The Electric Commentary

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Brewers Will Be Good

Ahren's analysis should make you very optimistic:

according to BP, an extraordinarily bad team with 0.0 WARP would win 20-25 games. given the above projection, the brewers should be in the 91-96 win range. that's pretty sweet. of course, there are problems with the way i aggregated everything, but i tried to err conservatively and assume the likely moves, not the optimistic ones. for instance, yovani gallardo isn't included in this at all, and braun is just used to fill out pa's on the infield, not to actually win the job at 3b at some point.

the overall story of the 2007 brewers is that they are very deep and very balanced. in both the rotation and the lineup, they have a distinct absence of weak spots, and several players that are above-average for replacements (graff, counsell, clark, gross, villaneuva, miller, gallardo, etc.) even if their luck is just average, they should contend for the NL central crown and a wildcard spot.

any cubs fans out there looking to place bets on total wins?


Think he's overly optimistic? Check out his analysis. If he errs, he errs on the conservative side. I can't remember having this much optimism about a baseball season, well...ever.

Local police shut down crime ring.

Boy, was Violet Fojut, 88, distressed when she heard the news: The bingo game that's been the mainstay of the Cream City Cafeteria at Southridge Mall in Greendale was busted.

...

For the price of the $6.95 early bird special, diners - almost all senior citizens - also got seven bingo cards on Monday, Wednesday and Sunday.

Grab a prize wrapped in white tissue - maybe a tea towel set, some costume jewelry or a set of candles if you're the first to cover a row with plastic red, yellow, green or blue chips.

On first glance, this is just ordinary nanny-state garbage. Gambling, after all, would surely corrupt these old-timers and send them spiraling into a [short] life of crime. But what's really disgusting about the story is this:

It turns out that local churches had a beef with the practice and snitched to the state Department of Administration's gaming division. Churches, as non-profit organizations, can run bingo games if they get a license and follow the rules.

Boston Store, a for-profit business, would never be eligible for a license, Dams said.

When are we going to scrap this delusion that churches are non-profit organizations?* Have these people never seen a church? Find me the most decadent and extravagant building in your neighborhood and I'll betcha it's a church. And if churches aren't out to make money, why was it the local churches that snitched on their bingo games' competition?

*I realize that churches meet the legal definition of "non-profit." I think this is proof that we need to change that definition.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Archaeological Dig: 3500 CE

...On Tuesday we discovered something quite extraordinary. A statue marking the entrance of this Colosseum was unearthed in the morning. It confirms our suspicions about the purpose of this establishment as an arena of torture and punishment. The playfully-named demon "Harry Caray" watches over the proceedings, laughing maniacally.



His over sized novelty eye wear clearly suggest an all-seeing nature, and his primitive audio-projection device tells us that he was the impetus behind the terrible acts that took place inside the structure. Whether this Caray ever existed or, more likely, was simply another step in the evolution of the "evil trickster," his visage can be found all over this area, marking it as the focal point of the cult.

An inscription on the bottom reads as follows:



Was he counting off lashes on a stubborn victim, turns of the rack, or some other fate too horrible to contemplate? At this point we can only speculate, but whatever went on here it appears that both participants and spectators were harmed. Here we see Caray presiding over the souls of the damned:



He appears to draw power from their screams.

It is unclear why the residents of this city fell into such a masochistic cult. If the experience led to nothing but pain, why did people return over, and over, and over despite the hopelessness and despair? Why did they show up year after year? What we do know is that thousands of people flocked to this venue, that they suffered, and that they seemingly enjoyed it to the point that they returned in greater numbers. Caray's iconography:



appears frequently throughout the city, often in association with a goat:



As we know, the goat, and cloven-hoofed animals in general have a close association with evil supernatural beings throughout history. The sign in question echoes the famous greeting at the gates of hell: Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.

This is quite a find, to be sure. Our notions of the humiliations that went on here were based on complete speculation until recently, when one of our tech researchers managed to locate this ancient video, showing the barbarians engaging in some of the vile entertainment of the day. It has degraded over the centuries, but we have managed to restore enough to validate our conclusions. The act captured on the video did take place inside the stadium, in a dank, concrete room. Look on, but be warned that it is not for the faint of heart:



We hope to be on our way shortly. Perhaps it's the old superstition getting to me, but this place almost seems cursed.

End Transmission.

Rigged Coin Flip?

It seems like the NFL should be at least as stringent as a Vegas casino about stuff like this:

There was almost a mini-scandal in the coin flip for the third pick in the draft. The Bucs and Browns finished tied for the third pick, because their opponents' won-loss records were identical. So Friday morning, Savage and Tampa Bay GM Bruce Allen met in a Westin Hotel conference room to break the tie for the third pick of the draft. Imagine the significance here.

Allen came into the room with a coin he wanted to use, one from a military base in Florida. That was fine with Savage. League officials Joel Bussert and Ken Fiore ran it. Allen called heads. And when the coin went up in the air, Allen shouted, "Wait! Wait!'' The coin was plucked out of the air. And Allen said, "What are we going to do, let it fall to the floor or catch it and flip it over on your hand?'' Let it fall, he was told. He called heads again. It came up tails.


This is like if the NBA let Isaiah Thomas run the ping pong ball machine at the "NBA draft order" selection.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Good News Of The Day

A potential cure for Down Syndrome:

After receiving once-daily doses of pentylenetetrazole, or PTZ, for 17 days, the mice could recognize objects and navigate mazes as well as normal mice did, researchers said. The improvements lasted up to two months after the drug was discontinued, according to the report in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

Scientists said the study opened a promising avenue for research in a field that had seen little success.

"These mice are essentially restored to normal, which I haven't seen before," said David Patterson, a Down syndrome researcher at the University of Denver, who was not involved in the study. "And the treatment seems to be long-lasting, which is a pretty surprising observation all by itself."


(Hat tip, Reason)

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Hate Wal-Mart?

Why not shop at Costco?

Sinegal says he's also built a loyal work force. In fact, Costco has the lowest employee turnover rate in retailing. Its turnover is five times lower than its chief rival, Wal-Mart. And Costco pays higher than average wages — $17 an hour — 40 percent more than Sam's Club, the warehouse chain owned by Wal-Mart. And it offers better-than-average benefits, including health care coverage to more than 90 percent of its work force.

Why Did The Badgers Lose?

1. Luck

2. They were on the road.

3. Brian Butch dislocated an elbow. This allowed Oden to stay near the basket on defense, neutralizing Tucker. A devastating loss against a team like OSU, and an insurmountable loss if he is gone for the year.

4. Home court officiating, again. Had the Badgers enjoyed their normal foul-shooting advantage they would have won.

5. Stupidity. How did they not get the ball at half court for the final play?

6. Bad free throw shooting. Kammron Taylor, you could have won the game.

But, all things considered this was not a terrible loss. If anything it damaged both teams as the loss of Butch should have allowed the Buckeyes to but the Badgers away. Since Florida lost (again) I suspect that Bucky won't even fall very far.

They need to beat Michigan State at home next week to hold on to a respectable seed. It's at the Kohl Center, so I predict a Wisconsin blowout.

What The Hell Is "Cats" About?

I write this post not for entertainment, or out of any sense of pride. Quite the contrary actually. However, I am in a unique position in the I have seen "Cats" multiple times, I have a critical eye, and I know that many of you will be dragged to a showing in the near future. An odd quirk of my brain is that it memorizes musicals and operas the first time it encounters them. For the record, my favorite bit of musical theatre is Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore. See, I told you this would be a nerdy week.

Anyway, here's "Cats" in a nutshell.

It is very religious. The characters in "Cats" are described as "Jellicle Cats." This is "T.S. Eliot shorthand" for evangelical Christians. They begin the play waiting to be saved through "Old Deuteronomy." Every year OD picks one cat to send to heaven and be reborn. This is the obligatory Christ-like moment of the play which we will get to later. OD represents old testament law, which is obvious as he is named after one of the books. While the Cats represent real Cat traits, they also represent human foibles, and each foible is, in the course of the play, judged for worthiness.

The Rum Tum Tugger is concerned only with play and worldly matters. The Gumby Cat is a somewhat heartless entrepreneur, lazy in her downtime. Gus was a famous actor content with his past success (Note: It is the official opinion of the EC that Gus, and not Grizabella, should have won.), and Mongojerry and Rumpleteazer are outright criminals.

Grizabella, a former hotshot "glamor cat," now fallen into a decrepit, homeless state, eventually wins the prize. She has fallen the farthest, the walking embodiment of the meek inheriting the earth.

The most interesting part of the play, however, concerns the kidnapping of Old Deuteronomy by Macavity, the embodiment of evil. His influence is felt everywhere in the cat world although Macavity himself is never seen at any crime:


And when the larder's looted
Or the jewel cases rifled
Or when the milk is missing
Or another Peke's been stifled
Or the greenhouse glass is broken and the trellis past repair
There's the wonder of the thing:
Macavity's not there!


And here we find some satire from Eliot. Macavity is the all purpose bad guy for the Cats, yet there is no evidence that he is actually responsible for any misdeeds. On stage we see him kidnap Old Deuteronomy, but this is odd. Macavity is not supposed to expose himself like this. He is meant as an allegory of the Devil's influence, which is subtle. The only thing that makes this excusable is that such a prize as OD is at stake.

His rescue however, is confusing as well. The savior of Cats is Mr. Mistoffelees, clearly a play on the name of the demon Mephistopheles. How can the savior be saved captured by the devil but also freed by him?

This is simply an allegory for "Paradise Lost." Satan costs man paradise, but he also frees him and grants him the opportunity for superior gain through the "benevolent fall." Redemption allows for a richer, if riskier life than does paradise, and once Mr. Mistoffelees returns Deuteronomy, the evangelical cats can be saved again. Mr. Mistoffelees also sacrifices nothing to return Deuteronomy, which is Old Testament law. Remember that only one cat may be saved, and the Christian doctrine holds that salvation through Old Testament means is nearly impossible. The Cats are still awaiting their true savior.

It is worth mentioning here that T.S. Eliot was also wasted most of the time.

Anyway, if you happen to find yourself at "Cats" for whatever reason, now you will have some idea as to what is going on.

I told you. Nerdy week.

Dr. Who?

This may be a very nerdy week of posts from me. Sure I'll talk about the Badgers narrow loss to OSU which they would have won had Brian Butch not dislocated his elbow, and the Brewers, who I am hugely optimistic on, but as of now, I have recently finished the first season of the BBC's new Dr. Who series starring Christoper Eccleston, and I can say without hesitation that Christoper Eccleston is the finest Doctor in the history of the series. I say this even though he had sub-par material to work with. He was great. It was emotional, believable (always tough in Doctor Who), absolutely fantastic and in the complete spirit of the series. I'll watch the next season, but the next Doctor has no chance. None. I wanted the first season to go on longer.

Tom Baker and his scarf were great. I like those shows a great deal, but the first season of the new show hits everything right. Just fantastic. The Sci-fi Sherlock at his absolute best.

The highlight of the first season takes place during the WWII blitz in London and was written by "Coupling" head writer Steven Moffat. It is one of the few episodes in which the Doctor prevails 100%, and the payoff is completely worth it

I should explain further.

In any given episode of Dr. Who, it is normal for the Doctor to have two choices: Bad and worse. Generally, the Doctor manages a resolution that is slightly better than "bad." It is not unusual for millions to die. Normally a person in the Doctor's place would be continually depressed, but the great thing about the Doctor is his perspective. It is universal. When the Daleks threaten all of existence he is basically forced to choose between defeat and killing all Daleks and Humans together. He has previously killed every Dalek and Timelord to save the universe. He plays his game on a huge scale and rarely blinks. He does what he has to do, and takes great joy in small victories.

The Doctor is, perhaps, my favorite television character of all time.

Here's The Timelords' classic video, Doctorin' The TARDIS:

Friday, February 23, 2007

Attention Brewers Fans

Cubs Tickets go on sale today.

Why am I telling you this? Because, as all of our Wisconsin readers know, the Cubs have a bad habit of turning Miller Park into Wrigley Field North, but Brewers fans rarely travel down here. Last year the Brew Crew and the Cubbies did not play a weekend series in Wrigley Field which made hiking down from Milwaukee a chore, but this year they have a Fri/Sat/Sun series from June 29-July 1st, and there is no excuse for any self-respecting Brewers fan to miss these games.

In Chicago today the productivity level will drop to NCAA tournament-like levels as every Cubs fan waits in the virtual waiting room trying to get tickets.

You should too.

It's actually sort of fun to buy Cubs tickets today because when you get through the waiting room it feels like you won a contest. All you have to do is go here and follow the instructions. You may want to get an MLB.com account in advance, although it is not necessary. Starting at 9:30 you can enter the "virtual waiting room" by clicking on the little "t" icon on the proper day on the Cubs' schedule.

Tickets go on sale at 10:00. Most fans down here try to get Cubs/White Sox tickets first, so if you can get through the waiting room, you should be able to get good seats at a good price.

Good luck. I want to see all of you down here for that series, no excuses.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

That's one way to kill the mood

I think the humor of this story stands on its own, without any comment from me:

Man mistakes porn DVD as woman's cries for help
He faces charges after entering apartment with sword in tow


"It was a woman screaming," he recalled Tuesday. "She was screaming for help."

Sword in hand, he bounded up the stairs, kicked in the door and confronted a man who turned out to be alone - watching a pornographic movie.

"Now I feel stupid," Van Iveren said.

Seriously, read the whole thing. It's jam-packed with awesomeness.

WeinerNeitzel

I don't have much to say about the Wisconsin game last night, because frankly it wasn't that surprising. And as bad as Wisconsin played, they were probably one play away from winning anyway. The big guys didn't respond quickly enough to the fact that no fouls would be called down low, Drew Neitzel hit a few big shots (and a few lucky ones) Walton hit that ridiculous three near the end of the first half, and as usual, the Badger free-throw shooting took the night off.

(And how annoying is Brent Musburger, by the way? Near the end of the game that big red-headed power forward just grabbed Brian Butch and tackled him out of bounds which allowed MSU to grab the rebound, and Musburger applauded the red-head's effort. I don't think that Brent has any specific animus towards Wisconsin, he just got caught up with the underdog. I just found him extremely irritating since I was rooting for the favorite, and they were not that much of a favorite.)

Let's focus on the Badgers though, since Michigan State didn't do anything that noteworthy. Marcus Landry played great, but once again missed two big free throws. All of the big guys, Butch, Krabbenhoft, Chappell, were not nearly physical enough. It's rare to see Wisconsin get pushed around like that. Some of it was officiating, but most of it was a failure to adjust to the officiating. Wisconsin also bailed on its offense too early and resorted to low-percentage three-pointers. This is not their forte, and they still had plenty of time to run Tucker in the post before panicking the way that they did. Finally, I never want to see Michael Flowers take another three-pointer. I cringe whenever I see it, much like I did whenever Charlie Wills would shoot in the 2000 season. (No Charlie!) He's a great defensive player, like Mike Kelley, but he can't shoot, like...Mike Kelley.

I suspect they will rebound and at least look respectable against OSU, and I'm willing to wager a fair sum that they will annihilate Michigan State in the Kohl Center next week.

Oh, and did you see the beginning of the LSU-Kentucky game in Kentucky? Did you notice the ESPN cameraman who lingered just a little too long on the fan holding the "Tim Hardaway Hates LSU" sign? They held the shot for 3 long seconds, at which point the producer and the cameraman realized simultaneously that this was offensive and you got the standard "fast cutaway/fast pullaway." Way to go Kentucky. At least it's impossible for me to think any less of you than I already did.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Happy Mardi Gras

What's your favorite "drinking holiday?" I'll still take St. Patrick's day, as I have found Halloween and New Year's Eve rather disappointing recently. The Fourth of July has had a number of strong showings lately, and benefits greatly from its mid-summer proximity (most other drinking holidays take place during cold or cool seasons).

Around my neighborhood a few of the Irish bars are advertising the beginning of the "St. Patrick's Day Season." That might be taking it a bit far, although since the South Side parade here in Chicago always takes place on a Sunday, the holiday will often span two weekends.

Mardi Gras has the rather enormous problem of always taking place on a Tuesday. I'm all for weekday drinking, however I cannot handle the "holiday level" of drinking during the week anymore. Around the 28-year-old mark it really starts to hit you. Mardi Gras is best enjoyed by the very young.

Cinco de Mayo has surged into the mainstream as well, and I'm all for it. As I've mentioned before, I'm hugely in favore of ethnically based holidays, as long as they involve ethnically-themed drinking. Burritos are nice too. Lack of alcohol is my major beef with Kwanzaa. That, and the communism.

Christmas Eve is a solid drinking holiday with some built-in recovery time the next day. Of course, no one wants to admit that Christmas Eve is a drinking holiday, and as I write this I'm quite certain that Bill O'Reilly's "Christian Holiday Alarm" is sounding loud and clear.

Here is an old Mardi Gras post. It begins with the line:

Tomorrow is Mardi Gras, which is French for "pretend you're Irish."


Here is my review of John Kennedy Toole's, A Confederacy of Dunces.

Monday, February 19, 2007

It's Almost Baseball Season...

Which means that Ethan is no longer hibernating in a cave somewhere and is back to blogging baseball. If you're a baseball geek you should check out his site early and often.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Hiding costs from kids and consumers.

Governor Doyle has proposed a bunch of new taxes. Nearly all of them suck, but the one that sucks the most is a tax on oil companies that would forbid the companies from passing the cost of the tax on to consumers.

Doyle, a Democrat, said the new tax on oil companies would be a good way to have firms that have enjoyed record profits fund highways and other transportation projects.

"It seems to me that these companies that have had such a big killing - and this is money that has come directly out of the pockets of the people of Wisconsin and the people of the United States - they ought to be doing their share to help with the infrastructure needs," Doyle said.
Oil company officials would face up to six months in jail if they passed the tax on to consumers. The state Department of Revenue would audit the firms to ensure they do not.


"I think, given the severity of the penalties and the enforcement unit we'll put in place, any oil company would run a very big risk in Wisconsin if they attempted to violate that law," Doyle said.

This is a bad idea for a number of reasons. The first is that it seems like there would be several logistical problems with preventing a company from passing a cost on to that company's customers. The second is that it's probably unconstitutional. The third is that it's definitely un-American to punish a company for making "record profits." But the stupidest thing about this tax is that it hides costs from consumers. This leads to consumers making bad choices. Bad choices like buying SUVs.

Although fundamentally speaking, I'm against using taxes to control behavior, I think there's something to be said for paying $6 a gallon. It has led most of Europe to buy smaller, more fuel-efficient, safer cars that are better for the environment.

I watched a movie yesterday called This Film is Not Yet Rated. It's a documentary about the Motion Picture Association of American--the guys that rate movies. One of the things the film focused on was the difference between how the MPAA treated violence versus how it treated sex. A film can get away with a ton of violence and stay rated R, but a comparatively little bit of sex will knock in into NC-17 pretty fast. This is obviously very stupid. What parent would rather their kid watched a lot of violence than a little bit of the ol' birds and bees? But what really struck me is the film's discussion of how violence that shows the blood and guts is treated versus violence that doesn't show the blood and guts. Movies that show gunfire and mass killings, but no actual dead bodies (at least no close-ups of dead bodies) can get PG-13 ratings while movies that show people actually dying (think the opening scene in Saving Private Ryan) get an R-Rating. Wouldn't it make more sense for kids to learn what really happens when people get shot? Aren't we desensitizing kids to violence by showing them these shoot-em-up movies where people only die at a distance or off-screen and are then just forgotten? Aren't we hiding the costs of violence from kids in the same way that Jim Doyle wants to hide the costs of a gas tax from consumers? Wouldn't we be better able to make decisions if these costs weren't hidden from us?

Will Alando Tucker Be A Good Pro?

I love Alando and believe that he is the nation's finest college basketball player, but I don't believe that he will be an effective NBA player. I hope that he proves me wrong because I love watching the guy play, but I just don't see it.

People have a hard time characterizing Tucker because he is a weird player. He is essentially a power forward, but at a generous 6-6 he is ill-suited for the position. He has used his time in college wisely, developing a reliable jumper and converting his low-post moves into and impressive array of driving moves. This has lead some to believe that he may make a decent pro after all as he occasionally shows flashes of being able to man the 2 spot or the 3, but his lack of lateral quickness will always make him a defensive liability, and while his jumper has vastly improved it is not nearly good enough to free him up for the slashing drives that make him an effective scorer.

Alando actually reminds me of Glenn Robinson, another player who defied easy characterization. Robinson was not unathletic as he could jump through the roof, nor was he uncoordinated as he possessed a particularly sweet jumper from inside 3-point land, but for some reason Robinson could not handle the ball in the NBA and was consequently very turnover-prone.

Alando has similar athletic ability to Robinson in that he can jump out of the gym, but his lack of quickness is almost stunning given that fact. (My own pet theory is that both Robinson and Tucker appear to have oversized feet for their builds. It looks like they're playing in snow shoes.) But where Robinson could rely on his jumper, Tucker will have to continue to get to the basket. His rather terrible free-throw shooting further complicates matters.

Tucker may still improve on his jumper. Dwyane Wade basically couldn't shoot in college, but has worked hard to make himself a real threat from outside. If Tucker can do the same he could become an explosive offensive force. In the lane few players present such a defensive conundrum, and his ability to post up taller players (and to dominate smaller players) would allow him to be a fine small forward, but his free-throw shooting indicates that there may be a cap on his ability to further develop as a shooter.

Tucker is one of those guys that just doesn't fit in that well. I think that there is a role for him in the NBA, but I'm not sure that anyone will be creative enough to find it.

That said, he is a phenomenal college player and pleasure to watch. I'm certainly putting the Badgers in the final four of every bracket that I have, and I think that they have a legitimate shot to win it all.

Books That I Hate: Ishmael

You will frequently run across Daniel Quinn's Ishmael in your more progressive college courses. I was introduced to the book by some friends in Chicago. They were big fans.

Do you remember that Celestine Prophecy nonsense of 10 years ago? This is fairly similar, except where "Celestine" is now widely regarded as new-age bullshit, "Ishmael" still holds on to some level of philosophical credibility.

Let's deal with the credibility thing first. "Ishmael" has maintained a certain progressive following largely because it deals with protecting the environment. While I am all for protecting the environment (in fact I'm more in favor of it than Daniel Quinn, we'll get to that later) "Ishmael" takes a fairly hard line stance on the subject. But over-the-top environmentalism is not what makes "Ishmael" so stupid, so ridiculous, so amazingly inept. After all, you could at least make the case that an enormous conservation effort should be pursued based on available environmental science. I would not make this case, but someone could plausibly do so.

What makes "Ishmael" such a bad book is that it relies not on logic, but on argument from authority. And who is this authority, you ask? Newton? Einstein?

Nope.

It's a psychic gorilla. Named Ishmael. He rented out an apartment and posted an ad in the paper looking for someone who "wants to save the world."

My friends tell me that this is simply a plot device, but it can't be. There is no other reason to pay attention to the ramblings of Mr. Quinn, except for the fact that they are being spewed forth from the mind of a psychic gorilla.

Ishmael makes the following analogy in order to impress upon his student the necessity of changing our evil, selfish ways: (Paraphrased. I'm not touching this book again.)

Mankind is like someone who is falling from a very high cliff. From this person's perspective everything looks fine. The scenery changes only slightly, that is until you get a few thousand feet from the ground at which point it becomes glaringly obvious that there is a problem, and you can't do anything about it.


That's it. No evidence that this reflects our current situation is offered, Quinn simply makes the assertion. He also praises the "natural world" method of distributing scarce resources. This method involves a lot of fighting, starvation, a serious decline in population, and a complete abandonment of technology. He discusses a predator and its prey, and says that in the natural world, sometimes the prey will escape, sometimes the predator will eat, but it is up to the gods to decide who wins on a given day. This is good. No one gets too much and no one wastes resources.

And of course, the student in the book believes every word from the psychic gorilla without question, because it's tough to argue with the 400 pound gorilla in the room. Especially if he happens to be psychic.

It is shocking how many people are taken in by this book. The worldview that Quinn advocates is despicable. It is filled with death and suffering, and brings progress to a standstill. It is nothing more than the typical leftist romanticism of the state of nature. Quinn wants to protect all of nature except for humanity. He is a self-loathing human.

There is also ample evidence available to indicate that Ishmael himself isn't too bright. When we meet him his living conditions are lackluster. Rather than utilizing his talents to better his own situation, which would allow him to spread his message with greater efficiency, he is content to live in hiding and in poor health. Assuming he does have something worthwhile to say, he chooses a very poor method for saying it. A method that all but ensures that no one will hear it.

So, don't read Ishmael under any circumstances. It's truly terrible. I ran into someone reading it on the train the other day while I was reading Daniel Gilbert's Stumbling on Happiness (on Danny's recommendation). He told me that reading "Ishmael" would do more to make me happy than any self-help book (note that Gilbert's book is anything but a self-help book). This happens to me with some regularity on the train. For some reason people like to tell me about Ishmael. I asked him why it made him happy and he replied that he now had a better understanding of how people are affecting things. I told him that I had read Ishmael and that I didn't believe that Quinn had any understanding of how people are affecting things and that if he did he wouldn't need to use a psychic gorilla as a proxy.

(Note: I should mention that when discussing "Ishmael" you should always say "psychic gorilla" and never "psychic monkey." Even though "psychic monkey" sounds funnier, "Ishmael" defenders will quickly and snottily correct you on this point, as if it matters.)

He then advised me to "look at the world around me and see what's going on."

He then disembarked from an electrical train in one of the nation's largest cities amidst skyscrapers and magnificent works of public art, where coffee and giant burritos are plentiful, violence is minimal, and modern forced air heating is keeping hundreds of thousands of people who would otherwise be miserable or dead at a balmy 74 degrees.

As usual, the world looks pretty nice to me. And best of all, no psychic gorillas.

I wish that Julian Simon would have answered Ishmael's advertisement and put an end to this nonsense.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Bret Bielema Victorious

The NCAA has changed their stupid rule that states that the clock starts when the ball is kicked off in a college football game (as opposed to starting the clock when the ball is first touched by a member of the return team). This is almost certainly a reaction to University of Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema's brilliant abuse of this rule against Penn State earlier this year.

Congratulations Bret. Few people can say that they took on the NCAA and came out a winner.

"Hmm Hmm Him..."*

Another great moment in technology. Do you have a tune stuck in your head, but you can't remember the words, or the artist, or the name?

Just hum a few bars and this site will tell you what it is.

(H/T, Cafe Hayek)



*Al Bundy was tortured by this tune in a rather famous episode of "Married With Children." I believe the song is called "Oh Anna (Go to him)."

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Happy Valentine's Day

It's going to be a special day for some lucky lady.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Communism Sucks: Beer Edition

From MSNBC:

President Hugo Chavez said Tuesday he is fed up with seeing beer trucks sell alcohol directly on the streets of poor neighborhoods.

“It’s the degeneration of society. It’s one of the causes of public drunkenness in the slums,” he said as he declared he was putting a ban on the beer runs.

“As of today, I want the National Guard to stop the beer trucks and take them to the nearest command post. No more trucks,” he said in a televised speech.


I think the Venezuelan people may be regretting that whole "unfettered power" decision:

The crowd had cheered him enthusiastically earlier in his speech, but his beer decree was met with a lukewarm response and scattered applause.

Chavez assured his audience he was not banning the consumption of alcohol.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Idiocracy

Mike Judge made Fox a fortune when "Office Space" became a cult favorite, now appearing on Comedy Central and Spike TV almost every weekend. As a reward they let him make Idiocracy. If you've never heard of Idiocracy don't be embarrassed. It was released for only one weekend, in only 7 cities, with no promotion save for a few NPR stories which mainly mentioned the fact that it received no promotion.

So, what's the story? Is it any good? Why did they shelve it?

Idiocracy dares you to laugh at it. It is rife with toilet humor, physical comedy, and sight gags. Men are repeatedly kicked in the testicles. Farting is common. Violence is the rule. And Starbucks will give you a "full body latte" complete with happy ending.

But Judge's world is composed entirely of morons. If you laugh at their culture, what does that say about you? You may think that you're laughing with Judge, and not at the hit show "Ow, My Balls," but this is where Judge gets you.

Idiocracy is the story of the military's most average man played by Luke Wilson, but before we meet him we meet three people. The first two are a high-IQ couple who puts off having children until it is too late, to say the least. The third is a redneck named Clevon who fucks and impregnates everything that will stop long enough to let him. Judge adds a helpful family tree every time Clevon scores. It is not long before Clevon's tree takes up the entire screen, while the smarties have checked off this mortal coil, literally forever.

Back to Luke Wilson's character, Joe. The army wants to be able to save its best men so they decide to learn to freeze people. They test their new tech on Joe and a hooker. Predictably, Joe is forgotten about and wakes up 500 years in the future, where everyone is now a Clevon, making Joe the smartest man in the world.

The first person that Joe encounters, a Lawyer named Frito, is sitting on his combo toilet/recliner watching the violence channel. He cannot be disturbed and so he takes one more drink from his beer tube, flushes, and ejects Joe from the premises.

And so it continues. Everyone is Butthead, society is dying, and they deserve it.

And it's funny. But while the topic is high-brow, the humor is low brow, and every time you laugh you're just confirming Judge's worst fears. The Onion once ran a headline about Beavis and Butthead that was along the lines of:

Slackers who watch MTV enjoy show about slackers who watch MTV.


At least a portion of Idiocracy appeals directly to the idiots that are being mocked in Idiocracy. This may be the reason that Fox gave it such short shrift. Most of the time the movie insults its audience. It hits too close to home.

That said, it's definitely worth a rental, and it may very well end up on Spike TV and Comedy Central ad nauseum, and make Fox another fortune even though they tried to kill it. They simply failed to realize that stupid people can't always tell when they're being mocked.

Can you?

Do I Get The Day Off?

From the US Census Bureau:

Wednesday, February 21st. We’ve all seen them and wondered how they got there — a supermarket shopping cart, sitting forlornly along a residential street, far from the nearest grocery store. Was it a prank, or someone who walked to the store and bought more than they could carry? Either way, this is Return Shopping Carts to the Supermarket Month — including milk crates and bread trays. The idea is for consumers to avoid the increased food prices that result when store owners have to replace stolen equipment. And supermarkets play a big role in everyday life.


And remember, next week is "Prompt Netflix Return Week," which seeks to soften the dead weight loss on the economy inflicted when we hold onto our Netflix too long. Because Netflix plays a big role in everyday life.

(Hat tip, MR)

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Sports and Violence

The local news here has been fixated on a brawl that occurred following a high school basketball game. After Bradley Tech upset Milwaukee Bayview 82 to 81 last week, the fans charged the court and started kicking each other's asses. Several people, including four police officers were injured. Here's four minutes of mediocre quality video of the incident that the Milwaukee news stations have shown ad nauseum, like it's the Zapruder film or something:



The idea of fighting somebody because the team they cheer for lost to or beat the team you cheer for strikes me as incomprehensibly retarded. But in actuality, when you look at sports fans across the globe, that's basically the norm.

The Freakonomics Blog asks an interesting question: Why aren't US Sports fans more violent?

It's really a good question. We're probably the most violent country on Earth, but our sports fans seem far less violent than soccer hooligans across the globe. Stephen Dubner suggests some possible reasons:

1. Many soccer matches are more local affairs than U.S. sporting events, thereby attracting a lot of fans for both teams, who are more likely to mix it up than if 95% of the fans are rooting for the same team.

2. We have better security.

3. We drink less; many U.S. stadiums and arenas now cut off the sale of beer, e.g., before the end of the game.

4. Perhaps the audiences at U.S. sporting events don’t include the criminal element — the result, perhaps, of high ticket prices.

5. For years, there has been talk of how American sports, particularly football, are a proxy for war and true violence; maybe this is actually true.

I'd say the first one is probably the best bet. This high school brawl probably wouldn't have happened if one side's fans had dominated the stands. Bradley Tech and Bayview aren't too far away from each other and both teams are very good, which draws bigger high school crowds. That, coupled with the fact that both schools are full of a bunch of degenerates makes for a bad situation.

It's interesting to note that Milwaukee high schools and the country of Italy have reacted similarly.

Soccer in Italy to Resume, With Stadiums Vacant

and

Game brawl results in citations, strict attendance policy

That can't be good for revenue.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Drinking and Math

So apparently the "Beer Goggle" effect lends itself to mathematical analysis:

Nathan Efron, Professor of Clinical Optometry at the University of Manchester, said: "The beer goggles effect isn't solely dependent on how much alcohol a person consumes, there are other influencing factors at play too.

"For example, someone with normal vision, who has consumed five pints of beer and views a person 1.5 metres away in a fairly smoky and poorly lit room, will score 55, which means they would suffer from a moderate beer goggle effect."


Here is the equation:



(Hat tip, Nicole.)

Meanwhile, if you're following the excellent Wisconsin Men's Basketball Team, and if you like ABBA, well...

A few weeks ago, Fletcher Keyes of the "Fletch & Dana" team at WOLX (94.9 FM) claims he "accidentally" played ABBA's 1976 smash hit "Fernando." Since Keyes is a "big-time Badger fan," the tune caused his thoughts to stray from Fernando to the UW star on everyone's mind: Alando.


You can listen to Alando here. (Look in the "Links" box on the left side of the page.)

Have fun watching Bucky destroy the Hawkeyes this weekend.

(Hat tip, Laura and Andrea.)

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Why does Andy Griffith hate America?



Hat tip to Reason.

Carrying policies to their logical conclusions

This is awesome.

Under the initiative, marriage would be limited to men and women who are able to have children. Couples would be required to prove they can have children in order to get a marriage license, and if they did not have children within three years, their marriage would be subject to annulment.

All other marriages would be defined as "unrecognized" and people in those marriages would be ineligible to receive any marriage benefits.

So the religious right should be all for this, right?

Randy Moss a Packer?

I've heard some rumblings that the Packers, Favre in particular, wouldn't mind taking Randy Moss off of Oakland's hands. This has some people here uneasy. Besides the fact that he doesn't exactly "try" these days, he hasn't exactly endeared himself to the city of Green Bay.
But that was then and next fall is next fall. I for one would be all for this. Perhaps pairing an extremely talented receiver that pouts when he doesn't get the ball with an aging QB that puts too much faith in his [usually covered] receivers might just work out. If Favre's throwing into coverage, is there anyone else you want at receiver? I think Favre and Moss have the same agent and I'm pretty sure we could get him pretty cheap. There are thugs on every team. We've had plenty of thugs on the Pack in the past (Andre Risen worked out fine, no?). And I think Driver would still be #1. I say we see what that beanpole looks like in Green and Gold.

Monday, February 05, 2007

It's -3 degrees outside... time to start thinking about baseball

The Crew just signed Bill Hall to a four-year contract worth about $24 million. They're not only keeping last year's club MVP around, they're keeping him around for a while.

"I always wanted to stay in Milwaukee. We've got a good thing going there. Now, I know I'll be there for a long time."

Playing primarily in place of injured shortstop J.J. Hardy last season, Hall batted .270 and led the club with 35 home runs, 85 runs batted in, 39 doubles and 101 runs scored. Named the most valuable player on the team, he played in a career-high 148 games and compiled 78 extra-base hits and 297 total bases, also club highs. With Hardy expected back from ankle surgery to play shortstop, plans are in the works to move Hall to center field.

"I think that's going to be my position for the rest of my career," said Hall. "I'm excited about it. Next to shortstop, center field has the most action. I've always liked running around and diving for balls."

I really have to say that I like how this year's team is shaping up. We're spending some money to keep the talent we have and making some good trades in the offseason. We have what looks to me like a very solid starting rotation. Sheets, Supan and Capuano are all potential allstars. Vargus and Bush are both coming off 12-win-seasons in 2006. That allows Zack Jackson and Carlos Villanuava the chance to get in some more experience in the minors. Our young and talented infield of Hardy, Weeks and Fielder is healthy and ready to break out. Corey Hart is ready to start in the outfield with Hall and [Jenkins? Gross? Nix? Gwynn? Mench?]. We got a new Catcher that can hit with Johnny Estrada. It's my kind of team Charlie, my kind of team.

The only thing I'm particularly worried about is the bullpen. Cordero will obviously get the starting spot as the closer, but who's the setup man? Can Turnbow turn it around and start throwing strikes again?

I'm also still bummed out that they traded Cirillo, especially since Koskie is still injured.

I just ordered my 9-game package, which comes with a bonus opening-day ticket. Single game tickets go on sale on February 24th. I'm planning on making most of the Brewers-Cubs games. The Cubs' $300 million offseason looks to set them up to fail spectacularly and I want to be there to see it. I'm also going to try to make some road games, either in Chicago, St. Louie or the Twin Cities. This could be our year, right?

Sunday, February 04, 2007

The best part of the entire game...

was this.

Maybe I'm easy to please, but this commercial tore at my heart-strings (what are heart-strings by the way?). The set-up was perfect; New Orleans stule wake music in the background, fans looking sad because football season is over (And let's face it, we are sad that football season is over). The words, "It's hard to say goodbye" or something like that. Then it cuts to that old gun-slinger, looking a bit grey and spinning a football with that Favre smirk on his face. The words, "Harder for some than others" or something like that. That put a smile on my face bigtime.

So much for a more "family-friendly" halftime show


Friday, February 02, 2007

Super Bowl Prediction

I believe that the Bears will win, making my life in Chicago miserable for a few weeks. Why?

After reading this and this I'm convinced, although I'm not terribly confident of that pick. The Bears win games with their defense and special teams. The D and ST put the offense in low-risk situations that keep "bad Rex" in check. Basically, as long as Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson keep Rex in 3rd and short situations instead of 3rd and long situations, the Bears will limit their turnovers and get easy points. The Colts may have stopped the run in the playoffs, but they did not just get better by some magical change in the minds of the gods of run defense. They were helped out by Herm Edwards and Brian Billick. They are still lousy against the run.

The Colts offense should be able to move the ball with some efficiency, but the Bears will probably take away most big plays and Dallas Clark, and I'll wager that Peyton is good for 2 picks in this game. That should be enough for the Bears.

On the other hand, if the Colts can play from ahead and force Grossman to throw the ball, I suspect that the Colts will blow them out. The one thing I will predict is that whoever wins, the game will not be close.

I like the Bears to win (and hate the Bears in every other way) but I hope I'm wrong.

One more round.

Favre will play in '07

Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre will return for the 2007 season, he told the Sun Herald in an exclusive interview this morning.

"I am so excited about coming back," he said. "We have a good nucleus of young players. We were 8-8 last year and that's encouraging.

"My offensive line looks good, the defense played good down the stretch. I'm excited about playing for a talented young football team."

A talented young football team whose average age just increased significantly. I'm glad he's coming back for [at least] one more. They could be alright next year and he should go out on top. Or at least near the top. And there are a lot of records to be broken--victories (one more to tie Elway) and TDs (six more to tie Marino) and of course interceptions (four more to tie George Blanda).

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Trans Fats, Marshal Teague and Book #2

Besides the occasional giant Chipotle burrito, I very rarely eat fast food. The only major exception is when I'm on the road. If I have to go on a long drive, I'm not above enjoying a Wendy's Spicy Chicken Sandwich. The other day I had a hearing in Green Bay in the morning and another in Madison in the afternoon. As I was scanning the signs on highway 29 looking for an exit with a Wendy's, I noticed a sign for Fazoli's--Fast Italian food. I ate a lot of Fazoli's in college with the cross country team, but I hadn't been to one since my running days. I decided to give it a shot.

So here's the problem with creating these big issues with things like trans-fats. There were several signs in Fazoli's with pictures of pasta dishes, Alfredo sauce, pizza and other Fazoli's cuisine that said something like "95% of our food contains no trans-fats! Now you can enjoy guilt-free." I'm no nutritionist, but removing trans fats from Alfredo sauce does not make it healthy, does it? Are we really helping to educate people by hyping trans fats when the fast food companies can so easily use the hype to their advantage? That said, my lunch was lovely.

Speaking of advertising, I was just put on hold by [a plaintiff's law firm] and this is what the on-hold-message said:

"Hi my name is Marshal Teague. You may have seen me in Walker Texas Ranger, Armageddon and The Rock. I'd like to tell you about my friend [named partner of law firm]. If you need top-notch legal representation in Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay or Illinois, there's only one place to turn...." or something like that.

Marshal Teague??? Who the hell is Marshal Teague? Can Marshal Teague really be considered a celebrity endorsement? Anyway, that was about the funniest thing I heard today. So I asked a few of my co-workers if they had ever been put on hold by [law firm]. One of them told me that the old message was from Leslie Easterbrook (you may know her from Police Academy part 1, and parts 3-6). I wonder how much C-grade celebrities make recording on-hold-messages?

I also just finished Book #2 in my 25-book-challenge:

Freakonomics, By Stevens Dubner and Levitt.

I know I'm way behind the times on this one. I think just about everyone I know read this a long time ago, but I just got around to it now. I thought this book was truly awesome. It should be required reading in high schools. If more people could look at the world through Steve Levitt's eyes, it would be a better place. Or at least a more interesting place. The whole book is Levitt, through Dubner, looking at different everyday events or institutions and analyzing them by asking questions and drawing conclusions. He examines the role incentives play in just about everything. I think I'll be adding a few more pop-economics books to my list.


 
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