Saturday, September 14, 2002

THERE IS NOW blog.hotornot.com. You can see all sorts of crummy blogs this way, but you should click on the link to give us a good rating, please.
"The music you hear in automobile commercials is better than most of the music you can hear on the radio," says an advertiser in a New York Times piece, and he's right. Volkswagen, who has probably sold me more CDs than any radio station has in the last five years (with the exception of KCRW), even has a music web site, www.radiovw.com.
BLOGS ARE ABUZZ about the new Mark Steyn column making some rather explosive allegations about teenagers in the New York metro area who might have known about the WTC attack ahead of time. Steyn appears to have gotten the information from this Insight article by the former Journal News reporter described in the Steyn piece, Jeffrey Scott Shapiro. (N.B.: In the Insight piece, Shapiro seems to be leaving himself some wiggle room to be wrong, though.)
HAVE THE PALESTINIANS decided to join the ring of civilized peoples? This New York Times analysis is cautiously optimistic.
FASCINATING PIECE on an economist's paper demonstrating that teams don't go for it often enough on fourth down. Turns out that the combined expectation of a touchdown (or, in the worst-case scenario, poor field position for the other team), it's economically rational to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the five, but most teams will kick the field goal as close in as the two-yard line.

It's a good example of the principal-agent problem. A football coach trying to do the best job for his team would accept the unconventional strategy, but the personal risks of losing while bucking the conventional wisdom (compared to losing while doing things by the book) outweigh the additional gains from the increased probability of winning. (via McErlain)

Friday, September 13, 2002

MERYL YOURISH HAS excerpts of Hanan Ashrawi's speech in Colorado yesterday. Mostly the sort of thing you'd expect, but I was struck by this:
Asked if she condoned suicide bombings, Ashrawi said the bombings are, "absolutely tragic and I don't accept it. Not only do they not work, they're morally reprehensible."
Sure, Hanan. Still, it's interesting that after we pro-Israeli types have spent months criticizing the other side for opposing bombings of civilians on strategic grounds rather than moral grounds, it actually seems to have made a dent on the other side's rhetoric.
"ALL DISSENT IS CRUSHED! The government is building prison camps! We're all under the eyes and thumb of Big Brother! Here are my posters saying so, and voicing other vicious calumnies against the Bush Administration, complete with my name and contact information! Hey, wait a minute..."

So how much longer do you think he'll have to be walking around freely, not thrown in jail, not beaten up by government thugs, not sent away to re-education camps, not hounded by police and FBI agents, before it dawns on him that he was wrong and he apologizes for the erroneous posters? That's sure to happen eventually, right?
TWO AMERICAN PILOTS who were involved in the errant bombing in Afghanistan that killed and wounded several Canadian soldiers have been charged by the Air Force with involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, and dereliction of duty. Canadian military man and "Flit" blogger Bruce R., who's been following this case closely, has piles of details.
FOR MONTHS NOW, the blogosphere has been talking about how Iran's reigning order is being terrorized by rollerskating young women and Barbie dolls and an army of pissed-off teenaged blogger girls. Today, from a column in the Arab News, we learn that male Saudis (who, it says here, "have always placed [their] women on pedestals") are being oppressed by flirty teenage girls too:
Recently, at a shopping mall, a group of these young women stuffed themselves into an elevator with me. Even though I didn’t know them, I felt terribly embarrassed for their families. These teens had perfumed themselves with scents so overpowering that it was impossible to breathe comfortably in the confined space. The lower portion of their faces were covered, but their eyes were made up with sparkling bright blue and green powders plus heavy mascara and eyeliner. They had on sandals with platform soles at least six inches high and tightly cut abayas. Numerous bangles and rings adorned their arms and hands. Their fingernails and toenails sported outrageous manicures. Ragged, frayed jeans peeped out from under their cloaks. They talked loudly and giggled constantly on the short ride to the second floor.
With populations so heavily skewed toward the younger birth cohorts, it looks like boiling-over young-womanhood is not something to be trifled with, however hard the vice-and-virtue cops will try.

Girl power!
HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES ON ZIONISM from the archives of The Atlantic Web site: "Zionist Aspirations in Palestine", from the July 1920 issue, and "The Creed of an American Zionist", from the February 1945 issue. An illuminating look at how the concept of Zionism, so maligned in the decades since Israel's founding, was perceived by earlier writers.
SEEING "UNCLE CAP'N" in Tom the Dancing Bug's latest Super-Fun-Pak Comix reminds me of something I've always wondered: How exactly was it that grizzled, pipe-chomping old salts came to be typecast as avuncular grownup playmates for little kids? It can't all be because of Popeye, can it? I try to be fairly pop-culture savvy, but arrrr! this thing's drivin' me nuts!

Maybe Captain Spaulding can tell us, once he's done hosting his Kiddie Story Time down at the local bookmobile stop.

Thursday, September 12, 2002

NO BUILDINGS HAVE collapsed in Lower Manhattan since 7 World Trade Center fell late last Sept. 11, but the Engineering News-Record reports that the future is still uncertain for several of the buildings ringing the WTC site, including One Liberty Plaza and the Millennium Hilton, formerly the WTC's neighbors across Church Street, and the Banker's Trust and 90 West Street buildings that stand across Liberty Street from the WTC site. As the buildings contend with structural damage and exposure to the weather, and the owners deal with loss of income due to broken leases, the issue of whether to repair the buildings or raze them is further clouded by disputes with insurers. Meanwhile, the building owners and contractors are being tight-lipped about their plans, though the magazine's reporter did a good job of extracting what information she could.

Read it down to the last paragraph; it's a kicker. Then check out some of the ENR's other stories on the rebuilding efforts in Lower Manhattan.
WARREN ZEVON HAS untreatable lung cancer.

(Via Lair)
SILFLAY HRAKA'S REVIEW of Sept. 11 comics includes a link to a Superosity comic repeating that "Bush gave the Taliban $43 million" canard that's long been debunked and debunked and debunked. I've been following the world of urban legends and factoids for years and know that they never really go away, although I sure wish I could put a bullet in the brain of this one (or at least cover its head in biscuit dough so no one takes it seriously).

Looks like the truth is losing the war on this one, particularly on the Internet, where tens of Web sites repeat the tale, most presenting it as fact -- including one page whose readers have submitted just about every idiotarian conspiracy theory under the sun, some of which even I hadn't heard of before.

Meanwhile, in the more lighthearted world of amazing coincidences that actually are true, it looks like the New York lottery numbers yesterday really were 9-1-1, an eerie sort of callback to those New Jersey lottery drawings that picked the number of the American Airlines flight that crashed right after takeoff in New York last November.

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

SEPTEMBER ELEVENTH one year later dawned in the D.C. area much like that infamous day a year ago -- blue skies, few clouds, sun on every streetcorner. I walked around a little bit taking snapshots, which you can see by following the links in the rest of this post. This Sept. 11 was a little windier than last year, and that's not the only change in the air; a somber mood is pervasive here in downtown Bethesda, where every flag is at half-staff today, and one of the office buildings by the subway station is decorated with an enormous flag hanging from its roof. Undoubtedly for security purposes, the plaza at the bottom of the building, a wide open spot above the subway station, was blocked off this morning with temporary Jersey barriers, permitting only pedestrian access, but that's the only unwelcome blight on the landscape. I watched employees at the Hyatt Regency run Old Glory all the way up and then bring it down to half-staff, as the protocol demands, and I saw them beaming with pride at their task. No stereotypical white jingoists were they, either -- they were two black men and an Asian man. Meanwhile, some other stores in the neighborhood also had displays that recognized the day.

I went to the bank this morning and saw that the branch employees, beautifully representing America in a broad range of ethnic hues and national origins, were wearing prominent, glittering U.S.-flag lapel pins. While my teller was doing her work, I glanced at the walls of her cubicle and saw that she'd received a commendation for going out and buying the American flag pins for the crowd, on her own initiative. Like many of the other tellers there, she spoke English with the accent of an immigrant, and the nameplate on her window bore a distinct Middle Eastern Muslim name. (Still think there's no hope?)

The work day went on, giving us some semblance of the ordinary sunny working day that last September 11th was supposed to be. So much so, in fact, that after work I hopped on the subway for the short ride to downtown D.C. to take more photos -- twenty-one of them, in fact -- of flags and decorations on buildings and in shop windows. Don't you want to see my photo album?

Update: The links in the first paragraph have unexpectedly stopped working, but you can see the five pictures in this little album.
IT'S BEEN A WHILE since the blogosphere noticed that 9/11-denying ultra-idiotarian Thierry Meyssan was topping France's book sales, but late last week, frequent Daddy Chapman comments poster Cinderella Bloggerfeller noticed that the current No. 2 on Amazon.fr's list of bestselling books was a tome denouncing European anti-Americanism, the latest from the pro-U.S. writer Jean-François Revel. The positive reviews on Amazon's page for the book are, Bloggerfeller says, a possible indication "that there is more of a battle going on in the French intellectual world than many outside commentators have acknowledged".

When Bloggerfeller wrote his post, Revel's book was No. 2 on the list and Meyssan's was at No. 33, although the current list shows Revel down a few spots and Meyssan back up in the top five. But the good notices Revel's received so far seem like a persuasive enough reason to hold off at least a little longer on the bombing.
TODAY'S WAPO HAS a handful of interesting al-Qaeda-related reports from overseas. One piece examines "the Hamburg milieu" that helped nurture the hate in Mohamed Atta and his fellow vermin. Meanwhile, even though much of the blogosphere seems to have figured that Bin Laden has been reduced to splatters amid rubble and won't be seen or heard from again -- except maybe in tapes being recycled by al-Jazeera -- U.S. forces in Afghanistan are still waking people up in the middle of the night with surprise raids seeking out old Sammy and his Taliban buddy Mullah Popeye Omar.

Tuesday, September 10, 2002

AT A TIME WHEN bloggers all over are commenting on their lack of faith in the mass media, The Onion squanders its credibility by presenting a commentary including this bit:
Are you not the man who pioneered the use of the Albertus font on your web page in 1991 and even went so far as to purchase a VCR that is compatible with PAL-format video so you could play your painstakingly acquired copies of 1977 ATV broadcast- feed bootlegs?
Error! I call foul! How could you be expecting to display fonts on a Web page in 1991, when everyone was using plain-text terminals with the CERN line-mode browser (unless, that is, they had access to TimBL's NeXT machine). Now, TimBL and others were talking about an X11-based GUI browser in October 1991, but there don't seem to have been any made available until the browsers called Erwise and ViolaWWW came around in spring of 1992, and I don't think more than six or seven people ever had those, anyways.

Sheesh!
WONDERING HOW The Onion would mark the anniversary of September 11th? As this pitch-perfect article shows, it's just another day in the office for the funniest web-site going, bar none. I have to think that, somewhere, Twain and Mencken are sleeping a little easier, knowing that their descendents are on the job.
FOR THE FIRST TIME ever, the threat level has been raised to orange. The stock market reacted not a jot, which shows what a joke the threat-level assessment color scale is.

UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds suggests that the market may just have already anticipated an increased anniversary risk of terrorism. But that's just saying the same thing I'm saying: the threat-level assessment color scale does not convey any information. Even when the market anticipates that the Federal Reserve is going to cut rates, it reacts when the Federal Reserve actually cuts the rates. The Heimat Security has cried wolf so often that even an orange alert doesn't scare the market.

The true test of Glenn's hypothesis is whether the market soars by 400 points on Thursday if nothing happens between now and tomorrow.
I CAN NEVER READ the byline on any article by Financial Times reporter Tony Major without getting this mental image of a thousand-foot-tall, two-headed ambidextrous British prime minister tromping through London, incinerating venerable buildings with his fiery breath, kicking over gleaming Canary Wharf skyscrapers and crushing double-decker buses in his hands. Does this happen to anyone else who reads the FT?

On a related note, one of the good things about reading Brit/European financial and economic news is that you're constantly reminded that not all of Europe is as the blogosphere portrays -- that most people over there are just going about their lives immersed in reality rather than getting in a one-upmanship contest over who's been oppressed most by the U.S. this week. (Every time I feel like Europeans' arguments always focus on who can make up the most outlandish imaginary atrocities committed by Israel, I can just read another one of those articles about the London Stock Exchange's ongoing ideological battle with the Deutsche Börse over the shape of a pan-European securities settlement infrastructure, and I once again have the feeling that all is right with the world.)
FOR CHRIS KAHRL: a website of the 53rd Street Harold's Chicken Shack.
A LONG, LONG, LONG New York Times article examines in fine detail what the paper has been able to uncover about the plotting that led up to Sept. 11. The report characterizes Mohamed Atta as a more important player in al Qaeda than he was previously thought to be, and for the first time reports that Atta met with Bin Laden himself in late 1999.
GOOD PIECE BY Bernard Lewis in today's Post on the "Why do they hate us?" question.
ROBERT CRAWFORD TOOK a closer look at that photo of rock-throwing hoodlums protesting a Netanyahu speech in Montreal and noticed cameras in the hands of many of the people gathered 'round. He acknowledges that one or two of the videotapers could be linked to the protest, but if you adopt his perspective, what you see changes from a photo of a huge riot to a photo of three zealots hurling rocks, surrounded by a pack of cameramen, with a bunch of other people hanging around a safe distance away in the background. Instructive.
SPEAKING ABOUT DCJ'S tax reporting, how's about before the Democrats raise my taxes in 2003, they instead make sure that the IRS bothers to prosecute a couple of dozen buffoons who aren't paying tax and running websites bragging about their perfidy?
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON IS perhaps the best news reporter on the tax beat in America. He uncovers another tax avoidance scheme.
MODERN MEDICAL CARE IN Thailand is now available in supply that outstrips the demand, presumably because, though cheaper than comparable Western services, the cost is out of reach to many Thais. Thus: medical tourist vacations. Alas, no discussion of the public policy reasons behind the disparity in price (though there is the interesting sociological observation that many Middle Easterners have switched from American doctors to Thai doctors). I presume that medical malpractice remedies are less expensive to doctors in Thailand, which no doubt reduces the price to those who are not malpractice victims, and I have to wonder whether modern Thai hospitals have cost-shifted medical care where they provide free care for the indigent. Those subsidies raise the prices quite a bit in America: if you're able to pay, you're paying for both yourself and for the patients without insurance.
ANOTHER PERSON WHO was injured in the September 11 attacks, still in the hospital.

It occurs to me that I haven't seen any definitive stories on the bystander victims of the WTC attacks -- there were people who were hit by debris from the airplanes after they smashed through the buildings, at least a couple of deaths from people getting hit by jumpers, and a number of people outside the buildings killed by their collapse.
LOUISE KURTZ, a victim of the September 11 attack on the Pentagon who lost her fingers and her ears and has undergone 41 surgeries for her burn wounds fights to recover.
HOWARD BASHMAN has already linked to this fascinating compendium of talks from the recent Federalist Society convention, but neglected to mention that prominent blogger Professor Volokh can be found on pages 21 and 22 as an audience participant and pages 169-171 as a speaker.

I added it up and realized I've met fourteen of the speakers. That and three bucks will get me a cup of coffee at Starbuck's. I mention this for no particular reason other than that name-dropping is on my mind. A woman I dated in Los Angeles years ago (a friend of a friend of Eugene Volokh, as it turns out, but every professional in Los Angeles my age is either a friend or a friend of a friend of Eugene Volokh's) was very big on the name-dropping: which minor movie star she used to date, which network executive and which author she lost romantic battles with for the affection of other men, which medium movie star's failed sitcom she had overseen, which major movie star she inadvertently insulted to his face. It served only to demonstrate her own insecurities. I'm seeing the pattern again with someone else I recently met: she has an impressive resume and body of work on her own, but has been dropping names left and right. I'm never quite sure whether someone doing this is seeking validation or return braggadocio. ("Well, darling, my secret identity is Max Power. Jesse Jackson accidentally trampled me in New Hampshire and Alec Baldwin complimented my tie when we met outside an oxygen bar. And did I mention I had a girlfriend who dated a movie star?")

Monday, September 09, 2002

ANYONE WHO THOUGHT wacky Heaven's Gate-style cults were a strictly American phenomenon will be cheered by news that a French apocalypse cult has been planning a suicide pact tied to a "voyage to Venus". As is typical of today's narrow-minded news-media elite, the reporter didn't bother to find out whether they were planning to reorbit Venus while they were there, as one of the twentieth century's greatest minds repeatedly proposed on Usenet back in the day.

(Scotsman article via War Liberal Mac.)
PHOTODUDE IS WORRIED about what would happen if terrorists managed to carry off a devastating attack on the House of Representatives and kill a vast number of the elected officials therein, given the complex process of holding special elections to replace them all. I'm not sure it'd be that tough a problem to work through, but then IANAL, for one thing.
FATHER THREATENS TO sue Jehovah's Witnesses over daughter's death. They'd be protected by the First Amendment in this country, but I don't know what the law is in Canada.
AOL ANNOUNCES THAT IT will miss estimates, and it occurs to me that in the new era of "safe" accounting, the analysts' predictions haven't quite caught up, and we'll see a lot of missed estimates. The economics haven't changed, but things that used to get counted as profits don't get counted as profits any more, and analysts' expectations haven't yet adjusted to the change.
ERIC'S LINK TO THE "Comedian" trailer reminds me that there once was a day where movie trailers for comedies had nothing to do with the actual movie, but was an opportunity for an entirely different bit of comedy. The "South Park" movie did this, too. (Same announcer as for "Comedians"!) The Toys trailer was funnier than the movie, but I can't find it on the web.
WAS POKING THROUGH the latest pics and notes over at Found magazine and now I'm wondering if Mr. Mulkowsky here has something to confess. (Or could I blame this on Olsen instead?)
HILARIOUS TRAILER for Comedian, the new documentary on Jerry Seinfeld. (And please excuse the plug-ins.) Thanks to the Movie Answer Man, aka Roger Ebert, for pointing this out. And, once again, it's funny because it's true.
THINGS MUST BE WEIRDER in Britain than I've been led to believe if this expat Brit actually believes the Wilson Boulevard corridor in North Arlington is what people are talking about when they talk about suburban sprawl. You'd think that Stuart Buck would know better, though.

Sunday, September 08, 2002

THE ALBUQUERQUE TRIPLE-A baseball team, freshly moved from Calgary, will call itself the "Isotopes", after the Simpsons episode where the Springfield team almost moves to Albuquerque.