The Electric Commentary

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The State of the Union: Liveblogging

Update 9:

Strange to mention AIDS without including Africa. Maybe I missed it.

And that will rap things up. No screw-ups, very upbeat. I disagree with the guy on plenty, and nothing is going to change that, but overall it was a pretty strong speech, light on explanation, but big on feel-good fuzziness.

Update 8:

That was an incompetent hickish rant against science. Isn't Charles Krauthammer on his science advisory board? Can't he put a stop to some of these ideas? I'd like to live a long time. If you sciencephobes out there stop the development of some cure to some disease that I get, there's going to be trouble, consarnit.

Update 7:

Creating human-animal hybrids? God Schmod, I want my monkey-man!

Update 6:

Time for some gay-hatin'. Yee-haw. I must say, the touting of his new judicial appointments in connection with his "marriage defense" is disconcerting. At least this portion was brief. On to praise for Sandy.

Update 5::

And R&D tax credit. Interesting.

This seems a rather bold education initiative. Is he advocating for a bunch of new teachers, or is he advocating the relaxation of licensing requirements, I wonder.

Update 4:

Health care time. There was nothing serious here. Just some back-patting
and pie in the sky.

Now he's clearly trying to distance himself from "Big Oil." I wonder if those record Exxon profits had anything to do with that.

Except for the nuclear (did he actually say "nuclear" correctly?), he sounded like Al Gore.

Bush is now doing something very intelligent. He's connecting the ideas of oil independence and national security. Didn't Al Franken raise this theme 3 years ago? What's going on?

The American Competitiveness Initiative? I don't like the sound of that.

Update 3:

Seriously? A line-item veto? And he said it like it was nothing. That's a huge deal. In Wisconsin the governor has this power, and I can attest to the fact that it vastly increases the power of the executive. It's a bad idea, pure and simple. In theory it only allows for cuts, but there are clever ways to manipulate this power for ill. Besides, I'd like to see a normal veto from the guy before I grant him any power to half-veto something.

He's scattering free trade messages throughout. It has been an overarching theme. He has now moved on to immigration.

Funny how free trade requires so much hassle at the border.

Update 2:

Sorry about that. Blogger is pesky tonight, and I also had to do a quick chore.

Time for domestic issues.

Ooh. Such a vigorous economy. That job creation stat is true, but it's not like the EU economy is a runaway juggernaut or anything.

I'm obviously very a bigger free market proponent than G-dub, and it's nice to here him advocate for the private sector, but where has he been for the last 6 years?

He's getting a huge ovation for the tax cuts. In general, I'm pro tax-cut. The thing is that tax cuts without spending cuts aren't tax cuts. They're tax deferals. And we're way past the point of the Laffer curve where cutting taxes raises revenue. He's touting spending cuts right now, but who believes that.

Whoa. Did he just propose a line-item veto? Way to lend credence to that "Power-Hungry Emperor" stereotype.

Update 1: Bush may have problems improvising, but if he is well-prepared he can pull off a good speech now and then. He is starting strong today. We're in the foreign policy section now. This probably will not be too surprising. His only choice is to accentuate the positive, and that is what he is doing. Will he address the negative? Will he mess with with Mr. Inbetween?

He is laying out some changes to policy, and thanking congress for their criticism. Classy. Oh, now he's letting them have it.

If I were a conservative shill, I would write the following:

"He's standing firm on Iraq."

Really, there wasn't much there. Can't they make an announcement to hold all applause until the end? If I'm ever president, that will be the policy.

OK, beer 2, coming up...

Start here:

Let's get right down to business.

Bush is pleading for a return to respectable debate. It's hard to argue with that. Unless you're in congress, in which case you simply label your opponent as a partisan shill.

Bush is now cautioning against isolationism. I like it. I think that there's an isolationist movement growing right now, and it is potentially dangerous.

The first 9/11 reference at 8:14. If you had the under, bring your tickets up to the front.

I'm listening on the radio, by the way. I think that Bush actually comes off a bit better on the radio. He is less smarmy, and mistakes are more forgivable.

The first three mentions of freedom at 8:16. If you had the over, bring your ticket up to the front.

Here we have some pandering to Islam.

"if we do nothing, the violent will inherit the earth." Nice line.

Update soon. I need a beer.

Great Writing. Great Story. Great Zucchini.

In Sunday's Washington Post, you will find this piece by Gene Weingarten. It is, without question, one of the greatest displays of writing that I have seen. It is everything that a story should be. One of my favorite bits of writing is Malcolm Gladwell's Ketchup article. This is better. It reminds me of Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson.

It is long, but it is worth it. No excerpt will do it justice. Well, maybe if I start here:

By the time the show began, more than a dozen kids were assembled on the floor. The Great Zucchini's first official act was to order the birthday boy out of the room, because -- a little overwhelmed by the attention -- Trey had begun to cry. "We'll re-transition him back in," the Great Zucchini reassured Allison as she dutifully, if dubiously, whisked her son away.

And then go here:

But while you're winning, anything seems possible. Eric is at the moment a heroic character, a romantic lead, a suave Bogart or Bond, rolling sixes and nines and never a losing seven, and the cheering continues. The classy illusion holds right up until the moment that the bellowing woman falls silent, sways, hiccups, and vomits all over the table.

It's now just after midnight. We'd arrived at 7, and Eric shows no sign of tiring. He's lost some money at blackjack but is making it back on a craps table, again. Beside him is a sweet, funny, attractive woman named Mollie, in a low-cut black blouse and white pants with a big belt. Mollie's maybe 30, a businesswoman from Texas. She'd arrived with friends whom she seems to have jettisoned.

And end up here:

Five years earlier, Paula Adams had been a chief lieutenant of the Rev. Jim Jones, the brilliant, messianic madman who led 900 followers to a mass suicide in the jungles of Guyana. Adams survived the holocaust in Jonestown and fled to the United States with her lover, the man whose government influence had given her safe haven. His name was Laurence Mann, and he had been the Guyanese ambassador to the United States.

You might get some idea.

Read the whole thing.

I am indebted to Jim Lindgren for the pointer.

The World Keeps Getting Better

Don Boudreaux has been reading the Sears Fall/Winter Catalog from 1975, and he's also been doing a bit of math:

Sears’ lowest-priced 10-inch table saw: 52.35 hours of work required in 1975; 7.34 hours of work required in 2006.

Sears’ lowest-priced gasoline-powered lawn mower: 13.14 hours of work required in 1975 (to buy a lawn-mower that cuts a 20-inch swathe); 8.56 hours of work required in 2006 (to buy a lawn-mower that cuts a 22-inch swathe. Sears no longer sells a power mower that cuts a swathe smaller than 22 inches.)

Sears Best freezer: 79 hours of work required in 1975 (to buy a freezer with 22.3 cubic feet of storage capacity); 39.77 hours of work required in 2006 (to buy a freezer with 24.9 cubic feet of storage capacity; this size freezer is the closest size available today to that of Sears Best in 1975.)

Sears Best side-by-side fridge-freezer: 139.62 hours of work required in 1975 (to buy a fridge with 22.1 cubic feet of storage capacity); 79.56 hours of work required in 2006 (to buy a comparable fridge with 22.0 cubic feet of storage capacity.)

There's more at Cafe Hayek.

Monday, January 30, 2006

The "L" Commodities Market

We're house sitting in Hyde Park right now, so I was able to take my old route to work this morning. The Red Line at 55th street is vastly different from the Red Line at Addison. For instance:

1. The market for individual cigarettes is booming. If I could buy stock in guys selling individual cigarettes on the "L" I wouldn't hesitate. However, the market for chew is not nearly as bullish.

2. Some guy was selling a bootleg copy of the movie "Bubbles." I though that this was strange, as the DVD is being released simultaneously with the theatrical release. He told me that most of the folks (His word. He said "folks.") on the train don't know that, so it doesn't matter.

3. The strangest item for sale today was "ointments." Upon closer inspection, the "ointment" in question proved to be KY Warming Personal Lubricant. This poor merchant did not appear to be fairing very well. I considered asking why he had decided on this particular product, but I though better of it.

4. M&Ms were popular, as always. The kids in question were allegedly raising money for their baseball team. If you live in Chicago you have definitely run into these kids at some point. There are hundreds of them. It's a big team. I think the older gentleman with the kids must be their coach, although I wouldn't have allowed my kids to play on his team. He was rather unkempt, and smelled of urine.

This concludes today's report on the South Side "L" Commodities Market.

(Note: Spell Check isn't working, so I apologize for any mistakes. I don't have time at the moment to do much correcting.)

Saturday, January 28, 2006

The Coyote Blog on Voucher Schools

His excellent analysis can be found here.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Hey baby, you look a little stressed...

This post is my good deed for the day:

GOT some public speaking to do? Here is a tip to keep stress at bay: have sex beforehand. But make sure it's penetrative sex - the magic vanishes if you pursue other forms of sexual gratification.

Stuart Brody, a psychologist at the University of Paisley, UK, compared the impact of different sexual activities on blood pressure when a person later experiences acute stress. For a fortnight, 24 women and 22 men kept diaries of how often they engaged in penile-vaginal intercourse (PVI), masturbation or partnered sexual activity excluding intercourse. After, the volunteers underwent a stress test involving public speaking and mental arithmetic out loud.

Volunteers who'd had PVI but none of the other kinds of sex were least stressed, and their blood pressure returned to normal faster than those who'd only masturbated or had non-coital sex. Those who abstained had the highest blood-pressure response to stress (Biological Psychology, vol 71, p 214).

Brody also made psychological measurements of neuroticism and anxiety in the volunteers, as well as work stress and partnership satisfaction. Even taking these factors into account, differences in sexual behaviour provided the best explanation for the range of stress responses. "The effects are not attributable simply to the short-term relief afforded by orgasm, but rather, endure for at least a week," says Brody. He speculates that release of the "pair-bonding" hormone oxytocin between partners might account for the calming effect.

Read all about it at New Scientist.

Fun Friday, Part Three

Click here to find out if secret identities are just for super heroes and Garth Brooks.

Fun Friday, Part Deux.

Stephen Colbert v. Bears. Again.

Fun Friday, Part 1

I know it's still Thursday, but that just leaves more time for fun. And really, what could be more fun than 100 playable Commodore 64 games? (You don't even have to download anything.)

They have all of your favorites, like Commando, and Ghosts and Goblins, and Paperboy, and like 800 versions of Boulder Dash. Sadly, they do not have Zack McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders. Alas.

Oh, and don't miss Duck Hunt: 1945


to Spivak and Bice for the link.

By the way, the Belling bobblehead topped out at $167.50.

Working at Wal-Mart must be terrible.

While I was still living on the South Side of Chicago, the alderpeople of said side managed to block the development of an evil Wal-Mart, as it would have stolen all of the South Side's nonexistent jobs. Instead, Wal-Mart opened a store in the nearby suburb of Evergreen Park, and...

Eighteen months after the Chicago City Council torpedoed a South Side Wal-Mart, 24,500 Chicagoans applied for 325 jobs at a Wal-Mart opening Friday in south suburban Evergreen Park, one block outside the city limits.

The new Wal-Mart at 2500 W. 95th is one block west of Western Avenue, the city boundary.

Of 25,000 job applicants, all but 500 listed Chicago addresses, said John Bisio, regional manager of public affairs for Wal-Mart.

It's a good thing that Chicago blocked that development. Sure they lost a bunch of tax revenue, and jobs within the city limits, and the store opened just a few blocks away anyway, but it was worth it to stick it to that evil corporation. Of course, to really stick it to them, they'll have to erect a large wall between Chicago and Evergreen Park, where all of their constituents will soon be heading.

Wisconsin embarrassing itself again

Sometimes I am amazed at the kind of laws people want to pass. I'm even more amazed when a legislator proposes a bill that is completely out of touch with any real problems society may be facing and manages to stay in office. I'd like to know what Scott Gunderson (R-Waterford) is thinking. "Crime? Na, that's not a problem. Taxes? No big deal. Healthcare? Education? No. This state's biggest problem is that we just don't have enough armed second graders roaming the woods." Gunderson, who is also the owner of "Gunderson's Liquor and Sport" (I shit you not), has proposed a bill that would lower the legal hunting age in Wisconsin from 12 years old to 8.

Said Gunderson:

"It's important to get kids involved in hunting at a younger age. If they are not engaged in hunting by 12 or 13, they probably won't be."

Um, so what? Some don't think this is a good idea.

But the idea of a lower hunting age horrifies Joe Slattery, whose 14-year-old son was accidentally shot and killed by a 12-year-old while deer hunting in Marinette County last year.

"This is a child safety issue," Slattery said. "Eight-year-olds don't have the coordination or attention span or physical ability to handle a gun. They are learning cursive writing and some of them believe in Santa Claus."

Eight-year-olds are also not supposed to ride bikes with handbreaks since their lack of coordination would make doing so dangerous.

What were you thinking?

Partisan thought is unconscious. The NY Times reports:

Using M.R.I. scanners, neuroscientists have now tracked what happens in the politically partisan brain when it tries to digest damning facts about favored candidates or criticisms of them. The process is almost entirely emotional and unconscious, the researchers report, and there are flares of activity in the brain's pleasure centers when unwelcome information is being rejected.

"Everything we know about cognition suggests that, when faced with a contradiction, we use the rational regions of our brain to think about it, but that was not the case here," said Dr. Drew Westen, a psychologist at Emory and lead author of the study, to be presented Saturday at meetings of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in Palm Springs, Calif.

I'm not surprised a bit.

Hat tip Arnold Kling.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Sometimes you just can't win

Marginal Revolution, with a bit of the old irony.

Kobe: The Breakdown

I took some heat for not being impressed with Mamba the rapist's gaudy point total, but I think that Slate's Tommy Craggs agrees. He broke down the game film:

2:23:48: On his way to the locker room, Bryant informs the courtside reporter that "what really matters" is "getting out of here with a 'W.'

Heh. I stand by my general blah-ness on the subject. The fact of the matter is that any moderately talented NBA scorer can put up 80 on any given night if he takes enough shots.

If there is anyone that is truly qualified to give advice about sex...

it's this 70-year-old virgin male wearing a dress.

"Pope Benedict XVI warned in his first encyclical Wednesday that sex without unconditional love risked turning men and women into merchandise.

In the 71-page document "God is Love," Benedict explored the relationship between the erotic love between man and woman, referred to by the term "eros," and the Greek word for the unconditional, self- giving love, "agape" (pronounced AH-gah-pay).

He said the two concepts are most unified in marriage between man and woman, in which a covetous love grows into the self-giving love of the other, as well as God's unconditional love for mankind."

The pope went on to discuss his pick for the superbowl, what the best tasting beer is, and the basics of string theory. Seriously, who listens to this guy?

Pamela Anderson loses battle of the busts...

To Colonel Sanders. Yeah, I was thinking something else too. The Baywatch bimbo/PETA spokesretard has lost her bid to have a bust of the Kentucky Fried Chicken mogel removed from the state's capital.

Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher has let Pamela Anderson know that a bust of KFC founder Colonel Sanders will stay in the Kentucky Capitol, despite her claim that Sanders is a symbol of cruelty to chickens.

Cruelty to chickens? They're chickens!!!

"Colonel Sanders remains a Kentucky icon," Fletcher, a Republican, wrote last week. "His business and his legacy have been good for Kentucky."

He's right. Quick... name something good about Kentucky besides chicken. Couldn't do it, could you?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Three-Point Line and Gun Control.

Since the addition of the three-point line, scoring has consistently declined in the NBA. There are multiple culprits for this (better defense, permissive officiating), but it is very likely that the three-point line has something to do with it. And Antoine Walker. Let's not forget him.

The biggest problem is that most NBA players aren't very good three-point shooters. (At least, they're not good enough for the extra point to compensate for the corresponding decrease in shooting percentage). Unfortunately, even bad three-point shooters often enjoy hoisting them up anyway.

If your goal in the NBA is to increase scoring, then the three-point line is in exactly the wrong place. If you moved it in a foot or two, three-point percentages would soar and scoring would increase dramatically. Moreover, scoring would also increase if you removed the three-point line entirely, as the high percentage two-point jumper would come back into vogue.

If you like scoring, either way is better than the current way.

This is where America stands with guns.

Conservative want more guns, of course. That's because they tend to hang out with other conservatives, and they all have guns, and no one wants to be unarmed around a bunch of armed conservatives. They're especially in favor of "concealed carry" laws, which they claim will deter and prevent crime. There is evidence to back these assertions. Areas that allow citizens to carry concealed weapons do tend to have lower crime rates than other, similar American cities.

Lefties, on the other hand, would like to see a substantial decrease in the number of guns. This is likely due to the roving bands of armed conservatives mentioned in the preceding paragraph. Some lefties would prefer an outright ban. While this would be grossly unconstitutional, they can point to the fact that most civilized nations do have substantial restrictions on firearm ownership, and they do enjoy extremely low crime rates.

What is clear is that our current position is incredibly stupid.

My gut reaction is that a decrease in guns is probably the more effective way to go. (Calm down fellow libertarians. I'm not finished yet.) However, just because something is effective doesn't make it right. The Second Amendment is quite clear. You can own guns in this country. Period. And in the context of the history of America, it makes a great deal of sense.

I don't have a great policy prescription for guns in America, but what I do know is that almost any change is superior to the status quo. Moreover, as this is an issue that lends itself especially well to partisan bickering, the status quo is all but assured.

However, the NBA does not have warring factions that get into overly emotional arguments about the right to shoot close three-pointers versus the traditional non-three-point open court, which makes the status quo in the NBA truly stupid.

Tyler Durden works at a movie theatre in Bangladesh

I am Jack's plan to get people into the theatres of Bangladesh.

Light Blogging

It's going to be a very busy week for me, so blogging (on my part) will probably be light-ish.

Fortunately there's two of us.

Do as the MPAA says, not as the MPAA does.

The Motion Picture Association of America makes it very clear that:

"Piracy is a serious federal offense. There are several forms of piracy including Internet piracy, DVD copying, illegal sales and theatrical camcording. ALL forms of piracy are illegal and carry serious legal consequences... ...Manufacturing, selling, distributing or making copies of motion pictures without the consent of the copyright owner is illegal."

So what happens when it is the MPAA accused of piracy?

"The Motion Picture Assn. of America, the leader in the global fight against movie piracy, is being accused of unlawfully making a bootleg copy of a documentary that takes a critical look at the MPAA's film ratings system.The MPAA admitted Monday that it had duplicated 'This Film Is Not Yet Rated' without the filmmaker's permission after director Kirby Dick submitted his movie in November for an MPAA rating. The Hollywood trade organization said that it did not break copyright law, insisting that the dispute is part of a Dick-orchestrated 'publicity stunt' to boost the film's profile."

Maybe it was a publicity stunt, but I heard that ALL forms of piracy are illegal whether or not the accusation of piracy is a publicity stunt.

As a side note, I just got back from Thailand. When I was there I had the opportunity to meet with several judges at various levels of the Thai judicial system. The Chief Justice of the intellectual property court told us where to get the good knockoffs. Who would know better?

Defining "Hate Crimes"

Owen at Boots and Sabers makes an excellent point about "hate crimes" in the context of Wisconsin politics. Two UW students were showing two out-of-town guests just how liberal Madison is (and it it pretty frickin liberal) by showing them the door of the LGBT liaison in one of the dorms. The four made some potentially offensive comments and tore down some signs and posters. They are facing felony charges of disorderly conduct and criminal damage to property as hate crimes. If convicted they could each face up to three years in prison and $20,000 in fines. Meanwhile in Milwaukee four men accused of slashing tires to curb the Republican "get-out-the-vote" effort accepted a plea bargain in which prosecutors would recommend probation. Granted, the four tire-slashers initially faced charges with similar maximum penalties to the poster-rippers. I suppose it is possible that a similar plea will be reached in this case. But my question is why isn't it a "hate crime" to vandalize because you hate Republicans just as it is when you vandalize because you hate gays?

(Full disclosure: I don't hate gays as a group at all. Not one iota. And I do kinda hate Republicans. At least in their current manifestation. So my take on this should count for something, right?)

Monday, January 23, 2006

They don't just speak for London

But for all riders of public transit.

I'm sure that New Yorkers can really relate.

I'm Impressed/Unimpressed

I'm unimpressed with Kobe Bryant's 81 points.

However, I am impressed that Kobe Bryant managed to maintain such a high shooting percentage while scoring 81 points.

If you take a lot of shots, you will score a lot of points. Scoring points in the NBA isn't that impressive, and if someone wanted to break Wilt's record, they probably could. I wouldn't be shocked at all if Mamba pulls it off this year. But making yourself the lone offensive threat, and still scoring at will, that's impressive.

Potential Onion headline:

Antoine Walker scores 100 points in a game! (On 300 shots.)

I am impressed with Pittsburgh.

A great team peaking at the right time. I'm not making them my official pick (yet) but they certainly look like they're championship caliber.

I am unimpressed with the Badgers in general.

Bleh. Ughh.

I am impressed with Marquette.

A nice win over Notre Dame, and another great game from Steve Novak.

I am unimpressed with these activists, as they are jackasses.

I don't like Zima or "Mike's Hard Sunny Delight" any more than you do, but a few years ago the big American breweries all decided that there was a large market for beer that didn't taste like beer, and with all of our modern scientific advances, we can now make beer that doesn't taste like beer without much difficulty (and frankly, it's developments like this that make me understand the Luddite position).

There are a few folks out there who think that cherry flavored beer appeals to teenagers. They seek to make these beverages unprofitable by forcing the state to classify the beverage as liquor instead of beer.

We all know that these affronts against nature actually appeal to women, specifically, women in sororities (who are over 21, of course), and that teenagers will not, in fact, drink this crap. Why?

1. Teenagers are fairly reliant on "older brothers," to get their booze, and "older brothers" will not buy Zima, or "Mike's Hard Ecto Cooler" under any circumstances.

2. Teenagers are also reliant on the "fake I.D." If you are using a fake I.D., the best way to tip off the retailer is to purchase Zima.

3. Teenagers are more prone to be influenced by peer pressure, and more likely to dish it out. No one wants to get to school on Monday to find that they've acquired the nickname of zteven, or Pema, or Mike's Hard "x", where x is overtly offensive to homosexuals.

Some people have too much time on their hands.

Hat tip to Reason's Jacob Sollum, who addressed the idiotic point that some parents may not be able to tell these beverages from Snapple:

Even if parents are too stupid to realize that products with names like Mike's Hard Lemonade, Bacardi Silver, and Jack Daniel's Country Cocktails might contain alcohol--despite hints such as "5.2% ALC/VOL" and the surgeon general's warning--they probably will realize their error pretty quickly, once their youngsters start stumbling around, slurring their words, and crashing their tricycles.

I'm unimpressed with this, but I am also unsurprised.

I'm impressed with this post by Allison Christians, guestblogging at the Conglomerate.

It has caused me to rethink the merits of any government sponsored savings account.

I am impressed, and grossed out, by this:

Toxoplasma gondii is a favorite parasite of evolutionary biologists because it has an incredible property. The parasite lives in the guts of cats where it sheds eggs in cat feces that are often eaten by rats. Now how to get back from the rat to the cat? Amazingly, Toxoplasma gondii infects the brains of rats making them change their behavior in a subtle way that increases the genetic fitness of the parasite. Toxoplasma makes the infected rats less scared of cats and so more likely to be eaten!

Read the whole thing for the surprise ending.

I am unimpressed with the Buffalo Bills.

Really? Dick Jauron?

Finally, I am impressed with Our School by Joanne Jacobs, the story of the first years of Downtown College Prep, a charter school in San Jose California aimed at educating underachieving kids, and making college a reality.

Most of their students do not speak English, and their average student enters 9th grade with 5th grade reading and math skills.

There is no magic bullet here, a point that I think is lost on many critics of education in America. The teachers at DCP work their kids hard. They drill them to death, they focus on the fundamentals, and they always assign homework, every day. They also require that parents sign homework logs, and they call parents for even minor offenses. They are also perfectly willing to expel students for bad behavior.

However, they do have some amazing success stories. The book is an excellent reality check, but it is also inspirational. Most of the kids at DCP probably would have failed miserably in any other environment, but with DCP's help, most of them manage to turn their lives around.

It is an excellent story, and an excellent book.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Badgers are going to lose at home to North Dakota State

Not in hockey. In basketball. This is one of the most frustrating games that I've ever listened to. If a comeback was not out of the question at this point, I would have turned it off already. Terrible game from Alando Tucker, who can't find his shot, and can't stop anyone on defense.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Cuba Can Play

The US will allow Cuba to participate in the World Baseball Classic:

When the World Baseball Classic first sought a license for Cuba, the Treasury Department denied it because the Cubans would have made American dollars. That would have violated the United States' trade embargo against Cuba.

The tournament organizers submitted a second license request on Dec. 22 and eliminated any possibility that the Cubans would earn money. Paul Archey, baseball's senior vice president for international matters, and Doyle Pryor, a union lawyer, met with Cuban officials last week to gather information that had been requested by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, a division of the Treasury Department.

I hate Castro, but I'm against the embargo, and I'm glad to see the Cubans participate. Hopefully some of them will defect.

NFL Playoff Preview

I have no idea. None. All of my theories blew up in may face, and now we're left with a group of teams that have good defenses, pretty good QBs, and one outstanding receiver each (Darrell Jackson, Rod Smith, Hines Ward, and Steve Smith).

I still think that Denver will win the AFC, but I'm starting to get a bit nervous about that. Ben Roethlisberger appears to be completely healthy, and when he's healthy, they look like the team that went 15-1 last season.

On the other hand, it's not like Denver is some pretender either. They play solid defense, they can adapt to any running style that happens to be working, and they get to play at home.

I think they're evenly matched. So I'll go with the home team. As for the spread (Denver -3) you're on your own. I wouldn't either of these games with a ten foot poll.

As confused as I am about the AFC game, I'm ten times as confused about Carolina. I know Steve Smith is great. I understand that. But he's just one guy, and he's a receiver. Can't someone stop him? Besides the Packers?

Carolina has looked great, it just seems like someone will eventually figure them out. Will it be Seattle? Maybe Mike Holmgren, checking in on his old team, saw the Packers shut down Smith and he'll copy the strategy.

I'm going to go with Seattle for one reason. This year, Matt Hasselbeck threw 24 TDs and 9 picks. Jake Delhomme threw 24 TDs and 16 picks. Turnovers are usually the determining factor in any game, and Carolina is more likely to commit a turnover.

This is a tough week to predict, but I'm looking forward to it. I think that just about anything could happen.

Fun Friday

Conan O'Brien visits a group that plays old-timey baseball using the rules from the year 1864. Eventually, he dons a large, old-timey mustache and takes the mound.

Hilarity ensues.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Worst Moment Ever In "Saved By The Bell"

Inspired by this post, I must mention the worst moment ever in the history of Saved By The Bell. It takes place while the kids are working at Malibu Sands, during a big volleyball match.

The crew is taking on their rivals from North Beach, and every year, Mr. Carosi makes a wager on the game with the owner of North Beach even though he always loses. Zach guarantees victory is Mr. Carosi will cut Zach a sweet deal on his car. The staff will be fired if they lose, but they are confident because Kelly is implausibly the captain of the Bayside High Volleyball Team.

At some point, two guys from North Beach wander over to talk a little trash and to play some 2 on 6 with the crew. To start the game, one of the North-Beachers serves a sky ball--he hits the ball as high as he can, underhanded. For comical effect, the ball lands directly on Screech's head.

When we finally get to the big game, the gang has gone through your prototypical 80s training montage so that they're all studs (except Screech, who just gets lucky a few times).

The match is close throughout, as the teams trade points. Finally, in the last game of the match with Malibu Sands up 14-13 (I think, I could be wrong about this), an utterly implausible piece of video editing occurs that not even my vastly increased "Saved By The Bell" level of "willing suspension of disbelief" could tolerate.

Zach hits a fairly strong overhand serve to the back row of the North Beach side. At this point, the creators of the show decided to splice in the earlier scene of the North Beach guy's sky-ball serve. In other words, they imply that the highly skilled North Beach player chose to return Zach's decent-but-not-overpowering serve not with a traditional bump (on game point, mind you), but by hitting it with one arm, underhanded, as hard as he can, straight up.

This edit doesn't even look good. It's very, very obvious that they were just recycling footage, and if you look closely, you can see that the North Beach player is standing out of bounds when he hits the ball, implying that had he simply let the ball go, they would have won a side-out.

But it doesn't stop there. Oh no. The sky-ball ends up dropping just barely over the net on the Malibu Sands side, where Zach has run all the way from the back row, in front of Slater, to hit the winning spike. That Zach is a ball hog and a glory hog isn't that surprising, it's just that Slater doesn't even try, like he expects Zach to come up from the back row. I expect more from Mario Lopez.

Just an awful sequence of events. It completely destroyed my SBTB filter.

I realize that its tough to pull off sports in cheap sit-coms. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air set TV basketball back 50 years. But why was this necessary? Was it that hard to script out a dramatic final point? Could the actors just not put three hits together? How about finishing with a block instead? It's easy to film a block.

The Malibu Sands episodes are legendary for going over the top even by SBTB standards. From the big ATV race (we couldn't just settle for a big volleyball match, we had to have this too), to Slater rescuing a princess from drowning, to the hilarious ceremony (which included candles and a gong) organized by Mr. Carosi for Stacey's pompous East Coast boyfriend to give her his frat pin, the plots at Malibu Sands are more over the top than the worst soap opera, and less plausible than Gabrielle Carteris as a high school student.

Saved By The Bell reached its apex with Jesse's drug addiction, but this is where it hit rock bottom.

Bait and Switch

All of those "Unrated" versions of movies that you can buy on DVD are rip-offs. Josh Levin did the dirty work:

Public servant that I am, I took it upon myself to help today's adolescents separate the scammers from the flashers. An exhaustive Slate investigation of 15 unrated sex comedies has revealed that unrated does not necessarily equal boobs. All an "unrated" sticker really means is that some of the "totally out of control" new scenes you've been promised were not submitted for the MPAA's approval. That extra footage could be eight minutes of cheerleaders taking showers; it could be two seconds of animated bunnies sniffing tulips. As long as the material was not submitted, it's "unrated."

Antonio Davis

As luck would have it, I was in attendance last night at the United Center when Antonio Davis rushed into the stands to protect his wife.

Believe it or not, this is the second time that I've been at a game where a player was ejected for leaving the courtside area. The first was Derrick Coleman, who left the court during a break at a Bucks playoff game and never came back. He didn't go to the locker room, he was just out wandering around.

Unfortunately, I was about 3.5 miles away from the action, and I was more concerned with the prospect of the Bulls scoring over 100 points so that I could get a free Big Mac, so I didn't notice much. I'm pretty sure that this is the general consensus of the fans in attendance. Unless you were in the vicinity it just wasn't a big deal. (They had the Kiss Kam going at the time. Always a good distraction. Especially when they focus on two people who are clearly not an item and they are forced to make a snap decision.) Davis didn't make a crazy dash into the stands like Artest, he just waited for a break, and calmly went to check on his wife.

Should he be suspended? I would say no, as I don't believe that there was any chance of a riot given how he left the court. I'm actually shocked that the media is making such a big deal about this. If you were there it was boring.

It was a good game though, as Ben Gordon won it with a last second jumper in overtime.

Plus, free Big Macs.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

In the wake of Kelo...

You better start producing some tax revenue:

By pure coincidence, the new strip mall just has to go exactly where the church is located, rather than, say, on the site a nearby McDonald's and muffler shop. Tom has the maps--it looks like the church is right in between the McDonald's and the muffler shop.

I suspect this won't be the last we hear of churches in the crosshairs of governments taking land and giving it to commercial developers. Small, minority, poor, and unpopular religions and charities would seem to be especially vulnerable to the wrecking ball.

Shrimp Slap

The Slate has an interesting article on America's favorite seafood (based on consumption), shrimp:

That began to change during the Reagan years, as seafood technologists figured out how to hatch shrimp eggs under controlled conditions, then nurse them through the post-larvae stage. Viruses, the bane of shrimp aquaculture, were brought under control thanks to more sophisticated filtration and purification systems. Given the high market prices for shrimp, millions of acres of land—particularly mangrove forests—in Asia and Latin America were cleared to create shrimp ponds, where juvenile shrimp are released and grown to a salable size.

Buyers in the United States liked the farmed shrimp not only because it was cheaper than the wild version, but because it was available year-round. Plus, the shrimp could be grown to consistent sizes, which made for pleasingly uniform dinner-plate presentations.

Mid- and low-priced restaurants—like, say, Sizzler—that could never before have offered affordable shrimp began to advertise all-you-can-eat specials, often in combination with scrawny steaks. Superstores began to stock bags of frozen, precooked shrimp in their grocery aisles, allowing party hosts to offer platters of shrimp at their in-home shindigs. The real watershed, however, came in 1985, when the fast-food chain Popeyes introduced Cajun Popcorn Shrimp, a deep-fried dish meant to compete with McDonald's Chicken McNuggets. Suddenly, shrimp was an everyday food, rather than a special treat.

The entire piece is worth perusing, and can be found here.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Fun Fact Of The Day

From my wife, the classicist:

Romans flipped people off as early as 100 A.D.

Juvenal mentions the philosopher Democritus flipping off the goddess Fortuna.
(Sat. 10)

Source: Juvenal's Satires

Time Running Out On The Mark Belling Bobblehead Auction!

Less than a day to go!

I'd also like to point out, and take credit for the fact that a mini Belling industry has popped up on E-bay. But remember, just because that other bobblehead is slightly cheaper right now is no guaranty that it will be when the auction ends. Some bidders will hold out, and because there will likely not be an alternative when his auction ends, the price of his bobblehead may be even higher. (It will be "scarcer" than my bobblehead, unless there is a new entry.)

When some economists and politicians talk about higher oil prices, they often mention that high prices will spur further investment into energy production that was previously prohibitively expensive. This bobblehead phenomenon is a perfect example.

The market for MB bobbleheads was uncertain until I listed mine. When Spivak, Bice, and Mark all mentioned the auction they caused a shock that greatly increased the price of this resource, and that shock has now spurred 3 entrepreneurs into entering the market.

Capitalism rules.

Unless you happen to be me.

It was better for me when I had a monopoly.

My Two Favorite Paul Krugman Quotes

Paul used to make some pretty profound points, back in the good old days.

In 1993, child workers in Bangladesh were found to be producing clothing for Wal-Mart and Senator Tom Harkin proposed legislation banning imports from countries employing underage workers. The direct result was that Bangladeshi textile factories stopped employing children. But did the children go back to school? Did they return to happy homes? Not according to Oxfam, which found that the displaced child workers ended up in even worse jobs, or on the streets--and that a significant number were forced into prostitution.

That is from a column entitled Hearts and Heads, from the New York Times, April 22, 2001. The following is from the same column.

If you buy a product made in a third-world country, it was produced by workers who were paid incredibly little by Western standards and probably work under awful conditions. Anyone who is not bothered by those facts, at least some of the time, has no heart. But that doesn't mean the demonstrators are right. On the contrary, anyone who thinks that the answer to world poverty is simple outrage against global trade has no head--or chooses not to use it. The anti-globalization movement already has a remarkable track record of hurting the very people and causes it claims to champion.

Both quotes appear in Naked Economics, by Charles Wheelan, which I just completed. If you enjoy a good pop-econ book, this is an excellent choice. Some of it will be familiar; it gets very basic at times. However, part of its beauty is that Wheelan's examples are simple and memorable, and I have no doubt that I will make frequent use of this book in future arguments/discussions.

If you happen to live in Chicago, it is an especially fun read, as many of his examples and anecdotes either take place in Chicago, or use the city as a backdrop.

Ace Is Back

and he's given the gift that keeps on giving: A video of William Shatner singing.


If you are a Packer fan, this is a disaster.

Jim Bates was one of the most important people in the organization, and there is little chance that they will be able to hire anyone who is even remotely in the same ballpark.

I'm liking the new guy less and less.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Happy Martin Luther King Day

Here is King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail:

Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."

Reason has more including a link to this eye-opening L.A. Times op-ed:

Ed Brayton has a nice tribute, including a link to a video of the "I Have a Dream" speech.

One of my favorite MLK tributes was written by Christine Hurt last year:

If you want a reminder of how far our society has come in the last 40 years, try explaining the impact of Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement to a 5 1/2 year-old. As I explained to Carter how, in the year that my sister was born, she could not have taken swimming lessons with her friend Cassidy, or gone to the same school as her friend Cade, she looked at me and said, "You're joking." When I went on to explain to her segregated bathrooms, segregated water fountains, and struggles to vote, she was completely taken aback. I will be the first to admit that we do not live in a color-blind society, but my daughter's incredulousness at daily life in 1964 has to be a sign of progress.

Update: You can listen to U2's excellent album, The Unforgettable Fire, here.

What does this say about the rest of the country?

Men's Health has released its list of the 25 fittest and 25 fattest cities in America. When I first read the two lists I thought they had mistakenly switched the fittest with the fattest. But I was wrong. They actually found that Milwaukee is the fifth fittest city in America.

The Bears and the Colts

Rarely am I so happy to be wrong about a prediction. I'm still fairly shocked at the ineptitude of the Chicago defense but I think that I figured out the biggest factors in the game.

1. The Packers best CB is Al Harris, by far. Back in week 4, Al managed to hold Steve Smith to 2 catches for 12 yards. Smith was not injured, and the previous week he lit up Miami for 170 yards and 3 TDs. The week after the Packer game he dropped 119 and two scores on the Cardinals.

The best corner on the Bears is Pro Bowler Nathan Vasher. I fully expected Vasher to be on Smith for most of the game, but time after time, Charles Tillman ended up across the ball from the best receiver in football. I have no idea how they allowed this to happen.

2. Mike Brown's injury.

If Brown is healthy, he may cover for some of Tillman's ineptitude.

3. The field.

Smith's touchdowns both occurred when Tillman fell down. When the field is slippery it favors the offense, because offensive players know where they are going. Defensive players, who are just reacting, are more likely to fall, and they did. I mentioned in my predictions that bad weather had been an enemy of the Bears this year, and although Sunday was a beautiful day, the field may as well have been covered with ice.

4. Brad Maynard.

I haven't looked at punting stats this year, but I think of Maynard as being an elite punter. His performance on Sunday was atrocious, and he consistently put his defense in a terrible spot.

5. The Blitz.

Carolina looked great in picking up the blitz, and the Bears paid for it much more often than they benefited.

I was already impressed with Steve Smith before this game, but now I can't imagine anyone (other than Al Harris) shutting him down. Seattle will have their hands full.

As for the Colts, it's not as if I was brimming with confidence on this prediction, and with good reason. Chalk up another victory for my theory:

I have this theory that in the playoffs, refs let defenses beat up receivers and therefore, Indy is doomed...

I was just a week early.

Finally, Jeff Triplette (and crew), the NFL's worst official, is at least partly responsible for knocking the Patriots out of the playoffs with his terrible pass interference call on Assante Samuel. He also missed a false start on Denver's last FG of the first half.

If Triplette is calling a game, you can be sure that he will be involved in that game's most important play.

MLB's Latest Mess

CBC Distribution and Marketing, a company that runs baseball fantasy leagues, applies to MLB for a license to use names and statistics, and is denied. What do they do? The sue Major League Baseball, claiming that stats are historical facts, and therefore cannot be protected under copyright law.

Dan Drezner has an excellent collection of related links, including this one:

But IP lawyer Kent Goss is quoted as citing an interesting 2001 case in which MLB themselves claimed that player names and statistics were (as far as I can interpret) both in the public domain and free for others to profit from, and the California Court of Appeal upheld MLB's right to use the names and stats of historical players. "A group of former players sued MLB for printing their names and stats in game programs, claiming their rights to publicity were violated," Goss said. "But the court held that they were historical facts, part of baseball history, and MLB had a right to use them. Gionfriddo v. Major League Baseball, 94 Cal. App. 4th 400 (2001)."

Legal questions aside, why would baseball make it so difficult for fantasy league operators? Is it the Pete Rose generated fear of gambling? They should take a note from the NFL and realize that having widespread fantasy leagues is definitely in their best interest.

Public Education

Meanwhile, American public education operates a lot more like North Korea than Silicon Valley. I will not wade into the school voucher debate, but I will discuss one striking phenomenon related to incentives in education that I have written about for The Economist. The pay of American teachers is not linked in any way to performance; teachers' unions have consistently opposed any kind of merit pay. Instead, salaries in nearly every public school district in the country are determined by a rigid formula based on experience and years of schooling, factors that researchers have found to be generally unrelated to performance in their classroom. This uniform pay scale creates a set of incentives that economists refer to as adverse selection. Since the most talented teachers are also likely to be good at other professions, they have a strong incentive to leave education for jobs in which pay is more closely linked to productivity. For the least talented, the incentives are just the opposite.

The theory is interesting; the data are amazing. When test scores are used as a proxy for ability, the brightest individuals shun the teaching profession at every juncture. The brightest students are the least likely to choose education as a college major. Among students who do major in education, those with higher test scores are less likely to become teachers. And among individuals who enter teaching, those with the highest test scores are the most likely to leave the profession early. None of this proves that America's teachers are being paid enough. Many of them are not, especially those gifted individuals who stay in the profession because they love it. But the general problem remains: Any system that pays all teachers the same provides a strong incentive for the most talented among them to look for work elsewhere.

That is from Charles Wheelan's Naked Economics, which is proving to be an excellent read.

Friday, January 13, 2006

News of the Weird

at Data Janitor.

Stupid-Ass Laws

Radley Balko is doing a state by state survey of recently enacted and recently proposed laws. He starts in New Hampshire (Live Free or Die!):

Remote control toy boats may soon be required to obey the same speed limits as lifesize watercraft. Bonus points to the lawmaker who introduced this one for invoking "the children" in urging its enactment

Rep. Peter Schmidt of Dover proposes that New Hampshire set clocks ahead by two hours for daylight savings time instead of just one.

There's more here.

Fun Friday

I may be busy for the rest of today, but I would never leave you hanging on Friday.

Here's "Live Action Punch-Out!" It's as cool as it sounds.


to James, Fred, Patrick and Steve for keeping the buzz alive.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Spivak, Bice, and Belling

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel columnists Spivak and Bice have noticed that I'm selling my Mark Belling Bobblehead Doll. (Many thanks for the link, by the way.)

They seem poised to pounce if Mark's price stays low. I am, of course, hoping that that doesn't happen.

You can place your bids here.

Update: As I write this, Mark Belling is actually talking about the fact that I am selling my bobblehead on E-bay while he picks a fight with Spivak and Bice.

I would just like to thank all of them for bringing more attention to this auction, and encourage them to keep this little scuffle going for as long as possible.

Wine Wars Update

Apparently Illinois is going to pass a new law that enshrines wine distributor monopolies. From Todd Zywicki:

A bill in Springfield, backed by a major distributors' group, would restrict Illinois wineries' right to sell wine over the Internet, through the mail or by telephone. Distributors say the bill is necessary in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year -- and to prevent sales to minors. But Illinois wine-makers say distributors are trying to choke competition.

"It would be a disaster for the Illinois wineries," said Fred Koehler, president of Lynfred Winery in Roselle. "It's like Goliath against these little farm wineries that are trying to survive."

Associated Beer Distributors of Illinois, a Springfield-based industry group, pushed the legislation, introduced in the House and Senate earlier this month. ABDI Executive Vice President Bill Olson said the state's wineries have used a loophole to escape regulation. The wine bill "hits a middle ground," Olson said.

The argument that restricting internet wine sales somehow prevents underage drinking is and has always been completely asinine. This is protectionism, pure and simple.

For more on Wisconsin's Beer Wars, click here, here, and here.

Scott Adams is in rare form

First on the devil:

According to MSNBC, about 50 people died in Saudi Arabia during the annual ritual of throwing stones at the devil. Apparently a stampede broke out when somebody tripped on luggage. That sounds like a poorly conceived punch line, but it actually happened. And it isn’t the first time. In 1990, 1,426 people died in a stampede while throwing stones at the very same devil. (No word as to whether luggage was involved.) And in 2004, the devil killed another 244 stone-throwers the same way. By my count, the score is Devil 1,720 and Believers 0.

And then on tradition:

Have you ever wondered why some people brag about their “traditional” values when they obviously mean “superior”? It’s because “traditional” is a more flexible word. It implies an inherent goodness without the need to defend the details. I plan to start using “traditional” as my adjective of choice in all sorts of contexts.

Parent: “Here’s a picture of my family.”

Me: “That’s one traditional looking family!”

NFL Playoff Preview

As I write this, I am listening to America's worst sports radio talk show host, Erik Kuselias. He's subbing for Dan Patrick this afternoon. While Dan can be a bit banal, repetitive, boring, and has a remarkable ability to never express an actual opinion, he is at least the functional equivalent of background music. It's nice to put him on my headphones because he is in no way distracting.

Kuselias, on the other hand, is loud, obnoxious, and almost every opinion that he expresses is wrong. He also inexplicably hates Chicago.

I think that a lot of fans across the country think that some major media figure hates their team, and that most of these fans are just imagining it. People like to feel like underdogs, as if everyone is against them.

But Kuselias really does hate Chicago sports. How do I know?

1. I also hate Chicago sports teams. I am a Packer fan. Should (God forbid) the Bears win the Super Bowl, my life will be miserable for at least a month.

2. Even though I hate Chicago sports teams due to the natural rivalry between Wisconsin and Chicago (Note: Some may take issue with my comparing of a city to a state, but this is entirely accurate. Wisconsin fandom (especially Packer fandom) is a statewide phenomenon. As far as southern Illinois is concerned, however, it may as well be a different state.) I am more fair in my treatment of Chicago sports than is Kuselias.

He just stated that he thought that there are 5 teams capable of winning the Super Bowl, and the Bears were not among them. The Panthers, on the other hand, were. I have seen both teams play, and there is no possible way that anyone can believe that the Panthers have any shot at the Super Bowl. Their defense is OK, but last weekend it looked to me like the Giants just fell apart. The Panthers are OK, not great. The have one good WR, an average and turnover prone QB, and a RB who can look great, but who disappears for long stretches. The Bears can and will shut all of this down.

The Bear defense is much, much better than the Carolina defense. It just is. Sure they don't have much of an offense, but it's not as anemic as people make it out to be. It was, when Kyle Orton was still at the helm, but just the threat of a pass opens things up for Thomas Jones, who played a truly heroic season as the team's only offensive threat.

When you look up and down the Bears season it looks like a few people managed to put up some points on them, but if you look at the stats, it's just not true. The Bengals put up 24 on them because Orton threw 5 interceptions. 5! Bobby Wade also lost a fumble in that game, and the Bengals only scored 24.

Cleveland put up 20 in a game that saw Orton, Mark Bradley, and Cedric Benson all lose fumbles, and in which Cleveland staged a freakish rally in the last 3 minutes after the Bear defense had spent basically the whole game on the field.

Only Pitt managed to mount an offense without the help of the Chicago offense, and they were aided by a blizzard that basically neutralized speed on defense.

Take out those games, and the Bear defense gave up the following: 9, 6, 3, 6, 13, 17, 9 (in the Wind Bowl), 3, 10, 7, 3, and 17. That's it. They never gave up over 17 points unless their offense suffered around 6 turnovers. (I'm not counting their week 17 loss to the Vikings in which they rested their starters.) The defense basically didn't have any let-downs.

The Panthers gave up 27 to Miami. They gave up 29 to a truly sorry Green Bay team. They gave up 24 to the Cowboys. They gave up 23 to the Saints. Did they shut some teams down? Sure. But the Bears shut everyone down.

I hope that the Panthers win, but I don't see it. They do have one thing in their favor.

It's nearly 60 degrees right now in Chicago, and it may not be that cold this weekend (the forecast right now is for temps in the low 40s). But the thing is, it hasn't really mattered for the Bears this year. In fact, weather actually hurt them on at least two occasions (against Pitt and Washington), although it did lead directly to their win over San Francisco.

Kuselias spent all summer ripping the White Sox, and transitioned effortlessly into football season. If the Bears do go on to win the Super Bowl, I' blaming him.

When you are looking for potential champions, you should look for the teams that are the best at something. The Bears have the best defense in football and they are definitely a threat. I think that they roll over Carolina on Sunday and Delhomme throws at least 2 picks.

Washington would normally be a bad matchup for Seattle, sporting a great defense in its own right, but they're beat up, they have to fly across the country, and Seattle is good enough to take advantage of the situation. Brunell looks like the Brunell of last year, and if the Redskins can't pass, they are not going to win. A Seattle/Chicago matchup appears imminent, which is good, because Seattle has the best chance to stop the Bears.

What about the AFC? I'm very tempted to pick against Indy, but I'm also smart enough not to. I have this theory that in the playoffs, refs let defenses beat up receivers and therefore, Indy is doomed, but they won't be doomed until next weekend. Pitt has a chance. They seem to be putting it together at just the right time, and I don't expect a repeat of the last matchup where Big Ben was just returning from injury, but Indy is going to be tough for any team, and with a bye, Pitt probably doesn't have enough.

Denver is going to beat New England. I know that the New Enlgand story is nice, but they don't quite have it anymore. Denver has improved just enough and New England has declined just enough that Denver is finally going to get over the hump. They're better on defense and they can grind it out. Usually, that is the Patriots model for playoff success (people forget how instrumental Antowain Smith and Corey Dillon have been), and now the Broncos are set up better for it.

At the very least, the games should be better this weekend. There were some real Turd Fergusons last weekend and it can only improve.

Finally, I would like to mention that it is sort of nice to have a hated rival. Normally, when you're team fails to make the playoffs your interest declines significantly, but since I really want the Bears to lose I actually have something to watch. Here's hoping that the Panthers prove me wrong.

More on McCarthy

From Michael David Smith, who e-mailed the following:

I think the biggest misconception about him is that he's a West Coast Offense type of guy. In reality, he got his start in the NFL as an assistant to Marty Schottenheimer in Kansas City and was there for the first six years of his NFL career. Before that he was an assistant to Paul Hackett at the University of Pittsburgh. The year he spent in Green Bay was the year Ray Rhodes was head coach, not exactly a high point of recent Packers history. I have no idea what his relationship with Favre is like, but it would be stupid for the Packers to make that a consideration.

I'm not exactly brimming with confidence right now.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The New Packer Head Coach Is...

San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy.

I don't know a thing about the guy.

(Hat tip, Patrick at the SportsBar)

I am selling my Mark Belling Bobblehead Doll

on eBay. Attention all of you Wisconsin conservatives! Show Mark what he's worth.

Or, if you're of the liberal persuasion, he'll make an excellent voodoo doll.

Place your bids here.

What Celebrity does Peyton Manning Resemble?

Michael David Smith ran Lovie Smith, Tom Bray, Peyton Manning, and Shaun Alexander through the Face Recognition Program. You can find the results here.

And many thanks for the link.

Althouse on Alito

Ann Althouse's coverage of senate hearings is always amusing.

Meanwhile, Dan Drezner is having a contest.

And don't miss this, from Reason.

The Dumbing Down Of...Religion?

Virginia Postrel is not a fan of the MegaChurch movement:

Throughout American history, Christian (largely Protestant) devotion has stretched people's minds and given them reason to think, if only within a closed system of belief. Religious practice has taught people to read, write, and speak. The rhythms and rhetoric of the Bible have given America its greatest political rhetoric, from Abraham Lincoln's to Martin Luther King's. Today's Christianity produces...George W. Bush.

Megachurch Christianity may hone organizational and business skills, but it isn't teaching believers to think about abstractions or communicate in higher than "everyday" language. No wonder megachurches combine their up-to-date media with fundamentalist doctrine. It fits well on PowerPoint--no paragraphs required. Leaving aside the validity of what they preach, today's most successful evangelicals are spreading pap.

While I'm ranting about the pap-ist threat, I should put in a few words about the mega-bestseller The Purpose-Driven Life. If anyone still used the phrase "begs the question" correctly, I would apply it here. While I'm sure the book inspires some people to more-fulfilling lives, Rick Warren's treatise is offensive in its audacious dodging of even the most sophomoric philosophical questions. (What about Hitler? Ted Bundy?) Just leafing through a few pages in Borders, I lost brain cells. Then I got mad. What a fraud, however honestly intended. Warren is amazingly featured (along with Al "Worst Speaker in the World" Gore) at this year's elite TED conference.

Read the whole thing.

What celebrity do you resemble?

Dan Drezner found this face recognition technology which will tell you which celebrities you most resemble if you upload a photo. (I have not done so yet. Maybe later.)

When Dan ran himself:

Of course, I couldn't resist. After uploading the picture on the front of the web site, here's the list of celebs I was told I resemble:

Matt LeBlanc
Dustin Hoffman
Antonio Banderas
Usama bin Laden
George Clooney
Pierce Brosnan
Jason Biggs
Roberto Rossellini
Hugh Grant
Tom Stoppard

If you've managed to contain yourself to this point, feel free to break out in hysterical laughter now.

Dan also ran several other prominent bloggers, and the results are fairly amusing.

The Hall of Fame

Ahren analyzes the mistakes and the snubs as only he can:

3)blyleven not getting in. just criminal. 4970 IP, with and ERA+ of 113. 5th on the all-time k list. he gets hosed because he played for shitty small-market teams for the majority of his career. try this exercise-- if i'm baseball God and you're a GM and you come to me, and i tell you that you can have 2 of the following 3 pitchers for their entire career:

pitcher A-- 5000 IP, 113 ERA+
pitcher B-- 2000 IP, 126 ERA+
pitcher C-- 1000 IP, 136 ERA+

who would you leave out? i'm guessing you wouldn't even hesitate in leaving out C. obviously A is blyleven, B is gossage, and C is sutter. sutter was a great player and he had a cool beard, but this is a travesty.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

George Will on Ed Schools

George's column is quite good and although it sounds over the top at times:

Many education schools discourage, even disqualify, prospective teachers who lack the correct "disposition," meaning those who do not embrace today's "progressive" political catechism. Karen Siegfried had a 3.75 grade-point average at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, but after voicing conservative views, she was told by her education professors that she lacked the "professional disposition" teachers need. She is now studying to be an aviation technician.

It does square with my brother's experiences:

In a past life I wanted to be a teacher. I majored in education for my first three years of college. I refused to join the student chapter of the Wisconsin education Association as a matter of principle since it supposedly wasn't required for students to join. I was denied admission to UW-Eau Claire's school of education. This was less than a year before I was accepted at 3 (out of 4 that I applied for) top-tier law schools. Being rejected by the school of education was really the best thing that ever happened to me. However, I still hold a great deal of animosity towards the ridiculous state of the educational system here and in the country. It seems clear to me that the powers that be care less about the kids than they do about politics.

Ted Kennedy is a Moron

Perhaps his goal is to make jokes about himself so obvious that no self-respecting comedian can use them. From Jessica McBride:

NEW YORK (AP) — Meet the latest children's author, Sen. Ted Kennedy, and his Portuguese Water Dog, Splash, his co-protagonist in My Senator and Me: A Dogs-Eye View of Washington, D.C. (Emphasis added.)

Are you kidding me? First of all, what normal person (that being someone who has not driven a woman off of the side of a bridge and left her to die) names their dog "Splash?"

It's like he's going out of his way to taunt us.

This may be another I'm Keith Hernandez moment. The other day, at ESPN Page 2, Bill Simmons referred to Reggie Bush's ill-fated lateral as a "Keith Hernandez" moment:

By the way, I was sifting through e-mails at halftime and noticed one from Chicago reader Steve Huffman, who wrote, "It occurred to me immediately that Reggie Bush's ill-fated pitch in the second quarter was an 'I'm Keith Hernandez' moment." An excellent call. It's not like Reggie was forcing a bad play, he was probably just thinking to himself, "Screw it, I'm Reggie Bush ... I won the Heisman and I'm the first pick in the 2006 NFL Draft ... let's see if I can pull this off." Can you blame him?

"Splash" is it. After all, I'm Ted Kennedy.

Update: What Free Speech?

Yesterday I linked to a story that implicated that anonymous, annoying communication on the internet is now a federal crime. At the Volokh Conspiracy today, Orin Kerr points out that this is simply not the case:

Seems pretty broad, doesn't it? Well, there's a hook. It turns out that the statute can only be used when prohibiting the speech would not violate the First Amendment. If speech is protected by the First Amendment, the statute is unconstitutional as applied and the indictment must be dismissed. An example of this is United States v. Popa, 187 F.3d 672 (D.C. Cir. 1999). In Popa, the defendant called the U.S. Attorney for D.C on the telephone several times, and each time would hurl insults at the U.S. Attorney without identifying himself. He was charged under 47 U.S.C. 223(a)(1)(C), and raised a First Amendment defense. Writing for a unanimous panel, Judge Ginsburg reversed the conviction: punishing the speech violated the Supreme Court's First Amendment test in United States v. O'Brien, 391 U.S. 367 (1968), he reasoned, such that the statute was unconstitutional as applied to those facts.

I'm quite sure that this is correct. The only way that this statute could have even been contemplated is if it included a rock solid exception for a First Amendment defense.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Calhoun opts to become the next Terrell Fletcher

Not that there is anything wrong with that, of course. T-Fletch had a fine NFL career when you consider his abilities, and Calhoun will make a very nice third down back. I just wish he would stuck it out for one more year. We have seen the future at RB for Wisconsin (at least some of it) and it looks slow and fumbles frequently. Good luck to Calhoun, I would love to see him succeed.

This was actually the logical thing to do. Calhoun just played a great game on national TV against a great defense, he had a fantastic year, and he's certainly not getting any bigger. This is the time to go.

The Amazing Cancer-Sniffing Dog

At New Scientist:

To test how well the dogs had learned, they used a new batch of samples and had the dogs attempt to distinguish among 55 lung cancer patients, 31 breast cancer patients and 83 healthy controls. The patients had all had their cancers confirmed by biopsy. The tests were double-blind, so neither the dog handlers nor the experimenters knew which tubes were which.

General symptom

The dogs correctly detected 99% of the lung cancer samples, and made a mistake with only 1% of the healthy controls. With breast cancer, they correctly detected 88% of the positive samples, and made a mistake on only 2% of the controls.

The work is convincing, says James C Walker, director of the Florida State University Sensory Research Institute in Tallahassee, US. In 2004 Walker and colleagues showed that dogs could sniff out melanomas. He says that the next step is to see if dogs are really detecting cancer, or if they might be sensing a more general disease symptom, such as one that comes from inflammation.

What Free Speech?

Apparently, several of my friends are going to wind up in the pokey:

It's no joke. Last Thursday, President Bush signed into law a prohibition on posting annoying Web messages or sending annoying e-mail messages without disclosing your true identity.

In other words, it's OK to flame someone on a mailing list or in a blog as long as you do it under your real name. Thank Congress for small favors, I guess.

This ridiculous prohibition, which would likely imperil much of Usenet, is buried in the so-called Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act. Criminal penalties include stiff fines and two years in prison.


(Hat tip, Ace)

Friday, January 06, 2006

Florida School Voucher Program Struck Down

Yesterday, a Florida Supreme Court struck down a Florida voucher program, essentially ruling that the Florida Constitution requires the state to spend money exclusively on public schools.

At Crescat Sententia, Will Baude explains the decision, and the reasons that it is asinine:

Now, to the naive reader of the constitution it might be a mystery how the "paramount duty" to provide "uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality . . . free public schools" forbids the government from also sending some money to follow students to private schools. The Florida Constitution also contains a clause that forbids money from the "state school fund" from being spent on things other than public schools, but the money spent in this program wasn't from the state school fund. The majority commits the usual trick of announcing that a provision has a purpose that justifies creating a new but clearly different provision that resembles the old provision only with a newer, broader swathe.

The creators of this program clearly took great pains to ensure its Constitutionality. The Florida Supreme Court, in this case, did what it so often does; It made up a law. Had the program used money from the state school fund, that would be another story, but that is not the case here.

But don't take my word for it. Read the decision yourself.

Fun Friday: Insane Redskin RB Edition

In today's press conference, Clinton Portis is "Coach Janky Spanky," and he lays out the playoff game plan, including his plan to use 13 players, and Santana Moss at cornerback. He also wears short biker shorts.

Fun Friday, Part 2

Here's a copy of Playboy Magazine, in Braille. Shockingly, the Polish had nothing at all to do with this.

Here are some excerpts:

"Elka leans against a wall, wearing only a carpenter's tool belt. She's hot. Believe me."

"Katsumi arches unnaturally over a coffee table. You can see the whole thing."

"Anja's Mediterranean skin is a warm brown, like the craft paper Playboy you're reading with your finger."

(Hat tip, Marginal Revolution)

Farm Subsidy Fact of the Day

Here's a list of some people who have received farm subsidies:

1. David Rockefeller: $352,187

2. Ted Turner: 176,077

3. Scottie Pippen: 131,575

What would we do without Scottie Pippen's sorghum.

(Taken from pornstachioed libertarian, and 20/20 anchor John Stossel's book, Give Me A Break, page 141.)

Fun Friday: Quote of the Day

So there I was, wondering what sort of things women would look for in a videogame. I sat in cafes and listened to what they were talking about; mostly it was fashion and boyfriends. Neither of those was really the stuff of a good videogame. Then they started talking about food--about cakes and sweets and fruit--and it hit me that food and eating would be the thing to concentrate on to get the girls interested.

That's Toru Iwatani, the creator of Pac-Man, on what inspired him to create the game.

(The quote is from Times Online, and was reprinted on page 95 of the Feb. 2006 version of Electronic Gaming Monthly.)

More on Vouchers...

at Jay Bullock's place. Jay's been keeping me busy in the post underneath this one, and if you want an informed opinion that runs counter to my own, click here, and here.

One point that I never did see addressed is my contention that voucher schools, even given the poor schools that sometimes abuse the voucher program, are obviously more accountable than public schools. If they fail for any length of time, they will close, and if they are run by incompetent crooks, the state will shut them down. Given that there are two separate avenues that can be used to destroy a failing voucher school, and none to destroy a failing public school, how can anyone argue that public schools are more accountable?

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Vouchers and Accountability

Last weekend I saw Milton Friedman on Charlie Rose's show, and they got to talking about school voucher programs. During the course of the interview, Friedman made the following analogy. Imagine that your goal is to feed poor people. Do you create a program that gives vouchers to poor people that can be used on food, like the food stamp program, or do you instead subsidize grocery stores?

Subsidizing grocery stores would be stupid, of course. It is much more effective to subsidize the consumer of the product. If you subsidize the producer, any price decrease that does occur will be spread through the general population, and it is very likely that the poor would never see a penny of that subsidy. The producer can simply keep the subsidy as profit. Democrats generally favor the food stamp program, and while it is not as efficient as it should be, in the grand scheme of government programs, it works pretty well.

Yet, when it comes to schools, Democrats tend to favor subsidizing the producer. When schools fail they call for more funding. This basically amounts to corporate welfare. It is subsidizing the grocery store. It should be natural for Democrats to favor voucher programs, but, as we see on the front page of today's Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, this is not the case. Instead, they have spent all of their efforts into turning Milwaukee's largely successful voucher program into a bureaucratic nightmare. The biggest problem is the artificial cap on the program's enrollment.

The state has placed an artificial limit on the number of total seats in the voucher program, and as a result, all of the charter schools at the beginning of the year have to submit an estimate of their total enrollment. They are then allocated a fraction of that number based on the total number of seats claimed throughout the system. This is asinine:

Here is how the rationing formula proposed by DPI would work: The number of potential voucher students listed in the Feb. 1 applications would be totaled. The cap total (14,500) would then be divided into the total potential seats, yielding a fraction. Every school would then be allotted that fraction of the number of voucher seats it told the DPI it could take.

The applications submitted last Feb. 1 called for 29,266 potential voucher students for this fall. That was roughly twice the actual cap, so if the formula had been applied to the current school year, every school would have been allotted about half of its claimed seats.

One of the great positives of the voucher program (which is often portrayed as a negative) is that lousy schools generally fold up after one year. Some never get going at all. There is one notoriously bad school which I believe was called Alex's Academics of Excellence. This school fueled some Democrats to call for greater accountability among Milwaukee charter schools. What they failed to realize, of course, is that AAE ceased to exist shortly after its reputation started spreading. A comparable public school likely would have been rewarded with thousands of dollars, but they want greater accountability for charter schools. Right.

There are still bad schools in the charter system, of course, but most of them never manage to open, either because they suffer from incompetent management, or because word gets around and parents refuse to enroll their students. This wouldn't be a problem in the free market. The kids would just move to a school that has proven to be successful.

However, this is not the free market. Remember that artificial cap?

But about 45 of the applying schools on that list of 171 never actually opened, accounting for more than 5,500 of the total seats. And only six of the 171 schools had actual enrollment of voucher students in September that matched or topped the number they gave the DPI.

Brian Pahnke, an assistant state superintendent of schools who oversees the voucher program, said there was no way in the formula to distinguish between, say, Messmer Catholic Schools, which said it could take up to 993 voucher students in kindergarten through 12th grade and actually had 761, from "Elijah's Brook God's Nation Children School," which said last February that it expected 350 students and never opened. The rationing fraction would have been applied to each equally, even though that would have resulted in a sharp cut in seats at Messmer and allowing the other school to have perhaps 175 seats.

Pahnke said there was nothing DPI could do to check if the numbers being claimed in this year's applications are realistic or to prevent schools from playing games with how many seats they claim - other than that eventually they could not put more kids in a building than an occupancy permit allows.

The state created a rationing program, and they're surprised when people submit inflated requests in an attempt to extract the maximum value from the commons that they have created. This is what Milwaukee charter schools have to deal with.

At least they capture the opinions of a few pro-voucher advocates raising the possibility of simply eliminating the cap, as it is the most obvious solution, but judging by the politicians that they quoted in the story, there is little chance of that happening. This makes no sense at all. If there is a great demand for vouchers and charter schools, and there is, why should government be restricting that choice? These are their constituents, after all. Unfortunately, many Democrats don't see it that way:

"To the extent that accountability and transparency is not taken care of, we will still have schools that are weak, and some of them troublingly weak, that we don't have any information about," said state Rep. Pedro Colon (D-Milwaukee). "Good schools will have to realize that if they want to continue to grow and prosper, they are going to have to have more transparency, because we have to start figuring out which of these schools do deserve funding, and which ones don't." (Emphasis added)

Here we have a perfect display of the cluelessness of some public officials. The entire point of the voucher program is to take responsibility away from politicians and grant it to parents. Pedro Colon has shown no ability in the past to decide which schools are succeeding. Milwaukee Public Schools are, in general, absolutely terrible. Why would we want the people responsible for that debacle in charge of deciding who gets what in this promising system. As usual, government has created an artificial problem (scarcity of voucher seats) to assert its power.

Governor Jim Doyle (Democrat) actually proposed raising the cap slightly, but the bottom line is that there is no need for a cap at all. Parents provide more accountability than the state ever could, and as more bad schools continue to close down, and as good schools expand and their methods are copied, the voucher program continues to succeed. Unfortunately, most Democrats are content to sit back and continue to subsidize the grocery store.

Update: There's more at Boots and Sabers.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Ariel Sharon has suffered a stroke.

Details here.

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

The Edge Question of the Year.

Every year The Edge World Question Center asks a bunch of smart people to answer one question. Last year they asked a bunch of scientists for one thing that they believe to be true, but cannot prove. The answers ranged from boring to bizarre, but they were all illuminating.

This year, it's:

The history of science is replete with discoveries that were considered socially, morally, or emotionally dangerous in their time; the Copernican and Darwinian revolutions are the most obvious. What is your dangerous idea? An idea you think about (not necessarily one you originated) that is dangerous not because it is assumed to be false, but because it might be true?

You can read all of the answers here.

Here's an excerpt from Freeman Dyson's answer:

Biotechnology will be domesticated in the next fifty years as thoroughly as computer technology was in the last fifty years.

Here's an excerpt from Ray Kurzweil:

My dangerous idea is the near-term inevitability of radical life extension and expansion. The idea is dangerous, however, only when contemplated from current linear perspectives.

Here's Jared Diamond's answer:

The evidence that tribal peoples often damage their environments and make war.

And here's an excerpt from Richard Dawkins' answer:

Retribution as a moral principle is incompatible with a scientific view of human behaviour. As scientists, we believe that human brains, though they may not work in the same way as man-made computers, are as surely governed by the laws of physics. When a computer malfunctions, we do not punish it. We track down the problem and fix it, usually by replacing a damaged component, either in hardware or software.

There are many more, and you can find them here.

(Hat tip, ALD.)

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