Sherman has lost more games at Lambeau than he has won. Maybe not, but it's getting close.

Personnel: Wouldn't Odell Thurman have looked good on this defense? Many publications, including the Packer Plus, thought he was the 1st round pick for the Green and Gold. Instead we took Rogers. You cannot prepare for the retirement of Brett Favre with a QB. That guy is screwed. If you want to prepare for the end of Favre's era you have to do 3 things: Make him stay around longer by supplying him with weapons and a chance to win (delay the end). Build a strong defense that can keep you in games (ala Chicago). Maintain your running game so whoever the QB is, he has a chance (i.e. have solid guards).

Personnel: Is it too late to get in on the Reggie Bush sweepstakes???

Two Football Questions

I will for the moment refrain from commenting on my lowly football team, however I do have two questions of Madden, Michaels, and the rest of the Monday Night Crew.

1. When they translate the speed of a throw in a football game into "baseball speed," what does that mean? I understand that when Jennie Finch throws a pitch in fast pitch softball that the mound is closer to the plate than it is in baseball, and so a 70 MPH pitch in softball can look like a 95 MPH in baseball, but all season long on MNF they've been telling us that Favre throws at about 68 MPH, and that that is the equivalent of throwing 96 MPH in baseball. What does that mean? Last night they did this on Favre's first 15 yard TD pass to Donald Driver. The pass actually traveled much further than 15 yards, as Driver caught it in the middle of the endzone near the sideline. I did a quick back of the envelope calculation and discovered that the ball probably traveled between 24-32 yards (if I remember the play correctly, adding distance for the end zone depth and Favre's dropback, and doing a little Pythagorean theorem action), or farther than the 60 feet, 6 inches that a MLB pitch travels. How can the ball appear faster in that kind of a situation? It makes no sense.

I think they are just making this up out of thin air.

2. Does Minnesota's line spacing really keep them from running between the tackles? If so, isn't this an easy problem to fix? Madden mentioned this at least 4,000 times last night. What made him think of this? Did some scout tell him? Was he thinking back to his coaching days? And if he felt so strongly about it, doesn't that mean the he implicitly thinks that Mike Tice and Co. are incompetent?

Personally, I think it has more to do with the loss of Matt Birk than it does with line spacing.

Monday, November 21, 2005

What ever happened to the 50 Book Challenge?

I'm not going to make it. This is the result of some poor choices on my part. I had too many big books going all at once, and while I'm a fast reader, I really buried myself. Secondly, my commute was shortened by several hours earlier this year and consequently my reading time was significantly reduced.

That said, I've actually read quite a few books since my last 50 book challenge post, so if you're looking for a good read over the Thanksgiving holiday, here are some ideas:

Interface, by Neal Stephenson and J. Frederick George

This is a rerelease of an old Neal Stephenson book that was published under a pseudonym. Neal is one of my favorite authors, but his early work leaves something to be desired. That said, this is a good, but not great, political thriller. It owes a lot to The Manchurian Candidate, as well as Michael Crichton's The Terminal Man.

Presidential candidate William Cozzano has a device implanted in his head that feeds him instant poll results, so that he can adjust his speeches on the fly. It soon becomes unclear if he is responding to the signals, or being controlled by them. Mystery and intrigue ensue. If you're in the mood for political conspiracy theory you could do worse. Or you could reread Cryptonomicon instead.

Guns, Germs, and Steel, by Jared Diamond

To be fair to Diamond, I'd heard so much about this book already that it felt like I had already read it. Diamond won a Pulitzer for this work, and I must admit that he does have a way with words, but at the end it starts to feel like the last 150 pages are just padding. Diamond attempts to explain why some civilizations succeed and some fail through geography. He makes a big deal out of usable pack animals, seed cultivation, and the American continents vertical orientation vs. the Eurasian continents horizontal orientation. Some of his explanations are compelling, but I would have liked to see him spend a little more time on the role of political institutions.

Not a favorite of mine, and certainly not a page turner, but it's worth a read if you're interested in the subject.

The Colour of Magic, The Light Fantastic, and Eric, all by Terry Pratchett

These are books that I should have read when I was a nerdy teenager. Terry Pratchett writes the Discworld series of books, about a world that actually rests on the backs of four elephants riding a space turtle. There are a lot of fantasy books that deal with magic. Where Pratchett excels is that he treats magic like we treat physics. The Discworld also runs on observable laws, and magic isn't so much practiced as it is held in check. Think nuclear containment.

Pratchett is also consistently witty, and puns and plays on words are pervasive. Very Douglas Adams-esque.

Love, Poverty, and War, by Christopher Hitchens

I love a good Hitch rant, and this collection of essays from Vanity Fair, Slate, etc. is great for a quick fix. Like any collection, it's uneven, but I enjoyed enough of it to make it worthwhile. I am especially fond of his book reviews, which make up about 1/4 of the book. And his religious rants are second to none.

The End of Faith, by Sam Harris

Rarely have I been so disappointed in a book. Sam Harris spends hundreds of pages dismantling the idea that faith deserves respect, and then in the end, he basically admits to being a Buddhist. This is a slight overstatement, but he basically asserts that transcendental meditation is the way to go, and that this is objectively verifiable. It was sort of like reading an entire treatise that you agree with only to discover it was written by a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

I felt dirty.

The Raving Atheist takes Harris to task here. Skip it. It's not worth your time.

The Undercover Economist, by Tim Harford

This is one of the best books that I have read this year. Harford is a great storyteller, and every single example that he uses is interesting. Whereas Freakonomics is written by a journalist (Steve Dubner), and can often sound like an expose, Harford takes the tone of a teacher without ever sounding condescending. You can read an excerpt here, and you can watch a speech by Harford, Marginal Revolution's Tyler Cowen, and Sebastian Mallaby here. (Click on the "video" icon in the upper right hand corner.) Here's the Marginal Revolution review, with more links.

The Singularity Is Near, by Ray Kurzweil

First, read Ray's bio. This is important because if you read The Singularity Is Near without knowing anything about the author, you might think that he is nuts. Basically, he asserts that due to the nature of the exponential acceleration of information technology development, that we're on the verge of creating fantastically smart artificial intelligence, helpful nanobots, and genetic engineering that will eliminate basically all disease, and the we can use these to expand out knowledge at an even faster pace. He also mentions that we might destroy the world if we're not careful, but in general he's the one of the biggest optimists ever.

There's a portion of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy that describes the invention a supercomputer called Deep Thought. A super smart race builds the computer to tell them the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything. They are not pleased with the answer, however the computer (which is the second smartest computer ever built) says that it will help them build the smartest computer ever built, which can then tell them what the ultimate question means. Kurzweil's philosophy is fairly similar. He asserts that once we achieve a certain level of computerized intelligence that everything will really take off, because at that point the computers can build computers.

Predicting the future is difficult, and I suspect that Kurzweil will be mostly wrong, but he makes a good case, and I certainly hope that he's right.

President foiled by door.

Oh, come on. Are you kidding?

"So, how was the birthday party?"

It was great fun 95% of the time.

"And the other 5%?"

The other 5% ruined a good pair of shoes. Possibly two good pairs of shoes.

"I thought you said you weren't going to let that happen this year."

Well, it's never your intention to do that, is it? I rarely get to the "praying to the porcelain god" stage, but occasionally it happens.

"Did you learn anything?"

Three things. First and foremost, I learned that it's dangerous to not pay for your own drinks. (The economic term for this is, ironically, "moral hazard.") This was the source of most of my problems. Second, I learned that when I'm drinking heavily (Note: This will not be an issue again for a long, long, long time) that I should listen to my wife. Much wailing and gnashing of teeth could have been averted by following this last piece of advice. Finally, I learned that I'm an idiot.

"Get any good presents?"

My friends are very generous and they know me well. I received a B&N gift card, and ironically, a gift pack of obscure beers, two bottles of Jameson's, and a fine bottle of scotch. It's going to be a while before I delve into any of those gifts. My wife got me a new briefcase (which I desperately needed) and two books. Quite excellent.

Thanks to everyone who came to the party, by the way. I hope everyone had an ok time.

"What did Danny get you?"

He contributed a bottle of Jameson's. He also helped drag me home.

"How was your Sunday?"

Restful. Immobile. One good thing about recovering on Sunday is that I got to see a ton of football. I also learned how to make glazed grilled salmon on America's Test Kitchen.

"Any plans for the upcoming week?

Pack for the Thanksgiving trip to Minneapolis to visit the in-laws, watch the Pack tonight, offer to be the designated driver for the next couple of weeks, and try to have a healthy diet for a few weeks to repair the damage.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Krauthammer on Dover

Krauthammer's column is quite excellent:

In order to justify the farce that intelligent design is science, Kansas had to corrupt the very definition of science, dropping the phrase " natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us," thus unmistakably implying -- by fiat of definition, no less -- that the supernatural is an integral part of science. This is an insult both to religion and science.

The school board thinks it is indicting evolution by branding it an "unguided process" with no "discernible direction or goal." This is as ridiculous as indicting Newtonian mechanics for positing an "unguided process" by which Earth is pulled around the sun every year without discernible purpose. What is chemistry if not an "unguided process" of molecular interactions without "purpose"? Or are we to teach children that God is behind every hydrogen atom in electrolysis?

The most stolen freeway sign in the US

Can be seen on the trip from Chicago to Milwaukee, and by clicking this link. I'm pretty sure that it's named for this guy.

Fun Friday

Maybe, instead of the phrase "build a better mouse trap and the world will beat a path to your door," we should change it to "build a better sex drug..."

Shares of the biotech company jumped 20 percent earlier this week after word got out about the new sex drug for women.

Also note that nothing is hotter than nasal spray.

Moving on, watching this sexual harassment training video will make you much more uncomfortable than being on the receiving end of actual sexual harassment. Especially the part where a woman states that "It smells like fresh vagina in here."

(Hat tip, Tex)

Here's a great shot in a high school basketball game.

Here's a funny clip of Jimmy Kimmel's Unnecessary Censorship. (Hat tip, Ace.)

Here's my favorite Onion article of the week.

Finally, my birthday is, unfortunately, on November 25 which is always on or around Thanksgiving. I'll be 28 this year. Since I'm not in town for my actual birthday, and none of my friends are in town for my actual birthday, we're celebrating this Saturday with a little Wrigleyville pub crawl. Here's the schedule:

10:00 The Irish Oak ~ 3511 N. Clark St.

11:00 The Ivy ~ 3462 N. Clark St.

12:00 Cleary's ~ 3438 N. Clark St.

1:00 Sheffield's ~ 3258 N. Sheffield Ave.

Feel free to stop in and say hi.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

I actually like this particular Harry Potter movie better than I liked the book, which is some of the highest praise that you can bestow on a movie that is based on a book.

One of the most annoying aspects of the middle Potter books (4-5) is all of the overblown teen angst that goes on. I understand that portraying fourteen-year-olds as anything but angst-ridden would be terribly unrealistic, but it gets very, very annoying in books 4-5. The movie cuts the awkward teenage moments down to a minimum, keeping just what the plot requires. The focus in this movie is action, and the action is very well done.

This particular Potter story focuses on a competition called the Tri-Wizard tournament, which thankfully replaces the Quidditch season this year. Three champions are selected by the Goblet of Fire from three different wizarding schools to compete in three extremely dangerous competitions. After the Goblet has selected the three names, it mysteriously spits out Harry's name as well. The rules are binding, and what the Goblet wants, the Goblet gets. Harry is forced to enter the competition against Bulgarian Quidditch superstar Victor Krum, the beautiful Fleur Delacour of France, and his own schoolmate Cedric Diggory. All of his competitors are at least 17 years old, and much more adept at performing magic.

The cast is excellent, especially Ralph Fiennes, who makes the most of his brief screen time as Voldemort, and the movie looks consistently spectacular. It's over 2.5 hours long, but when it was over it actually seemed a bit rushed to me.

This was exactly the treatment that the book needed. If memory serves, The Goblet of Fire is the longest book in the series, and Rowling would have been well served to have had the book edited as the movie was. Some side plots are discarded, which may annoy die-hard fans, but I didn't miss them a bit. Director Mike Newell does an excellent job and I hope that he is also tapped for the upcoming Order of the Phoenix.

Harry Potter is sure to be a smash hit, and deservedly so.

"The World's First Rational Religion"

I've always had trouble labeling myself when it comes to religion. If you've read my increasingly rare posts on this blog you've probably noticed that I'm somewhat skeptical of religion to say the least. I've never been able to say emphatically that I'm an atheist or and agnostic. On one hand, the Judeo/Christian/Islamic god is logically impossible. But on the other hand, I'm not willing to say emphatically that there is no higher power of any kind. I think it's unlikely but I'm not arrogant enough to be sure. Some people would label this atheist and others agnostic.

That's why I'm intrigued by the Universists. I'm not saying I'm ready to join up or anything, but I like their message a lot. I was certainly happy to see that they got a front page article in the LA Times.

The only dogma they must accept is uncertainty. Relinquishing any hope of cosmic truth, Universists worship by wondering how we got here, and why, and what lies ahead.

"What if there were a religion that does not presume to declare universal religious truths?" Vox [Ford, the founder of Universism] wrote in an online manifesto. "What if there were a religion that demands no blind faith in prophets or their writings?"

"Universism seeks to solve a problem that has riddled mankind throughout history: the endless string of people who claim that they know the Truth and the Way." His religion, he wrote, would "dispel the illusion of certainty that divides humanity into warring camps."

I'm not sure calling it a religion was a good idea. In fact, I'm not sure calling it "Universism" was a good idea. But I like the message.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Republican Meltdown In The House?

Check out the TNR Blog, The Plank:

Hey, if you haven't been watching it, the House GOP has lost their first floor vote since, well since I started working here in 1997.

The new "leadership" team is flailing. Moderates are talking of fielding a leadership candidate in January, the right wingers are about to drive the moderates out into the rice paddies, it's absolute anarchy.

There's more, including this:

The reasons for voting against it were pretty obvious. Massive cuts in popular education programs. Cuts in home heating assistance while prices are skyrocketing. And the list goes on. Moderate republicans could get away with these votes when the President was doing well, but they can't now. Instead of making them take fewer of these votes, the wackos on the right are making them take more. They are p*ssed that the leadership isn't stepping in and saving them...

Now think about this: one of the very next votes scheduled for today is the Republican budget cutting bill that had to be pulled from the floor [last week] for lack of votes. The moderates have been whipsawed by the leadership and cajoled (dropping the ANWR provision), and they won't budge. The mood must be very sour over there.


For your afternoon enjoyment

1. Tin-foil helmets actually help the government read your thoughts.

2. Think this country was founded as a "Christian nation?" Ever read the Treaty of Tripoli? Here's the first phrase:

As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion;

Read more, along with some commentary, here.

3. Virginia Postrel has a slew of new posts up. Just keep scrolling.

4. Ann Althouse notes that the far right is doing everything it can (albeit unintentionally) to ensure that Sam Alito is not confirmed.

5. Chicago might ban 40s.

6. Here's L&N Liner Chris on the newest Harry Potter movie. Here's Ebert. I'm actually going to see a sneak preview tonight and I'll have a review in the morning.

CTA Problems

I actually haven't had CTA train problems in a while, but this morning they made me stand outside in 25 degree weather on a train platform for 1 hour and 15 minutes due to debris (read: body) on the tracks.

As a result, I have a lot of catching up to do, and my fingers are frozen together. Blogging may be light today.

If you're bored, you owe it to yourself to head over to Ace's place where you can read a story about a dedicated sports fan. Very dedicated. If I say anymore, I'll ruin the surprise.

And don't miss the update in the post right below this one.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

What you can learn by reading today's Chicago Sun-Times.

1. Ebert gave Oprah the advice that eventually resulted in her being the most powerful woman in America.

2. Siskel used to crack up at dwarfs dressed as chipmunks.

3. Sohpia Loren once uttered the following phrase:

"It doesn't matter what goes into it, as long as it smells so nice,"

4. Oprah and Ebert went out on a "date." (Actually, two dates.)

5. It was on this date that the giving of this important advice took place.

This is all told in one highly entertaining, bizarre, and seemingly implausible (but apparently true) story, here.


You should read the comments section of this post, where you'll find that Michael David Smith continues to ask the tough questions. He had the opportunity to ask Ebert about the "success" of those dates. Seriously:

From Ebert's mouth to my ears to this blog: "Not only did we not do the nasty, we didn't even do the nice."

Now that is some good reporting.

Scientists Grow Blood Vessels From Skin

This is excellent news:

Like many patients in dialysis, the two Argentines, a 56-year-old woman and a 61-year-old man, were faced with the prospect of running out of healthy blood vessels. To grow new ones, doctors took a small piece of skin and a vein from the back of the hand, and nurtured them in a laboratory dish with growth enhancers to help produce substances like collagen and elastin, which give tissues their shape and texture.

The process produced two types of tissue: one that forms the tough structure or backbone of the vessel and one that lines it and helps it to function.

The feel of the new tissue "was very similar to the other vessels" that were present from birth, said Dr. Sergio Garrido, the surgeon who implanted it in the two patients.

Sony Recalls Spy CDs.

Apparently the reaction to this story was fairly drastic, because Sony is recalling millions of CDs that installed spyware on unsuspecting PCs and altered systems in such a way as to make them vulnerable to viruses.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Michael David Smith asks the tough questions

He recently interviewed Bill Romanowski, one of the most feared linebackers in NFL history. So did Mike toss softballs? Well, you should read the whole thing and judge for yourself, but here are a few examples of the questions that he posed:

What about Kerry Collins? Are you proud of the hit that broke his jaw?

You mention breaking Dave Meggett's finger intentionally. Do you have remorse for that? Have you ever apologized to him?

Let's turn now to steroids. What percentage of NFL players do you think use steroids?

Is THG the only steroid you ever used?

I think of all the things you mentioned the one that is seemingly the most bizarre is that you actually considered drinking urine until your wife talked you out of it.

Okayyyyyy. There's some good (and disgusting) stuff here. Check it out.

Wisconsinesque Items.

First, The New Republic has a profile on Wisconsin Senator and possible 2008 Presidential candidate Russ Feingold. You probably need a subscription, so here's a snippet:

Conditions in Iraq are certainly nasty. But Feingold has long harbored wariness about U.S. military action. When Republicans forced a 1995 Senate vote to cut off funding for U.S. military forces in Bosnia, for instance, he was the sole Democrat to join 21 conservatives in support of the resolution. As other Democrats waxed idealistic about human rights, Feingold fretted about Vietnam parallels and worried that "our attempting to police the world threatens our own national security." By 1997, he was fighting to cut off funding for military operations in Bosnia and to begin an early withdrawal of U.S. forces. "What they haven't done is define a concrete exit strategy for our American troops," he said at the time. "This administration needs to sit down and work with Congress to map out a specific schedule for bringing our troops home, or they will be there for a very, very long time." Likewise, Feingold cast just one of three Democratic 'no' votes against the 1999 Kosovo bombing campaign. "It's a compelling notion that the American government has an obligation to stop brutality and genocide. I can't dispute that," he told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel in March of 1999. "But how can we be acting in Bosnia and Kosovo and not Rwanda, or Sudan, or East Timor, or even Tibet?" Feingold even told me that, during the 2000 presidential campaign, "I liked some of the things George W. Bush said about nation-building."

And, in Reason, Ron Bailey makes the case for Santiago Calatrava to design whatever replaces the World Trade Center.

Question: What's the most influential book you read in college?

Try matching the person to the book.

1. Christopher Hitchens, columnist, Vanity Fair
2. Daniel Okrent, author, Great Fortune, and former NYT ombudsman
3. Bill Simmons, columnist,
4. Mark Cuban, owner, Dallas Mavericks
5. David Brooks, columnist, the New York Times
6. Mark Bowden, national correspondent, the Atlantic
7. Judd Apatow, writer-director, The 40-Year-Old Virgin

A. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe
B. The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand
C. The Mill on the Floss, George Eliot
D. Where I'm Calling From, Raymond Carver
E. Ball Four, Jim Bouton
F. Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes
G. A Death in the Family, James Agee

Answers, and much more, can be found at the Slate.

The Chronicles of Lewis

In the New Yorker, Adam Gopnik has a fascinating article on the life of C.S. Lewis. He covers the distinctly different opinions help by Americans and Britons, his strange sex life, his conversion at the hands of Tolkien, and the lasting influence of the Narnia books. It's long, but it's worth reading all the way through, especially with the impending release of the movie, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.

(Hat tip, ALD)

Monday, November 14, 2005

Alex Tabarrok on Bill Cosby

It's gotta be the shoes.

Waiting for Gado

That's more like it.

Sam Gado may never have a game like that again, but if nothing else it serves as an important reminder of just how crucial the running game is to Favre and the passing offense. While the Pack has suffered massive injuries at RB, remember that even when healthy Ahman Green was having a terrible season. When the running game has clicked this year, during Najeh Davenport's few productive appearances, the offense as a whole has clicked.

I wasn't as impressed with Gado as I was with the line. Did benching Adrian Klemm actually make that big of a difference? Last week, when I was at the Pitt game Gado looked like a hard runner who was too slow to the hole, but on Sunday he was routinely getting through the first layer and punishing linebackers. It is obvious that the line improved significantly this week.

The other big factor for the Pack this week was that they managed to play from ahead. Except for New Orleans the team has been behind for basically the entire season, and as the Football Outsiders have noticed, the Packers are absolutely horrible in "late and close" situations:

A team which outscores its opponents 168-159 should be a lot closer to 4-4 than 1-7. The disconnect isn't just one big win over the New Orleans Saints of San Antonio the Packers have also lost four games by a field goal or less. The problem is that the Packers are the league's worst offense in what we call "late and close" situations: second half, game within eight points. Favre averages 4.8 net yards per pass in these situations with an interception once every nine passes. The rest of the time, he averages 7.3 net yards per pass and throws an interception once every 46 passes. (For the DVOA-inclined, the Packers are -78.1 percent in late and close offense. San Francisco is the only other team below— 35 percent.)

I think this can be explained by the fact that Donald Driver is the only above average skill position player still healthy (other than Favre). Late in games, if you're trailing, you are going to be restricted to passing exclusively. In these situations, it is crucial to have an above average #2 receiver to take advantage of double coverage on the #1. Right now it's easy to take Driver out of the game and make Chatman and Thurman beat you. If the Packers can play from ahead, they can still be successful on offense.

A few other quick notes.

1. Al Harris continues to have a spectacular season at corner.

2. Vick looked slow to me. Linemen were catching up to him. What gives?

3. Nick Barnett actually had a pretty good game, and not just because he recovered a few fumbles. He maintained his gap responsibility and didn't overpursue. If you're MLB is out of position against Atlanta, they'll run all over you.

4. Bubba Franks looks like he's fully recovered. He actually looks faster and leaner to me than at any other point in his career.

5. B.J. Sander is still a disaster as a holder. It was a bad snap, but it was not impossible to field.

6. Longwell is still excellent as long as the ball gets to where it is supposed to be.

7. Jim Bates did a remarkable job changing up his normal scheme and pressuring Vick and Dunn into mistakes. Atlanta was clearly not prepared to deal with extra pressure.

8. The pressure had the added bonus of forcing Vick to try and pass. He's still a terrible passer. Instead of LBs chasing him around he was forced to scramble away from DBs. After Al Harris got into the backfield a few times he looked tentative.

9. I think that Carolina will finish ahead of Atlanta to take the NFC South, and that Atlanta may end up missing the playoffs altogether.

10. Every game left on the schedule is winnable, with the possible exception of Seattle. Getting into the 5-11 - 6-10 range is possible. We finish with:


Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Windy City

The Bear game is actually very entertaining, especially for a game with no passing. It is windy today, and TV isn't doing it justice. I was down on the south side this morning and drove by Soldier Field twice, and it is ridiculous out there. You could feel the wind rocking your car, even when you were stationary. On game days they use parking cones on Lakeshore Drive to separate the lanes of people parking from the rest of traffic. This morning, every parking cone was blown over and rolling around, screwing up traffic. Anyone who watched Robbie Gould's first FG attempt has some idea, but really, I'm surprised he even got that close.

So there's no passing at all. The 49ers just completed their first pass of the game in the third quarter. Kicking and longsnapping are dangerous propositions. Cedric Benson suffered a horrific injury when Bryant Young (I think) fell on him. They're saying it's a sprained knee right now, but if he plays another down this season I'll be shocked. It was painful to watch. Not quite Napoleon McCallum, but along those lines. And at the end of the first half, the 49ers tried a ridiculous 51-yard field goal that was short, and returned 108 yards for a TD by Nathan Vasher. Bobby Wade has also fumbled twice on punt returns.

It barely even qualifies as football at this point, but it's highly entertaining. Hopefully the 49ers can get something together and steal this one. They've definitely got a shot.

Sony is Spying

Earlier in a comments, Rashid reminded us that Sony installed some "questionable" software on our equipment. How questionable?

As the EFF explains, the EULA says that 1) if your house gets burgled, you have to delete all your music from your laptop when you get home; 2) you can't keep your music on any computers at work; 3) if you move out of the country, you have to delete all your music; 4) you must install any and all updates, or else lose the music on your computer; 5) Sony-BMG can install and use backdoors in the copy protection software or media player to "enforce their rights" against you, at any time, without notice. And the list goes on.

Make no mistake about it, Sony is spying on you, and they will be sued for this at some point.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

The Washington Post On "Windfall Taxes"

They get it exactly right. Exactly.

Congress would do well not to repeat those "remedies," because both turned out to be disastrous. The case against price controls is especially powerful. When oil prices spike, it is because of scarcity -- for example, scarcity caused by hurricane damage to petroleum infrastructure on the Gulf Coast. The best way to manage that scarcity is for producers to make a special effort to get oil to the market and for consumers to make a special effort to cut back. Higher prices encourage both of those responses; rather than complain of price gouging, Congress should celebrate price signals. By contrast, controlled prices create no pressure for extra production or conservation. They just create gas lines: Witness the 1970s.

Just read the whole thing. Even the title is brilliant.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Movie Reviews Galore

At the L&N Line.

A School That Works

While I was admiring the Jello San Fran at Virginia Postrel's place, I also read an interesting article about a charter school in San Jose:

It really is an inspiring story. The average Downtown College Prep student comes from a Mexican immigrant family and enters ninth grade reading at a fifth grade level; 100 percent of graduates have been accepted at four-year colleges and 97 percent are on track to earn a bachelor's degree. DCP now scores well above the state average on the Academic Performance Index, ranking in the top third compared to all high schools, including affluent suburban schools. DCP follows what I call the work-your-butt-off philosophy of education. Its leaders analyze what's not working, adapt quickly and waste no time on esteem inflation or excuses.

That's Joanne Jacobs talking about her new book, Our School. Sounds interesting.

Fun Friday, Part 2

San Francisco in Jello. Cool.

Fun Friday

This isn't quite as entertaining as Ace's "greatest amateur video ever recorded" but it's still pretty good.

Arrested Development is Dead (for now).

I sincerely hope that some intrepid cable channel picks up the best show on TV now that Fox has all but cancelled it:

"DEPRESSING DEVELOPMENT: [The lickbags at] Fox all but confirmed late Thursday that Arrested Development has been canceled. Not only is the show being pulled off the air until Dec. 5, but Arrested's third-season order has been slashed from 22 episodes to just 13. (Arrested's Monday-night companion Kitchen Confidential is also cooked.) And how's this for stomach-churning irony: the Bluth's got the hook the same day that ABC extended a full-season order to Freddie."

It's so true:

No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of American people.

The Carnival of the Badger

featuring all things Wisconsin, is at the Wigderson Library & Pub.

Beavis, Butthead, and Intellectual Property

Recently, MTV and Mike Judge released a "Best of Beavis and Butthead" DVD collection. That's right, you can now own hours and hours of cartoon morons laughing at nothing, making fun of each other, and kicking each other in the jimmy. Unfortunately, you will not see the trademark funniest bits of each show because the music videos are all but gone. This is a travesty.

When MTV first produced B&B, the show was broken up by segments where the two characters would "critique" music videos. These segments served an important purpose. First of all, watching the antics of Beavis and Butthead continuously for long periods of time gets old very fast. Most of their comedy is physical in nature, and the shock value wears off if you are repeatedly hit over the head with it. Beavis and Butthead are also fundamentally annoying. This is OK in small doses, but after a while, your nerves will be shot. This feeling is similar to what I experience when I watch "The Office."

The videos were a nice low-tension break from the rest of the show, and they also contained some of Mike Judge's best writing. When the boys flip on Edie Brickell and New Bohemians, Butthead remarks:

I think she's married to that old dude who used to be in the Beatles.

She is (or was, I don't keep track of things like this), married to Paul Simon. While Butthead's remark is stupid, it's just close enough to correct to reveal the cleverness that went in to writing such a joke. Of course, they also think that AC/DC frontman Brian Johnson is constipated, which may very well be true.

The new DVD set contains 40 episodes, but where it should contain somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 videos, it contains only the following:

Matthew Sweet: Superdeformed,
Pantera: This Love,
Moist: Push,
Deus: Suds & Soda,
Grim Reaper: Fear No Evil,
Monster Magnet: Negasonic Teenage Warhead,
Korn: Blind,
Catherine Wheel: Waydown,
Beastie Boys: Pass the Mic,
Wilco: Box Full of Letters,
Hum: Stars

This is most unfortunate. MTV secured the rights to use certain videos for broadcast on Beavis and Butthead, but apparently they never acquired the rights to resell those videos in VHS or DVD format. As a result, MTV's only recourse, if they wanted to include the videos, would have been to individually bargain with the artists and their labels to acquire new rights. This would have been very costly, and, while it would have undoubtedly made the set better, it probably wouldn't have sold enough to justify the extra costs, especially given the nature of the show, which featured 4-5 videos per half hour. That is a lot of overhead for what is supposed to be a low budget production.

I don't know if there's a good solution to this problem. I'm all for artists getting paid for their work, but I hate it when consumers are denied a valuable product due to IP squabbles. One of my favorite old MTV shows (which only I and 5 other people liked), Sifl & Olly, is experiencing a similar problems.

(Sidenote: The writer of The Sifl & Olly Show, and the voice of Olly, is Liam Lynch, who is also the director or Sarah Silverman's new movie. You can hear him sing here.)

One thing I do know is that licensing fees can be overly restrictive, and sometimes preclude bargaining where bargaining would otherwise occur. White Zombie (and now Rob Zombie all by his lonesome) owes everything to his band's appearance on Beavis and Butthead, yet WZ is noticeably absent from the this collection. The same can be said of Daisy Chainsaw, The Shamen (at least in the US), and Ween's, Push the Little Daisies." I find it strange that all of these videos are absent, as, in my personal opinion, these bands would be out of line to charge very much if they had an option. Moreover, only good could come to some of these bands from having some new exposure.

The bottom line is that we'll probably never have a complete set of Beavis and Butthead cartoons, even though everyone involved would benefit if it ever was released. When everyone would benefit from something but it still doesn't happen it's time to rethink whatever policy is blocking the transaction.

(Huh huh. He said "action.")

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Loser League

I'm very busy today, but I have to take a moment to mention that the Football Outsiders second half Loser League starts this weekend, and you only have until Saturday to sign up. What's the Loser League?

It's time again to join in on the fun that is the Loser League. If you're no good at fantasy football, then this is exactly the league for you, because the goal is to pick players who are just as bad at real football as you are at fantasy football.
Sounds easy, right? Why not just draft the third-string quarterback? Well, it's more challenging than that. You have to pick players who are expected to play in the game, or you'll incur a hefty penalty. For each quarterback that attempts fewer than ten passes, running back that rushes fewer than eight times, or wide receiver that catches fewer than two passes, you're penalized 15 points.

You can join the league here.

It only takes a few minutes, and you can't update your lineup so it requires no maintenance time, but you have to be very careful not to take a player who is so bad that he will get benched later in the year.

It gives you a chance to root for (or against) guys like Antonio Chatman, Mike Williams, David Carr, and Paul Edinger. Give it a shot, there's even a prize.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Renewed Faith in Democracy

From Ed Brayton, who has been covering the Dover Intelligent Design case from the beginning (some background can be found here):

Here's some good news. In the wake of the Dover trial, there were elections for the Dover school board held last night. The result? How about all 8 board members who supported the intelligent design policy got voted out and all 8 challengers who opposed the policy were voted in, including one of the plaintiffs in the case?

Beer Wars, Part 3

Apparently the distributors and small brewers have reached some kind of accord that will let the distributors keep their ill-gotten monopoly in exchange for the following:

Under the compromise, a small brewer could bypass wholesalers to make direct deliveries to retailers in certain situations. That provision would apply when a wholesaler faces a business interruption, such as bankruptcy, that breaks the distribution link between breweries and retailers.

Also, brewers could make direct deliveries to festivals, as well as emergency shipments to retailers running short on beer.

Finally, the compromise would ease proposed restrictions on other direct deliveries by brewers to retailers.

Swell. For further background, see this post.

Aside from just raising beer prices for the good of a few millionaire truck drivers, tied house laws have some other perverse effects.

Let's say that you own a brewery, and you sell your beer all over State X. You want to advertise in the taverns in that state, and you've come up with several ways to do it. You plan on giving out neon signs, coasters, table tents, plastic coolers, and even pool table overhead lights, all emblazoned with your beers' logos.

"But wait!" Says the government. "We're not sure that we like that idea so much. We have these "tied house laws" to stop you from gaining too much influence with the taverns. Some of this stuff could be seen as an enticement to get the tavern to carry more of your beer at the expense of others."

You respond with an indignant "What the hell are you talking about?" Then you remember that this is the government, and add, "Sir."

And the government responds, "Well, we know you'd like to do some in-tavern advertising, but we're a little uncomfortable with that neon sign. Jeff, one of our enforcement guys, really likes neons. He collects them, and, well, he thinks that the taverns in question will look fondly on you for giving them a free neon sign. And Phil, in finance thinks that those coasters will completely replace the taverns coasters, saving them hundreds of dollars a year. That's not chump change. Can't you make your ads, I don't know, more useless?"

So I can give the bar advertising if it doesn't add any value to the bar?


But who's going to put up advertising in their establishment if it doesn't add at least a little value?

"That's your problem."

I see. Could I give them, say 500 coasters?

"Maybe. It's possible. Let us think about it."

End Scene.

This is a fairly accurate description of reality. The government keeps a close eye on any activity that involves a brewer giving anything, no matter how trivial, to a retailer, and while some states are more sensible about this, some are downright totalitarian, and no two states are quite the same. Some have limits on providing coasters. Some have two categories of merchandise, each with different limits and restrictions: utilitarian, and non-utilitarian. Some states won't tell you in advance if providing something is legal or not. Some states actually have individual regulations for every conceivable piece of bar merchandise, from stir sticks to dart boards.

They're all different, and they are all very technical.

All breweries have to deal with these regs if they want to do any "point-of-sale "advertising, and point-of-sale advertising is some of the most important advertising in any retail business. In the alcohol business, it is artificially expensive provide point-of-sale advertising, but it is also a necessity.

It's just another way that the government is making your beer more expensive, for no good reason.

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