The Electric Commentary

Friday, December 30, 2005

Fun Friday: Just Before New Years

If you're looking for some fun New Year's beverages, check out the bizarre and oddly entertaining Tiki Bar TV video podcast. Each episode is based around a drink recipe.

And you should also watch this practical joke if you haven't seen it yet (via Ace).

I've run out of time on the quiz, and I apologize for not answering the last question, but duty calls.

Have a happy and safe New Year!

See you in 2006.

The Mark Belling Current Events Quiz...

That is going to do it for me. I guess we'll never know the name of that hurricane...

I've got to step out for a moment.

63. Name the hurricane that hit Florida in November.


62. The ChiSox won the World Series. Who lost it?

A. It was the Stros. Hmm. I kind of want a beer now.

61. South Africa has 3 capital cities...

A. Pretoria.

60. Original stars of the producers are currently starring in...

A. The Odd Couple.

59. Something about a gymnast at West Allis Central.

58. Congress refused ANWR drilling. What does ANWR stand for?

A. Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

57. Who comitted a church shooting in Brookfield earlier this year?

A. Terry Rasmin (or something like that).

56. (actually 64): Who wore 64 for the Packers in the Lombardi years?

A. Jerry Kramer, who is not in the hall of fame for some reason.

55. Only one of the following statements about Mark Green is true.

A: They went to break again. I've got to take off at 5:00 so I'll only be liveblogging for a few more minutes. This is a tough one to Google so the break probably won't help anyone very much. I'll bet that his sister was a guitarist for the Bangles.

D'oh! I was wrong. Ahh

He was a teacher in Kenya.

54. What did Anna Benson get kicked out of for swearing too much?

A. This one is stumping a ton of people. Ooohh. Mark is giving out a gift certificate for Vitims...I mean Victors, in Milwaukee. I nice place if you're looking to pick up brittle, middle-aged women.

The answer is The World Series of Poker. Huh. Getting kicked out of a poker tournament for swearing is pretty amazing.

I'm back. We're going to call this next question "54" even though I missed a few.

I've got to step out for a bit. I'll be back in 15 minutes or so.

53. Within 6 days, name the date that Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast.

A. Commercial time! I believe it's August 29th.

52. Northwestern Lacrosse team ripped for wearing what to the White House?

A. Flip Flops

51. To what big job was Brett Bielema named this year?

A. Football Head Coach at UW.

50. Who's replacing Greenspan?

A. Oh, he was good but he lost. Andy got 7. Ben Vernanke.

49. This guy is good. name the county that Green Bay is in.

A. Brown

48. Big event in the Kashmir region of the India Pakistan border:

A. Earthquake

47. Who is Jennifer Wilbanks?

A. The Runaway Bride

46. Who is the defending NCAA football champ.


45. Dan Vrakas.

44. Too fast but it was Alberto Gonzalez

43: Condo Building in Milwaukee. Cheapest condo is 1.3 Million. What's it called?

A. I have no friggin' clue. University Club Towers.

42: Who is Jim Bates?

A: Pack defensive coordinator

41: Name U2's new CD

A: Duh. How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.

40. He was in Milwaukee this fall, not born in the US, Time Person of the Year for 2005:

A. Isn't it Bono? Oh yeah. It's Bono.

39. Who is older, Brett Favre, Scott Walker, Sheyl Crow, or Lance Armstrong.

A: I guess Crow, and that is right.

38. The MPS considered banning something in schools this year until they realized that it would cost them fed cash. What is it?

A. Military recruiters

37. Shorewest realty is suing the MJS for...

A. Lying about circulation numbers

36. President Bush fired him as director of FEMA

A: Ah, good old Brownie. Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job. Mike Brown.

35. Largest sect of Muslims in Iraq?

A. Shia

34. Name the program that won the emmy for best TV Drama.

A: It's gotta be Lost. I can't believe all of these people keep getting it wrong.

Yep, Lost it is.

33. Name the Waukesha county town in which Aurora was denied permission to build a hospital.

A: Summit

The quiz seems harder to me this year than normal, although that Steve guy hit an easy patch. And these commercials are hilarious. I haven't listened to a conservative talk radio show for a few months and I'm really enjoying the ads. Highest of high comedy. I hope there are some ads for "Miracle Homes." Milwaukee has these home builders who end every ad by stating "A Christian Based Company." It's weird.

I think that they're pretty successful, so I suppose it works for them, but I still think it's strange. Mainly, I just want my house to be nice. I don't really care about who builds it. Like that Seinfeld bit where he wonders aloud why pilots on airplanes tell you their routes. Who cares?

32: Name Motor Trends car of the year, (A question that is in the quiz every year)?

A: Break time! I googled it. It's the Honda Civic.

31: Motor Trend's car, truck, and SUV are produced in what country?

A: Japan

30. Which if any of the following statements are true:

I'm not typing them all, but I think a lot of these are true. I'll guess that they'e all true, and that this is a trick question.

A: Yup, they're all true.

29. This question is too long. He's asking for a certain crime based on sparse info. I have absolutely no idea.

A: Ted Oswalt.

28: Name the man allegedly beaten by off-duty police officers at a party?

A. Frank Jude

27. Eric Rudolf was sentenced to life in prison. What for?

A: Olympic bombing in Atlanta

26: Who is Angela Merkle

A: The new German chancellor.

25: Clint Eastwood. Million $ Baby director.

24: This Wisconsin rock band reunited in 2005 for a bit, released best of album titled "Permanent Record."

A: Violent Femmes. Duh. I hope you know that this will go down on your permanent record.

Oh yeah.

We're back. No one has gotten #23 yet, and it stumped Steve, the current leader. Former member, house judiciary:

A: Tom Barret.

Oh my. If you're listening on the 'net right now, and you heard the Sean Hannity commerical, is that not the funniest ad ever? That country singer sounds like one of the South Park guys doing a parody. I can't believe anyone listens to that guy. He has this one add where he spends the whole time saying that every opinion he gives you is his honest belief. Did anyone think that Hannity was insincere? Stupid maybe, but I certainly think that he believes what he's saying. It's not much of a selling point for me, I've gotta say. What a moron.

Commercial break #2. Now's your big chance to get in.

Steve is kickin butt with 13. That's very good, usually 9-12 wins the thing.

23. I'm skipping this one to catch up.

22. Pitt romances:

Aniston and Jolie

21. Gov. of IL

A. Blagoyvch. I don't know how to spell my governor's name at all. This guy probably has the contest locked up.

20. Apprentice winner working on a building in chicago. What's it called:

Trump intl tower.

19. Who won the world series.

A: The White Sox

18. I missed it because this guy is cruising. It had to do with the base city of a fed prosecutor

17. What do all of the following have in common: Scott Walker, Mayfair Mall, the McGee Blockbuster, A Stray Bear:

A: They're all in Wauwatosa

16. Name the actress married to Ben Affleck

A: Jennifer Garner This guy has 7 in a row, and he's bright.

15. T/F - The Vikings have never beaten the Pack in a playoff game:
A: False.

14. What is h5n1

A: The most recent strain of bird flu. This guy is kicking ass.

13. What's farthest west:

A. Tomah

12. Name everyone ever nominated to Supreme Court by Bush:

A: Alito, Meirs, Roberts

There is a new leader, also named Steve.

11th: Answer was S.C.Johnson

10th: This is obviously Judith Miller

9th: Wisconsin State Employees fought against having to give up use of state cars:

A: I think its wardens. And it is wardens.

8th: Rapper who said that Bush doesn't care about black people:

A: Kanye West

7th: Who is Joseph Ratzinger:

A: The Pope

6th: All of the following statements are true except one. Name the false statement:

OK, I'm not typing all of this, but I'll give you my guess.

I think it's "Doyle vetoed a property tax freeze." I don't think he ever got the opportunity.

Answer: A convicted felon serves on the Milwaukee common council. It's not true.

We're back. He got it with the aid of the break

5th: Famous American who hadn't spoken publicly in years died March 31st. Who is he?

I'm not sure at all.

Time for a commercial. I'll google it.

I bet it's Terry Shiavo. Trick question. That's pretty rough.

4th: Was Barb Lawton the first woman elected to statewide office as a democrat? No.

Steve is out. Alas.

3rd: Wis State Senator Gary George was indicted due to some problem with a station he owns. Where is it:

Virgin Islands wasn't specific enough. I feel bad for this guy. I didn't know this one, but I think that VI should be good enough.

St. Thomas is the answer, and the guy got it (Steve is in the lead right now. He seems pretty bright.

2nd Question: Name the major league baseball player suspended for steroid use...

Answer: Palmeiro.

1st question: Who is Mark Felt.

That's easy. He's deep throat.

Update 1: The other prize is $500 bucks. Not bad. Updates will appear at the top of this post. Scroll down for details on the nuts and bolts of this contest. Also note that I'm not checking spelling. I'll do my best, but cut me some slack.

is today at 3. Unfortunately I'm at work and I won't be able to play, but if you follow the news, it's actually pretty fun, and it's not that hard to get though on the phone if you're persistent. I guess the prize this year is a trip to some tropical location, although I'm told by reliable sources that Mark promised yesterday to sweeten the pot a bit.

The call-in number is 414-799-1130. There's a toll free number too, but I can't remember what it is.

I may do a little liveblogging on this post, if anyone is interested.

If you're in Milwaukee you already know that he's on AM 1130. If you're out of states and would like to play, you can listen over the internet here. The object is to correctly answer the most questions in a row over the course of three hours. Simple as that.

Good luck!

Fun Friday: Insane Redskin RB Edition

If you haven't watched a Clinton Portis press conference this year, you owe it to yourself to watch this one. More here.

(Hat tip, Outsiders.)

Science is Fun!

New Scientist is no stranger to the ubiquitous year-end top ten list, and their list is a beaut'. Of the items on the list of important developments in science this year, this is my favorite:

The HAL 4 and HAL 5 prototypes, which will also be demonstrated at Expo 2005, don't just help a person to walk. They have an upper part to assist the arms, and will help a person lift up to 40 kilograms more than they can manage unaided. The new HALs will also eliminate the need for a backpack. Instead, the computer and wireless connection have been shrunk to fit in a pouch attached to the suit's belt. HAL 5 also has smaller motor housings, making the suit much less bulky around the hips and knees.

HAL 3 weighs 22 kilograms, but the help it gives the user is more than enough to compensate for this. "It's like riding on a robot, rather than wearing one," says Sankai. He adds that HAL 4 will weigh 17 kilograms, and he hopes HAL 5 may be lighter still.

Sankai has had many requests for the devices from people with brain and spinal injuries, so he is planning to extend the suit's applications to include medical rehabilitation. The first commercial suits are likely to cost between 1.5 and 2 million yen ($14,000 to $19,000).

Maybe next Christmas I'll ask for a super strong robotic exoskeleton. Cool.

And if you missed it earlier this year, they give you a chance to revisit the 13 things in science that, as Johnny Cochrane would say, do not make sense. The Placebo Effect is weird:

DON'T try this at home. Several times a day, for several days, you induce pain in someone. You control the pain with morphine until the final day of the experiment, when you replace the morphine with saline solution. Guess what? The saline takes the pain away.

This is the placebo effect: somehow, sometimes, a whole lot of nothing can be very powerful. Except it's not quite nothing. When Fabrizio Benedetti of the University of Turin in Italy carried out the above experiment, he added a final twist by adding naloxone, a drug that blocks the effects of morphine, to the saline. The shocking result? The pain-relieving power of saline solution disappeared.

So what is going on? Doctors have known about the placebo effect for decades, and the naloxone result seems to show that the placebo effect is somehow biochemical. But apart from that, we simply don't know.

Benedetti has since shown that a saline placebo can also reduce tremors and muscle stiffness in people with Parkinson's disease (Nature Neuroscience, vol 7, p 587). He and his team measured the activity of neurons in the patients' brains as they administered the saline. They found that individual neurons in the subthalamic nucleus (a common target for surgical attempts to relieve Parkinson's symptoms) began to fire less often when the saline was given, and with fewer "bursts" of firing - another feature associated with Parkinson's. The neuron activity decreased at the same time as the symptoms improved: the saline was definitely doing something.

We have a lot to learn about what is happening here, Benedetti says, but one thing is clear: the mind can affect the body's biochemistry. "The relationship between expectation and therapeutic outcome is a wonderful model to understand mind-body interaction," he says. Researchers now need to identify when and where placebo works. There may be diseases in which it has no effect. There may be a common mechanism in different illnesses. As yet, we just don't know.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Fun Friday: Thursday Edition

I'm not sure if I'll be able to post much tomorrow, but just in case, here's Contra.

The Evil Internet Jukebox

In general I'm in favor of anything that expands the choices available to consumers, however, I must make an exception for these newfangled internet jukeboxes. I hate them.

In my day we had old-fashioned CD-based jukeboxes that allowed the owner of the local watering hole to select music that fit the establishment. These days I can't walk into a biker bar without hearing Jessica Simpson's latest auditory assault on mankind, consarnit.

And then to add insult to injury, these jukeboxes have an option that allows you to pay a little extra to move your excellent choice ahead of the selections of the goober in front of you who just had to hear the Thong Song one more time. This is pure genius, but it is also pure evil. The manufacturers of this device have come up with a system in which many people will pay a small amount to hear terrible music, and snobs like me will pay more to not hear the horrible choices of others. (Tim Harford would be proud.)

Jukeboxes are interesting because the products being sold necessarily have secondary benefits and costs. I'm actually kind of shocked that it took jukebox companies this long to put in a mechanism that plays customers off of each other for profit.

I suppose I really can't complain that a bunch of people who previously had no good options on the jukebox now have a wide variety of sucky choices. After all, they've had to listen to the limited selections of music snobs and bartenders forever, but just because it's good for society in general doesn't mean that I have to like it.


Wednesday, December 28, 2005

First Dave Barry, Now The Siesta

Spain's socialist government is outlawing the traditional siesta for public employees:

Spain’s Socialist government on Tuesday officially abolished the siesta, the extended lunch break.

A new law decrees that lunch breaks will be limited to one hour to allow civil servants to clock off at 6pm.

Jordi Sevilla, minister for public administration and a father of three, said the aims of the law were to put an end to the “chaotic hours” worked in the civil service and allow Spaniards to reconcile work and family life.

This is a blow to lazy people everywhere.

(Hat tip, Dan Drezner, who has much more.)

Dave Barry Hangs It Up For Good.

His sabbatical is now permanent:

E&P: With your sabbatical nearing a year, do you have any idea yet whether or not you will resume your column at some point?

Barry: I'm not going to resume my regular weekly column. I'll continue to write occasional columns for the Herald, as I did this year. I'll also continue to do the holiday gift guide, and the year in review. And I'll keep blogging. But not the weekly column.

E&P: If you might resume it, when would be the earliest that would happen?

Barry: Several weeks after my death.

Andrew Sullivan's Moore Award

The lefty equivalent of the Malkin goes to the only person that truly deserved it:

"As for those in the World Trade Center, well, really, let's get a grip here, shall we? True enough, they were civilians of a sort. But innocent? Gimme a break."

That's University of Colorado professor, Ward Churchill. You can read the rest here.

The Onion Year In Review

As hilarious as you would expect, America's Finest News Source counts down the top 20 stories of the year. My personal favorite:

Brain-Dean Americans Defend Brain-Dead Florida Woman.

I also appreciate the fact that the Onion understands supply and demand better than many real news sources:

Public Outraged As Price Of Fast-Depleting, Non-Renewable Resource Skyrockets

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Award Time at Andrew Sullivan's

Today he gives out the Malkin Award for "hyperbolic, divisive, mean-spirited, far-right boilerplate, of the kind Malkin produces on an almost hourly basis."

Here's the "winning" quote:

"[B]lood will tell, as the old saying goes: [Mark "Deep Throat" Felt's] posterity is now dragging out his old body and putting it on display to make money. (Have you noticed how Mark Felt looks like one of those old Nazi war criminals they find in Bolivia or Paraguay? That same, haunted, hunted look combined with a glee at what he has managed to get away with so far?) And it gets worse: it's been reported that Mark Felt is at least part Jewish. The reason this is worse is that at the same time that Mark Felt was betraying Richard Nixon, Nixon was saving Eretz Israel. It is a terrifying chapter in betrayal and ingratitude. If he even knows what shame is, I wonder if he felt a moment's shame as he tortured the man who brought security and salvation to the land of so many of his and my fellow Jews. Somehow, as I look at his demented face, I doubt it."

Guess who wrote this. I'll give you a hint:

Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?

Click here for the answer.

Cool Pics

Reuters top 40 pictures of 2005 can be found here. Picture 4 is quite impressive. And painful.

The Slate on "Lazy Sunday"

Josh Levin examines the SNL phenomenon:

People aren't forwarding this video because it's a parody of what's bad about rap; they're sending it around because it's an ode to what can be great about it. Instead of auguring a new day for SNL, maybe it points up what's missing in mainstream rap—an awareness that it's OK to be goofy. Who needs Biz Markie and Tone-Loc? We've got Samberg and Parns.
Levin makes a good point. Rap is sooooooo depressing these days and it would be nice to have some levity once in a while. Every genre needs a Weezer now and then.

(Hat tip, Ace.)

You can use statistics to prove anything. 17% of all people know that.

MDS points to the Stats website at George Mason, which has compiled a list of the seven worst instances of shoddy science reporting this year. Number one is no surprise:

1. Meth Mania - Methamphetamine (known as "meth") was the King Kong of the drug war in 2005 - decried on the nightly news, the newsweekly covers, and the morning news programs . Newsweek called it "America's Most Dangerous Drug" (and showed gruesome photos of "meth mouth."). The New York Times reported that it was more difficult to beat than crack. But academic research tells a different story. According to the University of Michigan, meth use among high school students has actually declined 28% in the last five years. And the current number of meth users (583,000) is only slightly greater than the number of crack users (450,000), although the "crack epidemic" is portrayed as a thing of the past. As for the claim that relapse rates are worse among meth addicts than other drug abusers, it's simply not true. Only six percent of those who have tried methamphetamines also reported using it in the last month. That's hardly a sign.

And, of course, the "Meth Crisis" is responsible for all sorts of bad public policy. Many states passed laws requiring people to show identification to purchase cold medicine containing pseudoephedrine, and, of course, Vick's decided to ruin Nyquil.

When I was in high school I read an excellent book called A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper by John Allen Paulos. It is very critical of the media's ability to understand and report on scientific studies basic statistical information. This book helped make me the skeptical person that I am today, and I've been very pleased to see many similar books released recently as part of the pop-econ fad, recently noted by dhodge:

I had never really paid any attention to economics before, but I am fascinated by the explanations of everyday phenomena offered by the great pop economists of our day. I know enough about economics to know that there is plenty of disagreement amongst reputable economists over all but the most trivial economic problems, so I try to absorb all of these pop economic lessons with a side of skepticism.

One consequence of my new found love of economics is that I find myself thinking like a pop economist when I'm out in the world conducting my business. I have been interested in the idea of "fairly traded" food products for a while and have been meaning to figure out what exactly this label means and pass this knowledge on to my loyal readers. As luck would have it, our friends over at Marginal Revolution have beat me to it.

The single most important lesson of economics is to take a skeptical view of all information that is presented to you. The popularity of books like Freakonomics and The Undercover Economist is a very positive sign in that both call for an increase in skepticism, and provide accesible real-life examples that demonstrate skepticism in action. Hopefully pop-econ books will continue to flourish, eventually forcing the media to clean up their act. We shouldn't need an organization like Stats, but I'm glad that we have one.


The Coyote Blog makes a good case that the Kwanza celebration is more about promoting statism than it is about celebrating African-America culture and heritage. He fisks the 7 values of Kwanza, taking their definitions straight from the official Kwanza site. Here's the worst "value":

Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)

To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together.

I don't really have a problem with Kwanza per se. I think it's weird and creepy to have a holiday based around racial unity, but the idea of a cultural holiday is fine with me in general. After all, I celebrate St. Patrick's Day. That said, the principles of Kwanza suck.

Monday, December 26, 2005

I Am The Champion

of my complicated 28 team fantasy football league! (The league that's run by this guy.)

Here's the winning lineup for my Electric Mayhem:

QB - Matt Hasselbeck
RB - Tiki Barber
RB - Rudi Johnson
WR - Santana Moss
WR - Terry Glenn
Flex - Mike Anderson
K - Mike Vanderjagt
DE - Adawale Ogunleye
LB - Gary Brackett
DB - Gibril Wilson
DFlex - Derrick Brooks

Good season guys. And a hearty "good game" to Steve Schwai who had a hard-luck championship game, as he had to deal with injuries to his two best players (Tomlinson and Harrison).

Update: Just a clarification. The 28 team league operates like two 14-team leagues. The league is split into the AFC and the NFC, with the total pool of NFL players available to each league. So, it was possible that Steve and I could have had players in common in the Super Bowl, although this did not happen.

Movie Reviews Galore

at the L&N Line! They've been busy over there. Just keep scrolling.

Cafe Hayek and the Hangover Machine

This argument applies to all sorts of bad government programs.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas!

At least, for 18 more minutes .

Friday, December 23, 2005

...for the rest of us!

If Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle (D) had any conservative voters, he doesn't anymore:

The once-fictitious holiday created by George Costanza has spun off into a grass-roots celebration of its own, complete with a best-selling book of Festivus lore and an official Festivus Pole manufactured by a Milwaukee-based firm.

But who would have known that its observers include Gov. Jim Doyle, or that he is arguably Wisconsin's best-known "Seinfeld" fan?

Doyle has placed a Festivus Pole - the unadorned aluminum pole "known for its very high strength-to-weight ratio" - among the other holiday paraphernalia at the governor's mansion.

"I assume we'll be celebrating the traditional Festivus," Doyle deadpanned in an interview on Festivus Eve.

"We'll have to have a meal, followed by Airing of the Grievances, and then the Feats of Strength."


Thursday, December 22, 2005

I See You.

Britain is going to start monitoring all cars, all the time:

Britain is to become the first country in the world where the movements of all vehicles on the roads are recorded. A new national surveillance system will hold the records for at least two years.

Using a network of cameras that can automatically read every passing number plate, the plan is to build a huge database of vehicle movements so that the police and security services can analyse any journey a driver has made over several years.

The network will incorporate thousands of existing CCTV cameras which are being converted to read number plates automatically night and day to provide 24/7 coverage of all motorways and main roads, as well as towns, cities, ports and petrol-station forecourts.

Fun Friday: Thursday Edition

Since it is very likely that I will take tomorrow off, you get your weekly dose of internet fun today.

Ace posted this a few days ago, but it's still stuck in my head, so you get a second helping. Lazy Sunday is the first funny SNL bit that I've seen in years.

"You can call us Aaron Burr from the way we droppin' Hamiltons."

This just seems self-serving to me.

King Kong? How about some Donkey Kong? (Instructions are on the right sidebar.)

As a Christmas gift to Phil, here's a playable version of the NES classic, Kid Niki, Radical Ninja. (Hit "Enter" to start the game.)

Posting will be light during the holidays, but there will be some new material now and then, so don't be a stranger.

Happy Holidays!

The Carnival of the Badger

is at Sadie Says. Sadie is apparently a dog. Sadie is also apparently in some kind of a dog union.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


It's been a while since we dipped into the old EC mailbag.* If you don't understand how to use the comments section, this is your time to shine.

Q. I'm in a union and I don't really appreciate all of your union bashing. Union member are clearly better off than non-union members. Since that's true, doesn't it make sense to expand union membership?

Fred F, Bloomington, IN

A. I have several family members that are union members and they always throw this one at me. First of all, unions are able to command higher wages because they artificially limit the pool of potential employees. They create scarcity. If union membership increases, (in other words, if more people are candidates to perform a specific task), the wage paid for the position will generally fall.

The greater point is that unions do make people better off, but only if they're in the union. If you're not in the union, you're subsidizing the union through higher costs, higher unemployment, higher prices, and generally, inferior workmanship.

This last claim may sound a bit harsh, but I do not mean it as a criticism of the work ethic of union workers. The fact is that it is more difficult to fire a union worker, and a union worker's raises will probably be based on seniority, not performance. It is simply human nature to underperform in this scenario when compared to someone who is working to keep his job, as well as for a raise. People respond to incentives.

Union workers are not lazy. I've known many union workers who work as hard or harder than most non-union workers, but when you look at the overall quality of union work, it's obvious that incentives catch up to everyone.

Q. Last mailbag you stated that Nothing But Trouble is the worst movie ever made. So what's the best movie ever made?

Plankton, Jonesberg MA

A. Picking out the single best movie ever is tough. I like different movies for different moods, and I change my mind all the time, but here are a few candidates in no particular order.

I like Blade Runner for its Sci-Fi philosophizing, and for the line, "I want more life, fucker!"

I like The Shawshank Redemption if I'm feeling a bit low. (Isn't it strange how Stephen King's two best movies (The Shawshank Redemption, Stand By Me) are non-horror movies?)

I like Grosse Pointe Blank for the same reason. I don't really understand why, but I do.

I like Rear Window because of the way that it's filmed.

I like Pi because it's so incredibly weird.

I like Caddyshack because Murray, Chase, and Ted Knight are fantastic, and because I'm a Noonan.

I like all Wes Anderson movies, but that's a separate post. (Especially The Life Aquatic, but as far as I can tell, only my wife and I, and presumably Wes Anderson liked that movie.)

I like Pulp Fiction because of the dialogue.

I like The Thin Man, because despite being over 70 years old it holds up surprisingly well. Also, both Nick and Nora drink like fish.

Finally, I like the Indiana Jones trilogy. Of all of the blockbuster epics that have been produced this is the one that I rewatch most frequently. Even Temple of Doom.

For some reason I think that picking a favorite movie is more subjective than picking a bad movie, which is why I can't narrow it down to one, and if I thought about it for a while longer I would probably come up with 100 more.

Q. Speaking of movies, did you ever see Breaking Away? How was it?

Morton, Salem, OH

A. Good question Mort. And timely. Breaking Away is a very good movie, and while everyone looks silly in their 70s clothing, especially Dennis Quaid in short shorts, it still held up pretty well. In fact, watching Breaking Away made me realize just how pathetic most "coming of age" movies really are. It's just a great, uplifting story about normal people, combined with an excellent sports movie. If nothing is grabbing you at the video store (or Netflix queue) I would highly recommend renting it.

Q. Since you link to Homestar Runner almost every week, I'd like to know who your favorite character is.

Rudy, Alabaster ID

A. It's a tough call, because they all have so much to offer. I like Homestar's oblivious insults, Strong Bad's harsh grammar critiques, and the fact that the King of Town employs a Poop Smith, but my favorite character is probably Strong Sad.

Why? Judge for yourself. Here's Strong Sad on caffeine. Here's the Strong Sad lookalike contest. Here, Strong Bad sells all of Strong Sad's underwear on E-Bay. And here's Strong Sad dressed up for the Clash of the Titans-con.

Q. I used to watch Charles in Charge just like you, and I agree that it was quite terrible, however, I don't think that it did any lasting damage. Are there any shows that actually warped your brain?

Jubb, Calcutta TX

A. Well Jubb, there were a few. You see, we had Nickelodeon, and Nickelodeon had some seriously weird stuff going on. Stuff like Belle and Sebastian, (not the band), The Mysterious Cities of Gold, Spartakus, Pinwheel House, and Out of Control.

But the most disturbing thing that I've ever seen is probably The Great Space Coaster, which was actually on normal TV. Just look at some of those characters. What could be more terrifying than a giant, weird, muppety clown? I'm getting the willies just looking at this page actually and that's bad gnus. Ahh! I have to move on.

Q. I read today in the New York Times that we produced more greenhouse gases in 2004 than ever before. I know that you're anti-environment, but doesn't this bother you?

Al, Carthage TN

A. First of all Al, I'm not anti-environment, I just think that most environmentalists advocate solutions that will do nothing to help the environment while increasing state power. But I do agree that greenhouse gases are cause for concern. I still suspect that we will invent our way out of this problem with clean-tech developments, but these numbers are troubling, and with the ongoing advancement of China and India it is only going to get worse.

That said, I don't think there is a governmental solution to this problem. Even if we enacted Kyoto it would still only be a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of things. The key to ending global warming is and always will be human ingenuity, and any actions we take to restrict human ingenuity are bad for the environment.

OK, last one so make it good.

Q. I am of the opinion that Brett Favre should retire. He has looked terrible this year, and he's tarnishing his legacy. Plus they need to develop Aaron Rogers. What do you think the Pack should do with Brett?

Cooper, Green Bay WI

A. Anyone who has watched every Packer game this year knows that most of Favre's mistakes are due to his truly sorry team. Not all, but most. I actually think that the number of boneheaded plays he has committed are about the same as ever. Favre can still play if he has some talent around him, and next year they should have some talent around him. They really need to fix the offensive line more than anything else, but they are not as far away from competing as some people think.

Playing Aaron Rogers at this point serves no purpose. There is no quarterback that is good enough to make this offense work, and no useful information about Rogers will be gained by playing him. You should not prepare Rogers by sending him in to play for a terrible team, you should build up the team around him so that when it is his turn to play he has the tools to succeed.

OK, another mailbag is in the books. Keep those letters coming people! I especially like how some of you managed to use hyperlinks. Very suave/impossible.

*All questions are in fact fake. The answers are real though.

Afternoon Cheese

One of my favorite 80s pop bands is Too Much Joy. Their tunes always make me smile, and I like smiling, smiling's my favorite.

Here's the extremely strange video for Crush Story, and here is the Too Much Joy Theme Song.

Yes, they have a theme song.

The Transit Workers' Ads

The Transit Union is running ads in an attempt to swing public support in their favor, but I don't think they're going to be very effective.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Transit Worker Blog

The NYT Transit Union has an unofficial blog here. There is a raging battle in the comments section of this post:

[S]econdly, if i could meet the masterminds behind this strike, i'd personally spit in each of their faces. I know fifty people at my campus who now cannot return to their families for the holiday season, and are being forced to spend their break in a hotel off campus until the transit system is running again. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves doing something this stupid this time of the year. Every single worker participating in the strike is extremely selfish and short sighted.

(Hat tip, Insty)

Update: They have now turned off the comments. It was inevitable, I suppose.

Victory in Dover

Ed Brayton has the details, and he's also handing out some much deserved congratulations to those involved in the case. Here is the best part ruling:

Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court. Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy. The breathtaking inanity of the Board’s decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources.


Hitch At His Curmudgeonly Best

In Slate, on the annual tradition of having Christmas crammed down his throat:

No believer in the First Amendment could go that far. But there are millions of well-appointed buildings all across the United States, most of them tax-exempt and some of them receiving state subventions, where anyone can go at any time and celebrate miraculous births and pregnant virgins all day and all night if they so desire. These places are known as "churches," and they can also force passersby to look at the displays and billboards they erect and to give ear to the bells that they ring. In addition, they can count on numberless radio and TV stations to beam their stuff all through the ether. If this is not sufficient, then god damn them. God damn them everyone.

The title is Bah, Humbug: The horrors of December in a one-party state.

NYC Transit Strike

Ace is at home today because a bunch of overpaid transit workers decided to go on strike, even though it is illegal.

Megan McArdle is not optimistic:

The point being that the workers did indeed want a strike. They've been itching for it for years. That's because they know they will win. In the private sector, the company would probably fire them and replace them with machines. But this is not the private sector, and the transit union controls not only a large number of votes, but a huge amount of funding. The City Council recently changed the law to allow political campaign contributions to come from individual locals, rather than the national union. That means that they can swing a huge chunk of change by getting locals from around the country to donate to our council members.

There's a surprising upsurge of sentiment for going Ronald Reagan on them. This will not happen; Reagan had a large reserve of skilled air-traffic controllers from the military that he could instantly deploy to take over the ATC jobs while new people were trained. There's no such reserve of non-union train drivers, and while driving a subway train is not exactly rocket science, transit folks are still haunted by the fact that one of the worst subway disasters in New York history occurred when scabs were brought in during a strike in the early twentieth century. That's even presuming that there were union-busters in the Metropolitan Transit Authority; there aren't. The organization is solidly Democratic, as is the city power structure that is trying to influence the negotiations.

But the union's position is surprisingly unsympathetic, even to liberal New Yorkers. The workers make an average of $55K, more than what your average New York journalist makes. They have a lavish pension, on which they can retire at 55, and incredible benefits. And yet to judge from their interactions with ordinary New Yorkers, you would think that they were enslaved in Egypt. Everyone I know detects an expression of positive glee on the faces of the conductors who close the door just as you are getting to it, or the booth operator who makes you stand there, watching the trains come and go, while she stacks her pennies in orderly piles. No one I've talked to feels that they are entitled to more money, fewer disciplinary hearings, or better benefits. Everyone seems pretty eager to see the transit workers forced to wait until their sixties to retire like the rest of us. It's not as if the bulk of the jobs are so physically demanding that it's unreasonable to expect them to keep sitting in their booths for another ten years.

If you have the same antipathy for unions that I do you should read the whole thing. It will make you smile.

If there is one thing that is worse than a union, it is a public sector union. At least in the private sector the management side is actually opposed to the union, and it has some ability to hold the union's monopoly power in check. In the public sector, the union and management are often on the same side, more or less. It is the worst kind of monopoly. It not only has ultimate scarcity leverage, but also government leverage.

I'll never understand why people put up with collusion like this. These workers should obviously be fired, for not showing up to work, for damaging the economy of the nation's largest city during Christmas, for breaking the law against public employee strikes in New York, etc.

They won't be fired, of course, which is a testament to the effectiveness of having a governmental constraint on monopoly instead of a free market restraint. If we decide that a monopoly is unavoidable in some instance we usually put some restrictions on the monopoly. In this case, the monopoly simply lobbied to have the restrictions removed, and even though they are still on the books, they are not enforced. There are no good monopolies, and it always saddens me that unions are seen as a positive by most people.

The only good thing about a strike is that it is fun to cross picket lines.

Monday, December 19, 2005

I've seen this game before.

Except the Packers were the Lions, the Raven were the Falcons, and it was Thanksgiving day. That was the last time that I saw a team quit like this.


The perfect Christmas gift for your 8-11 year..

can be found on the 8-11 year old section of Amazon's Toys "R" Us section, here. (Scroll down, 2nd row from the bottom, 2nd toy from the left.)

Update: It is now the first toy of the last row.

Football Questions

So, are the Colts still the favorites?

Of course they are. They'll have home field throughout and a first round bye. That in and of itself makes them one of the favorites, and they're also still a very good team.

Any weaknesses though?

All teams have weaknesses. You can stop the Colt offense by beating their receivers mercilessly while avoiding "illegal contact" calls, and getting pressure on Manning. This is easier said than done. The Chargers pulled it off on Sunday, but if not for a few brain farts, the colts probably would have won the game anyways. The Colts are still monsters, and it is best not to put too much emphasis on one game.

If you want to beat them, you have to limit possessions. The Colts are probably going to score more than your team over the long haul, so turn the game into the "short haul." Run effectively, take as much time off of the clock as you can, even in the first quarter, and get in front early. Be physical with Harrison and Wayne, and get pressure with your front four. If you're going to blitz, you'd better disguise it well. All of this is easier said than done.

How do you feel about Rex Grossman?

I don't think we've seen enough of Rex to know much, but what we do know is that he is about a million billion times betters than every other Bear QB over the last 2 years. Chad Hutchinson, Jeff Blake, Craig Krenzel, Kyle Orton, and Kordell Stewart are the suckiest bunch of sucks that have ever sucked, and even with those guys the Bears haven't been terrible. Rex is at least average, and with that defense they are now a very dangerous team. Until Rex gets hurt again.

Are the Vikings done?

Yes sir. That ship has sailed.

Will Matt Millen be fired?

Absolutely. A wise man once said to follow the money, and that ended up with a President being fired too. In the Lions' case, Matt Millen is actually going to start costing the Ford's some serious cash. That point is quickly approaching, and I expect Millen to be fired shortly after the season. They just can't afford to keep the guy around. It's impossible.

Is there any way that he sticks around?

There is always the "Fontes Effect." If Millen's team manages to win their last two games (@ NO, @Pitt), and look good in doing so that might be enough to keep him around, but it is very unlikely.

Are people reading too much into the Patriots' late season surge?

Is the Pope Catholic? Of course they are. The Pats aren't a bad team, but they are not what they were. They could still be dangerous in the playoffs, but they're going to have to win 3 playoff games to make a return trip to the Super Bowl, and most of those games will not be in Foxboro. That is a tall task.

Who is the worst team in football?

The Texans. They can't even lose properly.

Jeff Garcia or Joey Harrington?


Which NFC teams will make the playoffs?

Seattle, Carolina, Chicago, New York, Washington, and Tampa.

No surprises?

Sorry, not this year. Dallas is too far back and they have a tough road game at Carolina. Minnesota is too stupid. Atlanta's QB can't pass.

What about the AFC?

New England, Cinci, Indy, Denver, Jacksonville, Pitt.

No San Diego?

They have a brutal schedule. Jacks and Pitt play JV teams the rest of the way.

Is Seattle any good, or are they just the beneficiaries of a bad division?

They're OK, and they may very well end up in the Super Bowl, however, I believe that the Bears are a better team. I think that the Bears will win out and capture the 2 seed and give Seattle fits in the NFC title game, if they even get there.

So you think that the Bears make the Super Bowl in the NFC?

The NFC playoff teams have one thing in common. Inaccurate QBs. Does anyone see Brunell or Simms moving the ball on the Bears? Delhomme is interception-prone and Eli is wildly inaccurate at times. Maybe the Giants could grind out a win with Tiki, but I suspect that Chicago is going to be in frosty Soldier Field until they meet Seattle in the NFC championship game, and as hard as it is to pass against the Bears, it is even harder when you can't feel your hands.

And you think they'll play the Colts?

Actually, I don't. I still think the smart money is on the Colts, but I think that the playoff game will end up doing them in. The reason is that in the playoffs the refs let things go more than they do in the regular season. This is terrible for the Colts. If they get into a slugfest I think they could lose to Denver, Pitt, or New England (and yes, I remember that they destroyed Pitt not too long ago). The AFC, despite having the Colts is actually a more balanced conference, and the game changes in the playoffs to the benefit of everyone except the Colts.

So who do you like?

I actually like Denver. Stop laughing. Yes they have Jake Plummer, but I think they will have the #2 seed, and so until they face the Colts (if they face the Colts) teams will have to play them on their very chilly turf. They can grind it out on the ground, they have a solid defense with one very good cornerback, and I don't think that Jake will actually have to come through in the clutch very much.

So let me get this straight. You think that the Bears and Broncos will meet in the Super Bowl?


Don't you despise both of those teams?

I do.

Who do you think will win?

I don't want to talk about it.


On Saturday night I played Whirlyball. Whirlyball is a "sport" that was invented by drunken Irish carnies on a dare. It's non-stop 5 on 5 action that combines all the best elements of Nascar (that is, the crashes), hockey, basketball, jai-alai, and drinking heavily.

The participants in a game of Whirlyball ride in bumper cars and carry these things. At each end of the court rests a backboard with a sensor in the middle (like you would find on a "dunk tank" game). The object is to fling a wiffleball with your jai-alai scoop and hit the sensor on the backboard, while preventing the opponents from hitting yours. The way in which you play defense is to ram the car of the person with the wiffleball repeatedly. Here's a picture from the official Whirlyball website.

Whirlyball courts are attached to a well stocked sports bar, and drinking is encouraged between periods. Drinking is crucial because it helps to numb the pain. Did I mention the pain?

You've probably noticed that new cars don't have lap-belts anymore, they all have shoulder restraints. If you've ever wondered why that is, Whirlyball will quickly answer that question. A small lap-belt is all that holds you into your bumper car, and every time you have a head on collision, either with someone else or the wall, that lap-belt does a number on your mid-section. The most common Whirlyball injury is definitely "bruised hips." I played on Saturday, 2 days ago, and I still feel like I went three rounds with Andrew Golota.

But Whirlyball is worth some minor hip and stomach pain. It's always fun when you're on the court, it gives you an excuse to be the jerk on the bumper-car ride that you always wanted to be, and you even start to develop some strategy over time. At first everyone follows the ball like a bunch of 8-year-old soccer players, but after a while a few people start to cherry-pick, which results in a few people staying back on defense. The next thing you know, you're playing in actual positions.

So, if you're bored by standard drinking and driving and like the idea of an added challenge, give Whirlyball a try.

Friday, December 16, 2005

The Undercover Economist in the NYT.

Tim Harford has an excellent Op-Ed in today's NYT, arguing that, while western agricultural protectionism is a bad idea, eliminating it would not do much to help developing countries:

The trade barriers at the borders of the rich world may have disappeared, but if our picker wants to sell his bananas abroad he first has to get them onto a ship bound for America or Europe. That takes 116 days, and an incredible 38 signatures - each one an opportunity for some official to collect a bribe. Something is rotten here, and not just the bananas.

Sub-Saharan African exporters face, on average, delays of nearly 50 days for each shipment. They must get roughly 20 signatures on eight or nine separate customs forms. (These figures are all documented in "Doing Business in 2006: Creating Jobs," a report released in September by the World Bank. A disclosure: I was an adviser to the report team.)

Part of the problem, of course, is that landlocked African countries are linked to the outside world by long, decrepit roads and underdeveloped ports in neighboring countries. But determined growers can move bananas along even lousy roads. The real problem is elsewhere: three-quarters of delays are the result of red tape, not port handling or inland transport. These delays, caused by senseless bureaucracy, unnecessary forms and archaic inspection practices, can often be eliminated with a stroke of a pen by a country's chief executive. Even the more sophisticated reforms, like introducing electronic filing, or using software to guide sensible risk-based customs inspections, require only small outlays. What's more, such reforms increase the interception of smuggled goods and discourage corrupt customs officials.

Read it all here. You can purchase Tim's excellent book here.

Fun Friday: Last Minute Shopping Edition

Don't procrastinate like I do. You might end up like this guy.

Fun Friday: Fugly Sweater Edition

Tonight is the annual Fugly Christmas Sweater Pub Crawl, which happens to be taking place in my Wrigleyville neighborhood. If anyone is in the neighborhood and wants to stop in they are more than welcome. Here's the schedule:

5:00 - Casey Moran's
6:00 - Cubby Bear
7:00 - Sluggers
8:00 - John Barleycorn
9:00 - Moe's Cantina
10:00 - Merkles
11:00 - Ivy
12:00 - Blarney Stone
1:00 - Redmond's

It is sure to be a good time.

Fun Friday

This Boggle-esque game is quite addicting. You could waste your whole afternoon.

If that's not your cup of tea, how about some 1943? (Instructions appear on the right side of the screen.)

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The libertarian argument against gay marriage, and the reason that it is wrong.

Mike at Cooler Near The Lake gives it a shot, here and here. The gist of his argument is that government has no business in marriage in the first place, and therefore a policy that limits government involvement in marriage is desirable. I think his argument is best captured in this quote:

Sanctioning means that government is expanding. It is expanding in the sense that is has to define a new legal category. This new category will require reinterpretation of a vast number precedent setting interpretations of applicable and associated laws. Considered in this context, one sees that the cost is not inconsequential. Proponents of gay marriage have not provided much sense of the benefits from doing this, other than it will make a small portion of the human population 'feel better'. This is the short-sightedness that I referred to in the previous post.

I can see how this argument could be seductive to some people, however, I believe that Mike is mistaken about an important aspect of government.

I agree that the ideal would be for government to exit the marriage business altogether, however, this is not the situation that we have. At this point, government sanctioned marriage is the norm. Mike states that the default assumption when government sanctioned marriage was that the entire population was heterosexual. This is probably the case, but incumbent in that assumption is the idea that everyone should be able to get married. This is important. When the government asserts power over some activity, either through regulations or subsidies, people have suffered an individual loss of freedom. However, as long as that regulation or subsidy is consistently enforced, and it is enforced in an egalitarian manner, people are surprisingly adept at adapting to the regulation. The Cato institute refers to this as "the strong rule of law" and it is one of their major positive criterion when they evaluate the freedom of nations.

It is, for a libertarian, a second best solution, but it is sometimes necessary. Once the second best solution is in place, the way in which the government asserts even more power is through ambiguity, and the way in which it creates ambiguity is by providing exceptions for interest groups.

Imagine for a moment that you want to buy a tavern. In order to obtain a license for this tavern, there are certain qualifications that you must meet. Everyone is capable of meeting these qualifications if they work hard and obtain financing.

Now imagine that the government decides to add a provision that puts a limit on the number of licenses issued. I would argue that government shouldn't be licensing taverns in the first place. However, failing that, I would be in favor of clear and egalitarian regulations.

In the current situation I think that it is fairly clear that the government is exercising maximum power. When it established its power and then limited the supply, the government became a tyrant. It invited contributions from interest groups to obtain the resource, and it gave itself the power to punish by withholding the resource. If everyone has access to the resource, the government cannot coerce with that resource. When they limit its availability, they turn it into a club.

Both political parties love to claim that their opponents are in the hands of "special interests." It is legal ambiguity that allows this situation to occur.

If government is going to be in the marriage business, it is imperative that they be egalitarian in their administration of the marriage business, and that means allowing all comers to enjoy the benefits that they have created. The situation that currently exists has already put the government in the position of a tyrant. Conservatives are adding to the government's power in exchange for the government's favor, and homosexuals are likely doing whatever they can to gain this favor as well.

What makes this situation worse is the potential for this law to become a part of the Wisconsin Constitution. There are two reasons that this is a terrible thing:

1. It makes marriage rights another political bargaining chip, and

2. It makes the prospect Constitutionalizing certain laws a political bargaining chip.

The former is bad enough, but the latter is terrible. Constitutional amendments are supposed to be infrequent and nearly unanimous. This opens the door for politicians to pursue them simply for short term political gain. I would remind conservatives that if they decide to create this weapon, it can easily be turned on them in the future. Conservatives have been the party that has relied on the Constitution as a shield most often. If they choose to convert it into a sword, they do so at their own peril.

The worst possible government is empowered with the ability to hand out rights to those that it favors. It is a quality shared by every evil tyranny that has ever existed. When you move closer to this model, you are not acting in a libertarian fashion. Marriage may be no business of government, but if government is going to insert itself into this aspect of life, it must not deny its citizens equal protection.

Update: Jay Bullock was kind enough to quote me, and he makes a good case as well, from a left-leaning point of view.

More "War On Christmas" Hooey

Ed Brayton has two posts exposing some high profile conservative scare stories for the myths that they are. The first one is a point by point refutation of several stories that are being pushed by Bill O'Reilly:

Lie #2: The Plano, Texas school system tells students they can't wear green and red clothing:

O'REILLY: In Plano, Texas, just north of Dallas, the school told students they couldn't wear red and green because they were Christmas colors. That's flat-out fascism. If I were a student in Plano, I'd be a walking Christmas tree after that order. Have a little thing on my head.

False. The school district issued the following statement:

"The school district does not restrict students or staff from wearing certain color clothes during holiday times or any other school days," noted Dr. Otto, who said that the school district's attorney has requested that Mr. O'Reilly retract the statement.

Dr. Otto said that attorneys have requested of Mr. O'Reilly that, in the future, he ask his fact checkers to do a more thorough job of confirming the facts before he airs them. "It would be our hope that you would engage in fair and balanced reporting of this nationally recognized school district in the future," wrote PISD's attorney.

The second post destroys a widely circulating myth about a Wisconsin School rewriting and secularizing the words of "Silent Night:"

There's just one problem - it's all a bunch of crap. Totally false. Here's the truth:

Diane Messer, administrator of the Dodgeville School District, said the holiday show is titled "The Little Tree's Christmas Gift'' and was copyrighted in 1988. It's about a family that goes to buy a Christmas tree and uses a collection of familiar Christmas carol melodies to tell the story.

"Somebody totally misunderstood and had the belief that one of our teachers took it upon herself to rewrite the words to 'Silent Night,''' she said. "This program is well within our district's policy which allows us the use of both religious and secular content in our curriculum and in our productions and performances.''

Messer said the program has been performed "several times'' over the last 18 years and the school district has no immediate plans to address the Liberty Counsel's concerns.

"It's a misunderstanding and people have drawn all sorts of absurd conclusions from it,'' she said.

The Little Tree's Christmas Gift is a Christmas play often performed both in schools and churches around the country. It was written by a church choir director, in fact. Is it part of some grand anti-Christmas conspiracy? Judge for yourself.

Head on over to Ed's place and judge for yourself.

Yao, The Guinea Pig

I really have to stop linking to Marginal Revolution so much, but they keep finding such good stuff over there. The following are excerpts from Operation Yao Ming: The Chinese Sports Empire, American Big Business, and the Making of an NBA Superstar by Brook Larmer:

In Yao, Wei had found the ultimate guinea pig on whom to test his theories about human growth and athletic performance...The rumpled researcher tried to accelerate the usually unhurried processes of traditional Chinese medicine...If those who helped engineer Yao's growth were proud of the way they harnessed traditional Chinese medicine, they showed reluctance to discuss a much more sensitive issue: rumors of the use of human-growth hormones...

You should definitely read the whole thing. (It is relatively short.)

The Carnival of the Badger

In all it's cheesy goodness is up at RealDebateWisconsin. I've been labeled a Grinch for some reason. I could go for some roast beast though.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

In a subsidized nutshell...

a programme which uses inefficient transfers of taxpayers money to bloat rich French landowners and so pump up food prices in Europe, thereby creating poverty in Africa, which we then fail to solve through inefficient but expensive aid programmes. The most stupid, immoral state-subsidised policy in human history, give or take Communism.

That is British Ambassador to Poland Charles Crawford on the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy.

(Hat tip to Matt Welch, who has more at Hit and Run.)

Hope For "Arrested Development"

Ace has the scoop:

Both ABC and Showtime are in talks with 20th Century Fox to rescue Arrested Development from the cold, clammy, hooked hand of the grim reaper. According to Variety, formal negotiations have not yet taken place, but sources still label the networks' interest as 'serious,' with Showtime being the more fervently interested of the two."

He has some more good stuff too, as per usual.

AD is the best show on television, so this is great news. Woohoo!

How to fold a shirt.

For the life of me I've never been able to fold a shirt and not have it turn into a crumpled up, wrinkly ball of cotton.

After watching this video I think I can get it right.

(Hat tip, MR)

What's nine feet long and extremely sensitive?

A narwhal tusk:

Scientists have long tried to explain why a stocky whale that lives in arctic waters, feeding on cod and other creatures that flourish amid the pack ice, should wield such a long tusk. The theories about how the narwhal uses the tusk have included breaking ice, spearing fish, piercing ships, transmitting sound, shedding excess body heat, poking the seabed for food, wooing females, defending baby narwhals and establishing dominance in social hierarchies.

But a team of scientists from Harvard and the National Institute of Standards and Technology has now made a startling discovery: the tusk, it turns out, forms a sensory organ of exceptional size and sensitivity, making the living appendage one of the planet's most remarkable, and one that in some ways outdoes its own mythology.

The find came when the team turned an electron microscope on the tusk's material and found new subtleties of dental anatomy. The close-ups showed that 10 million nerve endings tunnel from the tusk's core toward its outer surface, communicating with the outside world. The scientists say the nerves can detect subtle changes of temperature, pressure, particle gradients and probably much else, giving the animal unique insights.

(Hat tip, Andrea)

Meaningless Symbolism

One of the things that bugs me is the amount of time that people waste on symbolism. It is difficult to peruse the blogosphere without encountering the "War on Christmas." The "War on Christmas," as I understand it, is mainly being waged by people who choose to say "happy holidays" instead of Merry Christmas. Now, ever since Bill O'Reilly saved Christmas I figured that this issue would go away, and of course, I thought that when religious folks realized that the word "holiday" actually means "holy day," and is in fact quite religious, that they would be happy to think that they were pulling a fast one on everyone and stop complaining.

This has not happened. Instead, certain groups are going to boycott businesses using the "happy holiday" greeting. Others are proving that the politics of victimhood are alive and well. Wisconsin has been very concerned with labeling their trees. For the life of me, I cannot understand the point of this.

The fact of the matter is that all holiday greetings are positive (unless you wish someone a happy holiday and they snarkily fire back a "Merry Christmas," as I experienced last year). They are intended to wish you good luck, good tidings, and a friendly, restful, peaceful holiday time. If you take offense to well-wishing, you have a problem. There are probably atheists out there who react with horror to "Merry Christmas." These people also have a problem.

You are in charge of celebrating your own holiday, and no one else is under any obligation to celebrate in the same manner. If you want to say "Merry Christmas," go right ahead. If you wish to call the big tree in the Capitol rotunda a "Christmas Tree," feel free. "Holiday tree?" Sure, why not? I've decided to call it "Phil" myself. It just looked like a "Phil" to me.

So stop wasting time trying to get people to say things that they do not wish to say simply because you want to hear them. Besides, you don't want to end up like Elaine at Poppie's Restaurant:

ELAINE: Boy, I'm really looking forward to this duck. I've never had food ordered in advance before.

JERRY: Ah, I could've stayed home and ordered a pizza from Paccino's.

ELAINE: Paccino's? Oh no. You should never order pizza from Paccino's.

JERRY: Why not?

ELAINE: Because, the owner contributes a lot of money to those fanatical, anti-abortion groups.

JERRY: So, you won't eat the pizza?

ELAINE: No way.

JERRY: Really.


JERRY: Well, what if Poppie felt the same way?

ELAINE: Well, I guess I wouldn't eat here, then.

JERRY: Really!

ELAINE: Yeah. That's right.

JERRY: Well, perhaps we should inquire. Poppie! Oh, Poppie. Could I have a word?

POPPIE: Yes, Jerry. I just checked your is more succulent than even I had hoped.

JERRY: Poppie, I was just curious...where do you stand on the abortion issue?

POPPIE: When my mother was abducted by the Communists, she was with child...

JERRY: Oh, boy.

POPPIE: ...but the Communists, they put an end to that! So, on this issue there is no debate! And no intelligent person can think differently.

ELAINE (offended): Well...Poppie. I think differently.

POPPIE: And what gives you the right to do that?

ELAINE (standing up): The Supreme Court gives me the right to do that! Let's go Jerry, c'mon.

So, I'd like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, a Kwazy Kwanza, a tip-top Tet, and a solemn, dignified Ramadan.

Or a "Happy Holidays."


Brush Those Teeth!

...there is no clear evidence that schools are contributing to the growth in obesity. The obesity-related complaints about school lunches, vending machines, and physical education are based largely on the assumption that these factors are causing our kids to get fat. Yet, I find little evidence to support this claim. For example, in looking at survey data on the health behavior of middle and high school students, the factor I found that best predicted whether or not a kid was obese was tooth brushing. More important than how much junk food they ate, soda they drank, or physical education they received was whether or not they brushed their teeth.

That is an excerpt from J. Eric Oliver's Fat Politics: The Real Story Behind America's Obesity Epidemic.

Marginal Revolution has more.

I still haven't told him the "tractor story."

Here at the EC we love to talk about ag subsidies. Dan Drezner is blogging from the WTO meetings this week, where ag subsidies are always a sticky issue with the developed world. Dan decided to dig up some numbers on the subject, like:

Half of all subsidies go to only 5% of Congressional districts.

Four commodities--corn, wheat, rice and cotton--account for 78 percent of all ag subsidies.

Dan takes the Europeans to task too:

More than 80 percent of CAP payments go into 20 percent of farms -- including, deliciously enough, members of European royalty. The Queen of England, for example, received over 230,000 euros a year.

He has a lot more. Check it out.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold

is guestblogging at the TPM Cafe Table for One.

Afternoon Puzzle, Part 2

This one is courtesy of an anonymous friend:

OK music lyric aficionados, here is the question:

What song has the record for repeating the same word the most consecutive times? For example - in Smashing Pumpkins' "Tonight Tonight," Billy Corgan says, "tonight, tonight, toonight" which counts as 3. (Note: At the end of the song he actually says it 5 times in a row.) Repeat phrases do not count - for example in Soul Asylum's misery he says "frustrated incorporated" 50 times in a row - this counts as 0. Nonsense words do not count (i.e. na na na na na na na). So far we have many 3 in a rows, a few 4 in a rows, a couple of 5 in a rows, a 6 in a row, and a 7 in a row - that is the top right now but I'm sure there are some 10's out there.

The best that I can come up with is the Pixie's Debaser, in which the word Debaser is repeated 12 times in a row. Elton John's Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting) repeats "Saturday" 9 times in a row. Can you do better?

Hurry, before the RIAA finds out.

First click here. Then, type some words into the box. Then hit play to hear your song.


(Hat tip, David Post.)

Update: I cannot get the link to work in Internet Explorer, but it works just fine in Firefox.

The War on Drugs Defeats Nyquil

Stephen Green is absolutely right, and it is a travesty:

What's the difference between the old and new versions of NyQuil?

The old version of NyQuil contained the nasal decongestant pseudoephedrine. The new version does not contain a nasal decongestant.

That's right. Nyquil is no longer "The Nightime Sniffling Sneezing Coughing Aching Stuffyhead Fever So You Can Rest Medicine." Now Nyquil is the "Screw You Go Suffer Instead of Getting Any Rest At All Placebo."

Nyquil was the one thing I could count on when I was too sick to function. Nyquil was the legal cure for the common insomnia. Now it's just another bottle of syrupy crap that tastes like something rejected from the Jaegermeister distillery.

For that, we have the likes of Diane Feinstein and Jim Talent to thank, along with a few cowards at Vicks.

He's right. The last time I was sick, the Nyquil just wasn't the same.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Afternoon Puzzle

Here's a good ol' time killer from my college days.

Name an album that meets all of the following criteria:

1. The title of the album must also be a lyric in one of the songs on the album.

2. The lyric may not be the chorus of the song.

3. The lyric may not appear more than once in the song.

4. The lyric may not be the title of the song in which it appears.

An example would be Pink Floyd's Division Bell. The title for the album is a lyric in the song "High Hopes." Another example would be The Dave Matthews Band's "Under the Table and Dreaming."

Leave all answers in the comments section.

Good luck.

Samkon Gado's First NFL Pass

The Detroit Lions probably should have won their Sunday night matchup with the Green Bay Packers. Sure, they made several incredibly bad plays that ended up costing them the game, like not trying to kick a FG at the end of the first half, and like Roy Williams dropping a likely touchdown late in the game, and like getting stuffed on 4th an goal at the Packer one yard line. But they also got screwed by the refs.

The bizarre sequence took place just after the aforementioned 4th and 1 stuffing. RB Samkon Gado took a handoff and followed FB Vonta Leach just over the right side, where there was a sizable hole. Unfortunately for Gado, Leach missed his lead block and one of the defensive linemen managed to shed his blocker, and Gado was drilled about one yard deep in his end zone. In a last ditch effort to avoid a safety, he hurled the ball forward with both hands. It landed at about the 2 foot line at the feet of Leach who had turned around, probably to warn Gado that he was about to be hit very hard. While this was going on, Packer lineman Mark Tauscher was called for holding. Replays showed that the holding almost certainly occurred in the end zone. Gado was called for intentional ground, Tauscher for holding (declined originally) and a safety was awarded. At this point, Packer coach Mike Sherman tossed a challenge flag.

What happened next is truly mind boggling. It is laden with officiating mistakes and it may hurt your brain. You've been warned.

Intentional grounding, to the best of my knowledge, is not challengeable, however, the refs used this opportunity to reconsider the play. After discussing the play for what seemed like several hours they decided that Gado was outside the pocket when he threw his "pass" and that he did get it back to the line of scrimmage, and therefore the "grounding" was allowed. I believe that the grounding should have been allowed, but not for that reason. I think that the rule that they cited only applies to the QB (I'm fairly certain that I have seen it called that way before on a halfback option), however Gado did target and eligible receiver (Leach) so I'm OK with it.

They also decided that Tauscher's holding took place outside of the end zone even though at no point during the play was Tauscher outside of the end zone, and his tackle-like block resulted in both he and a Detroit lineman being tied up on the ground several yards deep in the end zone. This penalty should have resulted in a safety.

At no point did they ever actually look at a replay, and Green Bay was not charged with a timeout. They were basically given an extra ten minutes to argue, and somehow, they managed to get the officials to change their minds, even though the officials had basically been correct in the first place.

I'm not sure that I've ever seen anything like it, but I'll take any win at this point.

Detroit is just a complete train wreck at this point. The Packers were sloppy and terrible as well, but at least I saw some signs of life (although Ahmad Carroll is going to give me heart trouble if he isn't replaced). I would love to see Detroit play Houston right now. Together I'm convinced that they could come up with the most creative loss in NFL history.

Update: Prof. Karlson poses the question:

Can you play football for leaster?

"Instant" Replay In The Last Two Minutes

With only 16 seconds to play, and trailing by 3 points, the Chiefs had their work cut out for them. To this point it had been a great game to watch. The Chiefs had just surrendered the lead to the Dallas Cowboys on a play in which no one covered TE Dan Campbell and for Dick Vermeil and company, things looked very grim. Despite an impressive performance by Larry Johnson and the rest of the offense the Cowboys had somehow managed to hang around until the final minutes with flea-flickers and end-arounds. Cowboy RBs Julius Jones and Marion Barber had also run the ball well against a team that had basically shut down the run for several weeks.

But the game wasn't over yet. The Chiefs still owned a timeout and they only needed to get into range for kicker LT (Lawrence Tynes) to get them into overtime. On the first play of the drive Trent Green hit WR Samie Parker for 14 yards at the sideline, where Parker rolled out of bounds, stopping the clock. The Chiefs were now within striking distance of field goal range, and they hurried into the huddle to set the next play. They still held a timeout and so they could throw over the deep middle. They got up to the line, ready to snap the ball, when all of a sudden...

Refs whistles blow everywhere, everything comes to a screeching halt, and everyone watching at home on the edge of their seats rolls their collective eyes and heads for the bathroom. You see, Samie Parker was a little too close to the sidelines on that last reception and since it is the last two minutes of the game the replay booth official would like to have another look. The review, which is supposed to take a maximum of 1:30, actually took about 4:30, as the ref has to walk over to the little TV, lift up the cover, stick his head in that weird little hole, and start the show. After that he has to discuss what he saw on the little TV with the other officials (I'm convinced that they just show pornographic movies, but that is for a different post) as slowly as possible, reset the clock, announce his findings to the crowd, and reset the ball. If that description bored you, just remember that it is about 50 times as boring to watch as it is to read.

The replay system in the last two minutes of the half/game is flawed, and needs to be fixed.

While I have some problems with the "coach's challenge" system, it does do a few things right. By limiting the number of challenges per game the NFL insures that only important plays will be reviewed by coaches, as they must maximize the return on their challenges. If a receiver catches a 3-yard out pattern and is incorrectly ruled to have gotten his feet in bounds, a coach may not choose to challenge the play because only three yards are at stake. However, in the last two minutes the booth will generally review every play regardless of importance. (There is one exception that I noted last week, which is that the booth will not review an official's "spot" regardless of the significance to the game.)

The stated reasons for the "booth official review" are as follows:

1. To limit a coach's ability to manipulate challenges late in games. (For example, challenging small things just to slow down an opponent's momentum.) And,

2. There is a belief that plays at the end of a game are more important than plays at any other time, and so there is a special interest in eliminating referee mistakes at the end of a game.

The first reason is a non-issue because in order to challenge a play the challenging team must have a timeout in reserve. If stopping play at that time would be beneficial, using a timeout would be as effective as a challenge. If a coach challenges a play and the challenge is upheld, no matter how minor the matter involved, then it was a good challenge. And if a coach has wasted his timeouts or challenges earlier in the game, then he has no one to blame but himself if a controversial call goes against his team late in the game.

Moreover, as the booth official tends to challenge every minor controversial call anyway, it is more likely that the "coach's challenge" system would reduce momentum-stopping challenges, not increase it.

As for the second stated reason, it is simply untrue. A touchdown on the opening drive is worth as much as a touchdown in the final drive. Late plays seem to take on more significance because we have more information available at that point. Teams know exactly how many points they need and how much time they have to score them in. However, if a bad call cost a team seven points late in a game when that team was down by six, that is no different than a bad call costing a team 7 points early in a game when a team loses by six (except we don't know how the score would have changed the game from that point on).

Botched calls at the ends of games may appear worse to the general public, but they are no worse than any other bad calls.

Finally, coaches routinely "challenge" plays at the ends of games anyway when they take timeouts just to give the replay official more time to review the play. This adds another five minutes to the already lengthy challenge process. It is also more punitive than the normal "coach's challenge" because even if the call is overturned, the "challenging" coach has been forced to forfeit a timeout, which, at this point in the game, he could probably use.

Samie Parker (Remember him?) was ultimately ruled to have been in bounds, and the Chiefs did manage to get into field goal range when Dante Hall got free in the middle of the field and Trent Green hit him in stride. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, LT (Lawrence Tynes) pushed his 41 yard FG attempt wide right, and the Cowboys held on to win. It was a good game, but the most dramatic part of the game was ruined by the booth official, and this seems to be happening in nearly every close game.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Fun Friday: Football Outsiders Edition

First, follow the links to Clinton Portis as "Bro Sweets."

Then check out Lil' Ronnie's rapping.

Friday Afternoon Tunes

Back in October I saw The Mountain Goats at the Empty Bottle, and as luck would have it, a recording of that show turned up at the Live Music Archive. You can listen here.

(I would recommend skipping the first track, as it is just crowd noise and a short intro.)


Christine Hurt tells a few tales of multi-million dollar typos:

This story, sent to me by Tim Zinnecker, takes the cake. Yesterday, J-Com Co. went public on the Toykyo exchange. Mizuho Securities Co. intended to enter an order to sell one share at 610,000 yen ($5,041). Instead, the order entered offered 610,000 shares for one yen/share (less than a penny). The order was entered, and the firm lost $225 million. Yikes!

There's more. Click here.

Fun Friday: Legal Edition

This is Justice Posner's greatest case, in which he takes judicial notice of the following highly disputable fact:

Few men are interested in lesbians.

The Downward Spiral

Will Saletan offers some historical perspective on creationism:

Nobody here is a candidate for Fetish Night. But nobody seems horrified by it, either, just as nobody really doubts evolution. What used to be shocking is now just fun or silly, even to those of us who think of ourselves as believers. Fundamentalists have lost the media, the colleges, and the science academies. The battleground has been reduced to public schools, and creationism has been reduced to intelligent design—a pathetic, agnostic, empty shell. Creationists can't teach a dogma, so they "teach the controversy." They accept more and more of Darwin's theory, narrowing the dispute to isolated systems—the eye, the flagellum, the blood-clotting system—that they say Darwinism can't explain. They just want science to stop short of denying God's possibility. A little bit of mystery, a parcel of unspoiled divine wilderness, is all they ask.

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