Wednesday, June 19, 2002

15 Answers To Creationist Nonsense. To air June 26 on the National Geographic Channel.
STANLEY KUTLER complains that the search for Deep Throat trivializes Watergate history. Me, I think it was Kirsten Dunst.
Jack Buck, dead at 77. Buck broadcast the painful 1980 NL Championship Series that helped shape me into the bitter husk of a man I am today.
VIA INSTAPUNDIT: more on Caribou Coffee.
THE LATE SCOTT SHUGER on a war crime in the disputed Palestinian territorities.
REASON # 782 WHY the Internet is killing music business sales: the American Song-Poem Music Archives. Though I don't think we'll see Adam Bonin discourse on "Blind Man's Penis". (Why doesn't Adam Bonin have a blog? His wife does.)

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

PROFESSOR VOLOKH has been having a fascinating discussion of the Kyllo case, which held that heat detection equipment, when applied to scan a house, was a "search" that needed to comply with Fourth Amendment protections. Eugene has been asking what the implications are for a hypothetical emergency where police are driving down streets with Geiger counters searching for a hidden nuclear bomb (or, presumably, the manufacture of such a bomb, since if the bomb is already put together, why hasn't it been detonated already?).

To quibble with the hypothetical, I question whether Geiger counters are sensitive enough to detect radiation coming from a house while driving down a street -- if there's that much radiation that it can be detected yards away through intervening construction materials, I'd think the people in the house would be quickly sick or dead. Without getting into the kind of detail that a naughty person with a web browser might use against us, I believe it's possible to construct a dirty bomb that would irradiate a vast swath of a city without emitting so much as a rad of particle radiation in the process.

In any event, I'm curious if Professor Volokh's British readers are wondering what all the fuss is about. But sometimes that's just the way the Jell-O judicates.
RES IPSA LOQUITUR. How does one get to be an expert in "the decomposition of mice in various baked goods"? Is there a treatise one can consult? Are there competing schools of mice decomposition theory that battle it out in rival journals?
CAPTAIN SPAULDING has been dissecting Vicki Lawrence's web page once he found out that she was playing The Orleans in Las Vegas, but he somehow neglected to mention her meat-loaf recipe.
YOU JUST CAN'T BEAT Howard Bashman to the punch, but, regardless, this Judge Posner opinion is a fascinating primer on the economics of price-fixing and cartels, the appropriate standard for summary judgment, and the role of expert witnesses in litigation, as well as the importance of recognizing how many little pieces of evidence, individually not sufficient proof in and of themselves, can be built into something much sturdier when viewed in totality.
ONE OF THE FASCINATING aspects of the go-go years was the "secondary market" that arose for characters and items in multi-player on-line fantasy games like EverQuest and Ultima Online. (I'm probably fairly classified as a geek, but I somehow never played either. I was reminded of the phenomenon when I purchased "Morrowind" for the Xbox the other day.)

People with spare pocket change, but no time to play on-line games weren't satisfied with putting in the time to build a character; they took advantage of the market to jump-start the market. Economists were thrilled by this display of Pareto efficiency; hard-core gamers debated the ethics; the game companies varied from mildly enthusiastic to vaguely discouraging and eventually banning the practice all together (and then back to fairly indifferent a year later, perhaps out of recognition of the futility of fighting the sales). One company recognized the opportunity of running the secondary market itself, but that business model seems not to have taken off.

Some media folk suggested that it was possible to earn a living through game-playing. But by November 1999, increased supply meant that the rate for a piece of platinum on Everquest had dropped to $0.10. The fellow who sold a character for $4,850 admitted putting 1900 hours into building that character -- meaning he earned less than minimum wage in the process.

In reality, most players played for fun, and the earnings from selling off a character once they were ready to quit playing was lagniappe. Fair enough; I play blackjack and poker for fun, and make enough money doing it to have to fill out a Schedule C, but I know too many miserably unhappy professional gamblers to dream of turning my hobby into a living.

One could write a whole economics exam around these on-line games; this paper by an Ultima Online game developer gives some sense of the problems that simple principles of economics can cause in game design in a dynamic game.

I might add that far too many sports game designers are unfamiliar with these basic principles; every sports video game I've played that has a "career" mode fails to adequately balance the entry and exit of "new talent" into the game, and thus what it takes to win in Season 1 is a different animal from what it takes to win in Season 10. This is especially problematic in baseball video games, where the imbalance tends to further extend to pitching vs. hitting, resulting in abnormally low or high offense for the league as a whole. The only game designer I've seen get this precisely right is Jim Gindin's amazing (but text-based) football games. I whole-heartedly endorse this product or service.
I KEEP READING that Jose Padilla "hasn't committed any crime". There may or may not be something wrong with his indefinite detention (the slippery slope implications bother me much more than this particular instance). But conspiracy to commit a crime is still a crime, and that's what Abdullah al-Muhajir, as Jose Padilla chooses to call himself when his birth name isn't more convenient, is being accused of.
AP IMITATES THE ONION: "Survey: More Young People Nagging".

Monday, June 17, 2002

THE RICH GET RICHER? From today's New York Times:
In many places with big increases, the gains went disproportionately to people in the top fifth of the income spectrum, according to Andrew A. Beveridge, a sociologist at Queens College who analyzed the census data for The New York Times. People at the top gained the most and people at the middle and bottom gained considerably less.

In San Francisco County, for example, where the median household income rose by $11,854, to $55,221, the income of people in the top fifth of the income spectrum rose by $33,584, to $117,730, Professor Beveridge found. The income of the people in the bottom fifth rose by $3,374, to $21,153. The income of people in the middle rose by $16,961, to $70,470.

"Most of the prosperity has gone into the hands of the rich," said Professor Wolff of N.Y.U., citing his own findings from other data. "The top 20 percent did well in the 90's. And even among that group, it's the top 1 percent that made out like bandits."
Kaus has his own set of criticisms, but the real problem with newspaper reports like this is described in two paragraphs in the same article, which are then promptly ignored:
Many experts suspect immigration helps explain those patterns. As low-wage workers poured in from places like Central America in pursuit of a better life, the midpoint on the income spectrum in some places with large foreign-born populations may have, paradoxically, inched down. At the same time, native-born people moved out — from the New York region to the Southeast, from Los Angeles to places like Nevada, some demographers say. Though those people may have moved up economically by moving away, their departures may have helped lower the median in the places they left behind.

"You see how the arithmetic works?" asked Gary Burtless, an economist at the Brookings Institution. "When you have a lot of people entering from the rest of the world, and many of them enter at the lower rungs of the wage distribution, then you can have a situation where everyone is prospering and the median income is declining."
In 1990, I was a part-time computer consultant putting myself through college, with an income of about $10,000 or so. In 2000, I was in that top one percent that Professor Wolff complains about. The precise description of the data is not, as the Times writes (and many of its quoted "experts" ask the readers to infer), "The income of the people in the bottom fifth rose by $3,374," but, rather, "The income of the people in the bottom fifth was $3,374 higher than the income of the same quintile ten years ago." The income of the people in the 1990 bottom fifth went up by a lot more than $3,374, because they include people who moved into the top four quintiles (and even into the top 1%) who are not being counted by this income-distribution measurement.

What were 25-35 year-olds earning in 1990, how did that same cohort do in 2000, and how does that compare to other ten-year stretches in American history? Those are the interesting questions, but if they're being addressed by the data, they're not being reported by the press.
JUST FLIPPED TO ABC to see if they had anything on about the game, and it's a couple of pretty-face anchors holding up pictures of newspaper headlines and talking about them. Except the commentary is insipid (the degree to which former Enron executives look worried in months-old file photos that USA Today ran on its business page) and often flat-out wrong (an anchor called Justice Kennedy a "shoo-in" for the Chief Justice spot because he was the "deciding vote in Bush v. Gore" in commenting on today's Washington Post speculation about his supposed maneuvering).

I've never been one of those who subscribed to the Weblogs Will Crush Old-Style Media theory. Still, I have to look at this ABC report (which I'll never do again), look at Instapundit and a couple of dozen other web sites that are doing the same thing more intelligently and more thoroughly, and wonder if ABC really expects me to watch this garbage. (And I'm one of the 12% of households that doesn't have cable or satellite television. I have all of five channels to choose from (not even decent PBS reception), and ABC still loses out.)
CAN THE U.S. HOLD on to a 1-0 lead? I'll find out when I wake up, I guess. If we make it to the third round, I'll stay up for the whole game.
SCARY TALE OF a hostage situation in an East Village bar, but there's a happy ending when the gunman is tackled by two potential victims. Excellent reporting from the Times.
SCOTT SHUGER, whose "Todays' Papers" bit for Slate was pretty much the forerunner of the Instapundit model, died in a scuba-diving accident this weekend.
THE RIGHT WING justifiably screams in outrage when an Al Sharpton goes out and celebrates the teenage "wilding" monsters who raped and beat a Central Park jogger and left her for dead as she lost 75% of her blood. "The Amsterdam News, a black newspaper, published the victim's name and labeled the prosecution a racist conspiracy."

But where's the right wing's sense of outrage when a white ethnic community celebrates a true monster, John Gotti? The New York Post didn't do much to distinguish itself from the Amsterdam News' performance a decade earlier, when its front-page analysis was a nauseating Father's Day love letter from his daughter, Victoria, followed by this appalling Steve Dunleavy piece. (One newsie did get in a subtle dig with the smaller headline "GOTTI GOES TO UNDERWORLD.") But if it weren't for the letters section, a Post reader would barely know that Gotti made his living murdering and threatening people, including many whose only fault was to be trying to earn an honest living in a market where Gotti gained control.

UPDATE: NRO's John Derbyshire does raise his voice on Gotti Tuesday morning, and even uses the word outrage. (Thanks to John Thacker for the e-mailed link.)

SEPTEMBER 7 UPDATE: Was Al Sharpton actually right all along?
AN OLDIE BUT GOODIE: skeptical critique of Sesame Street. I've long suspected the success of Sesame Street comes from the fact that it's one of the few children's shows bearable for adults to watch, but that's because it's too ironic to really be a children's show.