Saturday, August 31, 2002

NICE DEBUNKING of the anti-Semitic myth that Israel deliberately attacked the U.S.S. Liberty. The author is a bankruptcy judge in Florida.
HA'ARETZ INTERVIEW with Michael Oren, author of "Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East."
INNUMERACY OF THE WEEK. The New York Times reports on a Justice Policy Institute study complaining that there are more black men who are incarcerated than enrolled in colleges or university. It has the right disclaimer:
Some criminal justice experts said it was misleading to compare the two categories because the number in jail and prison includes all adult black men 17 years or older, while the number in institutions of higher learning is confined to a narrower student-age population in their late teens and early twenties.
But then the Times goes ahead and gives a platform for precisely this kind of misleading statement:
But Todd Clear, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, said the study's findings were still significant and "tell us there has been a public policy far overemphasizing investment in criminal justice instead of in education for this population."

"It tells you that the life chances of a black male going to prison is greater today than the chances of a black male going to college, and it wasn't always this way," Professor Clear said.
Now, perhaps the Times misrepresented Professor Clear's words. But, if not, the man has no business commenting on quantitative facts: "the life chances of a black male going to college" is not equivalent to the life chances of a black male being in college. There are millions of black males who have gone to college and who are no longer there, and it's an insult to black males to say that a random selection of black males is more likely to be convicts than to be college educated. One more interesting point from the article:
Justice Department figures show that from 1990 to 2000, 50 percent of the growth in inmate populations at state prisons was for violent crimes
In other words, don't blame increased drug enforcement. It's not racism that's putting black men in prison, it's dysfunction within the community.
NICE PIECE IN THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE on Barry Bonds. Among the revealing anecdotes is how the same San Francisco press that lambastes Bonds coddles his inferior (and white) teammate, Jeff Kent.
Last year, while Bonds was on the verge of breaking the home-run record, [Kent] told Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated: ''I was raised to be a team guy, and I am, but Barry's Barry. It took me two years to learn to live with it, but I learned.'' Although Kent was publicly taking a teammate to task during a pennant race, which isn't quite the act of a ''team guy,'' there was little criticism of this in the sports media.

One day when I was in the locker room, not long after Kent and Bonds came to blows in the dugout in which Bonds appeared to put his forearm in Kent's throat, Kent, about to take off his towel, asked a pack of reporters if there were any ''queers'' or ''women'' among them -- a remark that, especially in San Francisco, would have created a certain stir. Although he was surrounded by at least a dozen reporters who half have seized upon any number of Bonds' remarks, none, as far I know, reported this. ''Is there a double standard because Kent talks to us?'' one sports radio announcer told me. ''Definitely.''
The story notes that McGwire was similarly protected; it doesn't say, but I know from my Chicago sports-connected friends that Sammy Sosa gets lots of breaks from the media, too. For some reason, Barry Bonds, who, after having the greatest season in the history of the game, is doing it again at the age of 38 after signing the last contract he'll ever sign, and single-handedly keeping his mediocre team in the pennant race, still doesn't get the respect he deserves.

Ted Williams was hated when he played, too, and only in the last twenty years did he reach mythic status. Will Bonds undergo the same transformation of perception? Will our grandkids wonder how the heck did Bonds miss out on three or four more MVP awards? Bonds is the greatest left fielder of all time, he's playing now, and we're missing out on history because a handful of sportswriters resent that he purchased a leather recliner for his locker.

Friday, August 30, 2002

THE NCSE HAS some interesting observations about the Freudian slips underlying the creationist Discovery Institute's logos and slogans.

WE'RE REACHING A NICE CRITICAL mass of readers now where even on days I haven't had time to surf the web, I get good pieces sent my way. Here's a Washington Post piece on "yogic flying" for peace. (If you haven't seen yogic flying, it's sitting in a lotus position, hopping with your thigh muscles, and claiming that you're levitating.) They have a scam where they're selling unsecured zero-coupon bonds at a lower interest rate than they'd ever be able to get from a bank.
THAT SOUND YOU HEAR is me losing all respect for the "Bob the Angry Flower" guy. I'd say his brother was right (see the entry headed "August 29 - Freedom Day!").
A DAY AFTER THE NYT tipped off the rest of the world about the new super-duper vending machine in D.C., the big local fishwrap catches up with the news:
The big automated convenience store in Adams Morgan has only been there two weeks, but word is out. By noon yesterday a mob of media swarmed the large steel and glass machine. Cameras rolled, mikes were poised, reporters scratched at their notepads. Only one thing was missing: the customers.
That's "by noon yesterday", i.e., in just enough time for the reporters to read the NYT story, smack their foreheads and jump in their cars and camera trucks to drive over to Adams Morgan.

Apparently even the local residents were caught by surprise by the new machine, with one city councilman complaining he hadn't heard a thing about it before it suddenly appeared earlier this month. Given the neighborhood we're talking about, of course, the surprise wasn't the only thing that's upset the locals:
Rogers is concerned about the human toll an automated store will have on his community. "People need to know that when they shop at that box, they are giving money to McDonald's and taking away jobs from the neighborhood," he says.
Whew! McDonald's! Too bad the vending machine isn't allied with one of those gas-station convenience stores instead, so the locals would have the oooooiiiiiiiiiiillllllllll connection to wring their hands about as well.

Actually, this guy's concern about the loss of friendly neighborhood business isn't so off-the-wall, if you ask me, but then again, Lileks' tales of playing cigarette battleship will remind you that little Adams Morgan corner stores aren't where you go for ultra-helpful service-with-a-smile anyway. (Heck, Mount Pleasant does better, in my experience.)
THERE'S BEEN A BIG controversy because Jackie Mason cancelled an opening act, and the guy is claiming that it was because he was Palestinian. I hope Captain Spaulding chips in to the debate with his experience as a Jewish comic who got bumped from opening for Jackie Mason.
WHY AM I NOT SURPRISED? Mobile phones don't cause tumors:
The research on 1,600 mice, by the Adelaide-based Institute of Medical and Veterinary Science, follows another Australian study on mice five years ago that concluded cellular phones could foster tumor growth.

The 1997 study fueled consumer concern about the safety of mobile phones but the Adelaide scientists said they could not replicate the findings in their mice, half of which were genetically engineered to be extremely susceptible to tumors.

"That then gives you confidence that if you don't find an effect in these animals you are probably not going to find an effect in normal animals, humans being a normal animal," said Tim Kuchel, a spokesman for the Adelaide research team.

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

JOE LIEBERMAN IN New Hampshire.
WALTER OLSON'S ON VACATION, but when he gets back, he'd want to comment on this proposed lawsuit against baseball. Utterly bogus. And when California rejects a plaintiffs' theory, you know it's ludicrous.
THE WAPO REPORTS ON D.C.'s John School -- something like traffic school, except for men caught soliciting prostitution instead of just driving like maniacs. Interesting idea, sure, but the article says the school's "curriculum" was borrowed from that of San Francisco, which is not high on my list of cities astonishingly successful at eliminating urban pathologies.
HOW COME I HAVE to learn from the New York Times that the largest vending machine in America is right here in Adams Morgan?
FANS OF LGF'S elephant pictures might also be interested in this Guardian story about an early LSD experiment that took place 40 years ago:
Thomas volunteered the services of Tusko, a 3,200kg, 14-year-old male elephant. They were all set to establish what an elephant on acid would get up to. One crucial point had to be decided - how much LSD would it take to make him run amok? Research had established that lower animals are less susceptible to the mind-altering effects of LSD than humans. It would be a waste to have an elephant ready to go and then miss out on the unique opportunity by giving it an insufficient dose.

West and Pierce decided to go for it. While 297mg might not sound a lot, it is enough LSD to make nearly 3,000 people experience hours of "marked mental disturbance," to use the researchers' phrase.
The early Sixties were a special time -- post-Elvis, pre-Beatlemania, and teenage death songs were burning up the airwaves -- no wonder it made sense to acquire a huge elephant and try to make it freak out on acid. Unfortunately, the outcome of the experiment wasn't as interesting as the concept behind it.

Tuesday, August 27, 2002

"JOURNEYS WITH GEORGE" finally has a website and apparently an HBO deal.
MORE TALK SHOWS THAN EVER, but Charles Nelson Reilly can't get a gig.
THE NEW YORK TIMES, having already covered subway pigeons, turns its discerning eye to the Fulton Street Subway cat.
WHO'DA THUNK THE NY TIMES would give editorial page space to Bjorn Lomberg?
FOR LAN3 AND THE OTHER three readers who care: KCRW's Inside the Cult of Kibu interview. That's what bloggers need: media coaches! The author suggests that the Internet companies that survived were the "ones who took it slow," which is exactly backwards.
"THE MLBPA's LUXURY tax proposal is bogus," says Ted Frank in today's Baseball Prospectus.
INTELLIGENT DESIGN FOR DUMMIES, Parts one and two.
THEY'RE STINGY WITH THE EUROS: Tucked away in a New York Times editorial today about money pledged to Afghanistan in January is the interesting revelation that "[u]nlike many European countries, America has fully delivered the aid it promised." Fancy that. The editorial goes on to suggest that "Washington should begin shifting its assistance from emergency relief to reconstruction", which doesn't sound like a bad idea to me, but I can just see it being spun as Big Bad America taking its money away from relief operations -- the kind of thing you'd expect to hear from the people who wanted the Taliban to remain in power at least for the winter so the NGOs could truck in less food than could be brought into a Taliban-free country. Meanwhile, if U.S. money is going to reconstruction, who can we count on to handle the relief side? (If not the EU, maybe the Anglosphere?)
WAR LIBERAL MAC posted his latest Captain Euro episode on Saturday, but I didn't get around to linking it until today because I'm a bad person. I wonder who the blogosphere could cast in the roles of the four main characters from the latest episode? Pilger would make a good Captain Euro -- at least, I'd like to see him try on the costume -- and the sergeant would have to be Stryker, but what about the Colonel and his aide? I was thinking of Den Beste and Bruce R. at first, but Den Beste's only a captain, and I'm not sure of Bruce's rank.

(Update: Yes, I know that a captain in the ranking system used by the Navy and Starfleet is on par with a colonel in the Army and other services. But I needed some excuse to reject Den Beste and solicit other suggestions.)

(Update II: Mac writes, "I don't know how Sgt. Stryker would feel about being an army sergeant." Er, no hard feelings, PBR.)
CALIFORNIA'S RACY GUBERNATORIAL RACE has become a reliable source of entertainment for those of us in the rest of the world thanks to coverage by Golden State bloggers like Bill Quick and Matt Welch. Politicos here in Maryland, meanwhile, are working overtime to manufacture scandals that'll spice up our state's gubernatorial race this year, as evidenced by a couple of articles in today's Baltimore Sun. First off, there's another vague story about the ongoing vague investigation into a state anti-crime agency headed up by Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who is the Democratic candidate for governor. The thrust of the piece is that the agency, which receives some federal funds, could find itself charged under a statute designed to protect federal funds from the misuse that the state agency may have engaged in, whatever the heck that might have been. Here's a great quote from Baltimore lawyer David Irwin regarding whatever it is that the investigators are investigating:
"It may not be obvious, because we don't know the ins and outs of what they're looking at," said Irwin, who has represented a number of high-profile, white-collar criminal defendants and previously served as a federal prosecutor. "But I guarantee you, if you do anything wrong or immoral, they can find a federal statute that covers it."
Amen to that. Meanwhile, Townsend's GOP rival, blue-eyed Rep. Bob Ehrlich, is still feeling the reverberations from the ruckus he set off a few weeks ago when he selected a black man as his running mate in spite of the well-known fact that Republicans and black people aren't supposed to mix. The latest news is that the running mate in question, Michael Steele, is being paid five grand a month in "consulting fees" by the state GOP while he runs on their ticket. The Dems are apparently trying to paint this as an example of the Republicans having hired a black man to add some diversity to the ticket, even though the article notes that Steele was already state Republican Party chairman -- an unpaid position -- when he was named to be Ehrlich's running mate.
AUSSIE TIM MATE has gone through a speech by one of the new Khmer Vert members of Australia's parliament and picked out some choice phraseologies reflecting her idiotarian pathologies. So am I right to glean from this that at the same time as the U.S. is tossing out "colorful" characters from its Congress, the parliaments of Australia and the rest of the world are letting more and more Indymedia types in? Other countries' legislative assemblies tend to be more raucous than ours anyway, and I'd say this wave from the left has the potential to out-wacko even the most rip-snortin' members of the U.S. House's mid-'90s Gingrichite freshman class...
I'M GLAD STARBUCKS GUY included photos of the D.C.-area outlets he's visited; I was able to recognize by sight many of the ones I've never been in (since I don't like Starbucks coffee much). The one at 7140 Wisconsin Avenue is close to my apartment, though, and I've been known to stop in there for a bagel when I'm walking to work in the morning. (The one below that on the page, at the corner of Norfolk and Woodmont, is closer to my office.) Too bad he didn't walk a couple of blocks west from 7140 Wisconsin or he would have been at the Barnes & Noble that has a big Starbucks logo in its second-floor window, right by the tables for the "café".
AND HE HAS A FAQ page:
Do you drive to all these places by yourself?

For the most part, yes, because I don't know others than can afford the time or expensve of taking road trips for weeks at a time. Additionally, nobody would want to follow me around from Starbucks to Starbucks, so if I had company, I would have to split my Starbucks time visiting other things, and for the moment my focus is to visit all the stores.
NOW HERE'S A FELLOW WHO HAS visited 3182 Starbucks stores. I think everyone should send him an e-mail and tell him he's cheating by not including the kiosks in Barnes and Noble, and that the American people won't recognize his attempt to visit every Starbucks until he visits every Starbucks, rather than an artificially circumscribed subset. (via Beam)
ISO 9000 DUH AWARD. Grading Disparities Verified in D.C. (washingtonpost.com):
The school has changed its procedures because of the forgeries, Tarason said. Previously, students who said a grade on their transcript was inaccurate were given a grade-change form to be signed by their teacher and returned to administrators by the student. Now, Tarason said, the student will not be given the form. The teacher will be responsible for filling it out and delivering it to administrators.
WILL BUSH EVER CHANGE THE TUNE?
CRAWFORD, Texas (Reuters) - President Bush called Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah on Tuesday to praise the "eternal friendship" between the United States and Saudi Arabia hours before receiving his ambassador for a Texas ranch visit highlighting strong U.S. ties with its Arab ally.
Let's hope Dubya had his fingers crossed when he uttered that quoted comment. Otherwise, Bill Quick's strategy is looking more attractive all the time...
THE SUN'S PHOTOGRAPHER sure did a good job of making the pastor in that inflatable church look like Richard Dawson, didn't he? Maybe he still has his old M.O. of giving every bride a little kiss before beginning the ceremonies.

Monday, August 26, 2002

ONE OF THE nicest mainstream pieces I've seen on the baseball labor negotiations, perhaps because it wasn't written by a sportswriter, in the New York Times:
Making a demand that would be anathema to most labor unions, the Major League Baseball Players Association wants to let salaries rise and fall as market forces dictate.

And in a demand that flies in the face of notions of free enterprise, the club owners are pushing a proposal that smacks of socialism. They want to soak the richest owners and redistribute income to poorer teams to level off team payrolls.

"In baseball, collective bargaining has been turned on its head," said Charles P. O'Connor, the owners' chief negotiator in the late 1980's.

Typically in labor negotiations, management wants a free market in salaries so that it can pay more to its best employees and less to its least productive ones, while unions oppose such merit pay to avoid subjectivity and favoritism.

And historically labor, not management, is intent on squeezing the rich and redistributing income.
A FRIEND WRITES ME:
My new catchphrase: "What you need is an inflatable church!"
THE REAL-LIFE Doonesbury is running for Congress as a Green, and getting lots of publicity (like this blog entry!) from people fascinated by the trivia. His politics are cartoonish, by coincidence.
HOW COME I NEVER get e-mails like this from blogging?

UPDATE: Well, I got a marriage proposal from David Nieporent. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but he's not my type.
NIKE FIGHTS FOR its free speech rights.
YOU MAY HAVE already read about this in Harper's, but here's This American Life's tale of Jim McManus's trip to the World Series of Poker.
TODAY'S NEW YORK TIMES contains the umpteen trillionth iteration on the "all the real money on the Internet is in porn and spam" story, and since it's an article so long that the online version spans two HTML pages, it hits many of the themes that are supposed to be mentioned in any such story:
  • Golly gosh gee willikers, there's a lot of fraud out there! From penis-enlargement pills to the old Nigerian scam, and all so lucrative!
  • The Internet was supposed to make us smarter but we're all looking at dumb stuff now! (i.e., the same canard everybody repeats about the history of the TV industry, which allegedly was originally supposed to be some wonderful means of education, even though right from the get-go it was full of the same lowbrow sitcoms, variety shows and melodramas that were already a radio staple, and indeed were often just new versions of old radio shows.)
  • Even in offline industries, smut and fraud is lucrative! Every new technology is used for porn -- just look at VCRs, why don'tcha, for cryin' out loud!
  • The government is working hard to do something about it, with the FTC cracking down on fraud and spam! Hooray!
All this analysis -- including people fretting about how the intelligent "neighborhoods" on the Web are being crowded out by "slums" of fraud and hucksters -- is nonetheless grounded in old-fashioned viewpoints that don't apply all that well to the Net anyway.

For one thing, the matter of which sites are the most lucrative is a red herring when looking for the real soul of the Web, since unlike on TV, the areas of the Web that are highly popular aren't necessarily turning that popularity into cash. Look at how Little Green Footballs and other highly popular blogs find themselves having to shake the tin cup for donations -- or look at how the well-loved pop-cultural site Something Awful has on occasion doubled as a journal of its owner's monetary woes.

Meanwhile, unlike in the case of TV and radio with the limitations of the broadcast spectrum, or in the case of old print media where delivery space and shelf space are at a premium, Web sites don't have to fight with each other for space, and a wise and well-informed site like Instapundit (or even the NYT's own site) will draw a helluva lot more repeat interest than those sites you see here and there that have virtually no content other than a few flashing punch-the-monkey ads and come-ons for girlie spycams and dick-size nostrums -- even if the latter type of site is more common than the former type if you just look at the raw numbers. So the worries about the "leafy digital neighborhoods" being crowded out by the red-light districts are just a case of a bad analogy substituting for clear-eyed analysis.

(This is one case where the Web has an advantage over my beloved old Usenet; much of Usenet was taken over by spam, just as people feared during the Canter and Siegel debacle in 1994-95, but that's because floods of posts really can drown out a Usenet newsgroup, something that doesn't happen to Web sites just because there are porn sites and scammers elsewhere on the Web.)

In the meantime, while the FTC's post-facto efforts to punish fraud are useful and necessary, you really have to wonder where we've gone wrong in creating a vast populace that's so easily taken that such fraud makes so much money in the first place; one penis-pill business was so lucrative that, the NYT reports, "the state was able to seize more than $30 million in luxury real estate and a herd of Mercedes-Benzes, Rolls Royces and a Lamborghini." Furrfu.
SOMETHING THAT JUST popped into my head: They used to say that every bloating piece of software will undergo feature creep until it eventually includes the ability to handle e-mail; recent events have me wondering if every fervently held anti-mainstream ideology will eventually include contempt for Jews.

This may be related to Blair's Law™. Call it Combustible Boy's Corollary™ if you like.
MORE ON THE "$100 trillion lawsuit" against Saudi Arabia. A number of victims are already unhappy with their attorney team who, among other offenses, have hired Jean-Charles Brisard, an idiotarian who claims that the 9-11 strikes were the result of administration pressure to build an Afghanistan pipeline.
ERROR COMPOUNDING ERROR. A California appeals court affirmed a ludicrous $290 million punitive damages award on the grounds that it was "1.2 percent of defendant's net worth and nine days of its profits at the time of trial." (It is extraordinarily unlikely for both statements to be true.) The jury had acknowledged that the plaintiffs were partially at fault for their own injuries, and voted 9-3 to award punitives 58 times the compensatory damages.

It makes sense to assess punitive damages on individuals based on net worth. It makes no sense to do that to corporations: then you're punishing them for being big, rather than for anything that they've actually done wrong.

Take the infamous McDonald's coffee case, where punitive damages were assessed based on McDonald's sales. McDonald's is a huge corporation, not because they sell their coffee for billions of dollars, but because they sell billions of dollars worth of products. McDonald's can be a thousand times safer than Joe's Corner Coffee, which sells a millionth as much coffee, and still face a thousand times more cases. If each of those cases imposes a million times more damages based on McDonald's size, then McDonald's is paying a higher percentage of its wealth than Joe's Corner Coffee, even though McDonald's is *safer* than the corner coffee shop: the punitive damages are double-counted both by the individual case considering McDonald's wealth, and the fact that McDonald's faces more cases simply because of its size.

If the courts hit McDonald's just as forcefully as Joe's Corner Coffee in the individual case (by limiting punitives to some multiple of compensatory damages), McDonald's feels the pain in aggregate just as much as Joe's Corner Coffee when they are as dangerous as Joe's Corner Coffee.

That gets beyond whether punitive damages are at all appropriate for a product that is safer than the average car on the road, but that's a different question.
THIS FRONT-PAGE ARTICLE about the GOP New Hampshire Senate primary somehow fails to mention the earlier controversy over Sununu's pro-Palestinian views.

Sunday, August 25, 2002

THE SECRET TO Starbucks' success? Willingness to self-cannibalize. Still at issue for the long-term:
What about those notoriously fickle consumer tastes? Does Starbucks become a classic, like Coca-Cola, or a cult drink, like Moxie?
IF YOU'RE PLAYING no-limit Texas Hold 'Em, and the person to your right makes a small raise, and you make a pot-raise with Ace-Queen of different suits, and the dealer pot-raises you, you can put him all in if you're feeling ambitious, but you definitely should not just call. The better option is to fold, unless the raiser's stack is very small. An ace didn't fall, and the raiser's pair of kings held up.

Because of that mistake, I ended up going out of a tournament a few hands later: three players saw the flop, I had KJ versus when K9 tried to raise me out of a K72 flop, but one of the other three nines hit, and I didn't get any other help. I'm not ready for the World Series just yet.
I THOUGHT CHARLES JOHNSON was just exaggerating for comic effect when he recently referred to "the 7000 princes" in Saudi Arabia, but now Matt Welch reports that the number of princes is over 6,000 and ever-growing. Welch doesn't appear to be joking, either.
THIS ARCHIVED THREAD from alt.cellular.motorola might be of help, Max...
GEEK ALERT. Okay, we live in miraculous times where I can have a 4-ounce cellphone that looks a heck of a lot like a Star Trek communicator. So, someone out there tell me: where can I download a ring-tone that sounds like the distinctive communicator cricket-chirp? First one to tell me gets a mention in this entry. (OK, there's one for Ericsson, but I have a Motorola.)
CAPTAIN LOUIS RENAULT AWARD. You mean those pop-up ads offering "free vacations" are rip-offs? Quelle surprise!

UPDATE: An Oakland reader writes "We Casablanca purists hold that the CLR Award goes only to those people who express shock at malfeasance that they themselves are complicit in; are you alleging that the Times is complicit in pop-up vacation scams?" I have been out-pedanted.
AN EAST COAST anti-SUV campaign.