Saturday, December 07, 2002

MUNCIE, INDIANA, DECIDED TO NAME an alley after David Letterman in response to his ongoing campaign to get the Indianapolis beltway renamed "The Dave Letterman Expressway", but the alley-naming ceremony was marred by a protest by Garfield fans. It seems the cat's aficionados were miffed because Jim Davis, the guy who "writes" and "draws" Garfield, is a resident of the county while Dave only lived there for as long as it took to get out of Ball State University. But Muncie's mayor assured them that there will be a parade for Garfield's 25th birthday next year. (Via Mark Evanier.)
JAZZ MADE HARLEM FAMOUS in the first half of the twentieth century, but the people who were made famous by Harlem jazz -- Count Basie, Lena Horne, Fats Waller, Ella Fitzgerald and plenty of other names you'd know -- used their fortunes to relocate to the leafy suburban hideaway of Addisleigh Park, Queens.
DAVE TILL'S TORONTO PHOTOS -- out-of-the-way images of storefronts, signs, graffiti and other nuances in my second-favorite city.

Friday, December 06, 2002

VELOUR IS BACK; lock up your daughters.

Thursday, December 05, 2002

OPEC IS LIKELY TO boost its output quotas in order to lower production and stabilize prices come the beginning of the year (unless there's a war against Iraq), the Wall Street Journal reports. Er, say what? Well, the WSJ explains, supply and demand in the oil market are in balance now, and [emphasis added]:
OPEC's official quota now is 21.7 million barrels a day. But cheating has been so rife as to boost actual production to more than 24 million barrels daily. Right now, the market can absorb that. But early next year, it can't without lower prices. With the cheating too much to codify and legitimize, the group is betting it can maintain balance -- and prices at today's levels -- by raising its output quotas to a point somewhere between today's targeted production and actual output.
Ahh! That's right! Treaties and international cooperation. Multilateralism! Our UN partners in peace.

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

INTERVIEWS WITH LAW FIRM PERSONNEL who have been caught publicly criticizing their employer tend to have the feel of well-meaning attempts by journalists to get the word on the Pyongyang street. This story on Clifford Chance is no different: "We're six of the happiest people here; we really love the firm."
DATABASE OF INTERLOCKING CORPORATE DIRECTORATES. Subscription-only, and at a pretty hefty price, but you can sign up for a free introductory subscription.
OVER THE LAST THREE years, Jim Thome hit .256 on the road, 63 points lower than in Jacobs Field. And Veterans Stadium is no Jacobs Field for hitters. And how a fellow hits at age 32-37 tends to be somewhat worse than how he hits at age 29-31. I'm a big Thome fan, and the Braves are due for a fall, but the Phillies need more than Thome and David Bell to make up the 20+ games between them and the Braves, as sweet as an Abreu/Burrell/Thome lineup looks. (When did David Bell become a savior? He's a competent third baseman, but hardly a dramatic upgrade.)
I'D HAVE TO CHECK, but I imagine that the New York Times was among the leaders in pooh-poohing Jack Welch's perks at General Electric--certainly Paul Krugman did. (Corporations often give perks instead of salary to high executives because the perks are tax-deductible and the salary isn't -- thus, the corporation can provide the executive with a higher standard of living at a lower cost to shareholders than they could by just raising his salary. Whether corporations where the executives live like kings or where the cost of such perks are hidden from shareholders are well-run is another question for another time.)

I mention this because I was amused by a recent article in the travel section of the Times. The writer, who was a Times editor, spent three nights with his wife in different New York City luxury hotel suites and justified it with a story about the experience, presumably for all those Times subscribers who are trying to choose between the various $1000+tax hotel rooms available when they visit the home city of the New York Times. A $322 dinner at Lespinasse merited a whole sentence, a $102 afternoon tea half a sentence, but the $150 worth of massages at the St. Regis got edited out. I'm curious if New York Times shareholders footed the entire $5,000 bill, or if the rank-and-file writers at the Times get the same opportunities for expense accounts.

[CORRECTION: I am now informed that the perks are subject to stricter tax rules than straight income, so my sentence in the first paragraph about the reasoning behind corporate perks is incorrect. I still have to wonder whether corporations try to get deductions for some of the perks we have read about in the press. Certainly a number of the "perks" at my job are quite appropriately treated as business expenses by my employer even if they also have the incidental effect of improving my quality of life.]
JOHN OF IBERIAN NOTES mentions another mutant strain of the Nigerian scam spam, this one claiming that the money is going to fund further warfare in Africa if you don't help squirrel it out of the continent. John's link isn't working, but I found a spam matching that description quoted in full on Usenet. (This "trust fund for arms and ammunition to further the course of War in Africa" version isn't as new as John makes it out to be, though -- it goes back at least to October 2000. There have been at least two different versions specifically mentioning Angola!)
KREMLIN-WATCHERS TAKE NOTE: The State Department is refurbishing the Iraqi embassy in Washington, D.C., which had been abandoned since diplomatic relations were cut off in 1991. $40,000 in frozen Iraqi bank accounts are being used to repair the roof and add a new gutter and downspout system. The State Department refused to deny that the restoration was in preparation for regime change.
BRIAN EMMETT REPORTS ON some unlikely war-conspiracy connections mapped out on the back cover of the latest Godspeed You Black Emperor! album. Really, you'd probably be better off sticking to the music, fellas.

Monday, December 02, 2002

A YEAR AFTER AFGHANS met in Germany to establish a post-Taliban government, Hamid Karzai is back in Bonn to reflect on the country's progress and talk up its future. For one thing, he's establishing a single national paid military and outlaw the independent private militias -- yeesh, good luck with that one. Also, I see from the photo of Karzai and Schröder that Karzai's taken to dressing in Afghan-style clothing. Hey, all the better to blend in with that U.S. bodyguard detail of his.
IF THE JAPANESE DOCTOR-CONSULTIN' TOILETS I've previously mentioned weren't your kind of thing, perhaps you'd prefer the visions of some American futurists who would rather see your other appliances online:
You'll no longer be surprised to get a call from the repair center at Sears or Maytag saying your washing machine is using too much hot water and needs adjustment -- information the washing machine has sent through the Net, without any action of your part, back to the factory where it was built.
(Via Greg Beato, who remarks, "well, it's a future that John Ashcroft and marketing executives will certainly love.")
INTERNATIONAL BUY SOMETHING DAY has been declared! E-mail Tim Blair to tell him what you bought.
THE REGISTER LAST WEEK ran a San Francisco correspondent's commentary sorta kinda sympathizing with the Indymedia cop killer's outlook, including this gem of an observation:
Is McCrae a tasteless, publicity-seeking prankster who's trying to use an unsolved murder to promote his cause? Or is he an instrument of a psyops operation to discredit the burgeoning anti-globalization movement - which, when you take away the richly-funded thinktanks and institutes and warblogs of the conservative right, is the only political movement in America with any momentum right now?
Heaven help us, even when the anti-globos try to spin their movement as the new mainstream, they still can't avoid the psyops-behind-every-corner paranoia. But at least we warbloggers are here with our demonic prattle designed to tamp down the rising masses! And we are all part of the conservative right, no matter how many of us are Democrats or are virtuecrat-spurning gay men or still leery of Bush -- it's all the same thing, innit?
NEW URBAN-LEGENDS INFO: Snopes debunks Black Friday and Barbara warns of a new Nigeria-style scam involving phony foreign lotteries.
AHH, THE LILEKS CHRISTMAS-TREE ALLEGORY! He's been doing iterations of it for at least the past 15 years or so, but it's like a fine wine, etc. With each retelling, new themes find their way into the story, while the older themes get sanded down into ever more concise bits of prose. It's always the same cycle -- tree chopped down and stacked in lot, sad; tree taken to house full of wooden furniture and fireplace, scared; tree ornamented and gushed over, honored; tree dragged out to await trash pickup, scorned and irate -- but it's how he fleshes it out that makes all the difference.

I was first introduced to Lileks' work a decade or so ago when I picked up a copy of Notes of a Nervous Man at the university bookstore, solely on the strength of the Dave Barry blurb on the cover -- hey, I was young then -- and was so impressed with this talented newspaper essayist I'd discovered that I started talking up Lileks to everyone, even though I knew nobody would be able to figure out how to spell his name. Notes of a Nervous Man contained a version of the Christmas Tree Allegory that appears to have run in the St. Paul Pioneer Press sometime in the late '80s. In addition to the familiar themes described above, it also had a tangent about how he was frightened by a carefully bred Christmas tree that was designed not to shed its needles; Lileks remarked something along the lines of "You don't want to come home and find that your Übertannenbaum has annexed the front yard and is ordering the elms to move along."

Now here I am in 2002, getting new commentaries from the guy every weekday at no extra charge, and with half the people I know online revering him as some kind of hero. But it's still... not... enough!

Sunday, December 01, 2002

CAPTAIN SPAULDING'S discussion of spin-offs and cross-overs got me surfing, and caused me to discover a bit of trivia I never knew: Lois from Hi & Lois is the sister of Beetle Bailey.
WHO KNEW THAT there was a 1931 version of Hammett's The Maltese Falcon? The lead, Ricardo Cortez in the Bogart role of Sam Spade, later went on to play Perry Mason in a 1936 movie; starlet and Marx Brothers heroine Thelma Todd played Iva Archer, and horror-movie character actor Dwight Frye was Wilmer. Reviews indicate that the pre-Code version was more explicit than the more-famous 1941 edition, but John Huston did a better job in capturing Hammett's style. (via Sjostrom)
THE WEB HAS EVERYTHING, part 1153: Gallery of Macaroni & Cheese Boxes.
NEXT TIME YOU see a Canadian getting all huffy, remind him or her that the top Google search in Canada is for "Britney Spears."
Why Are Black Students Lagging? asks the New York Times.
NEW YORK TIMES article on Charlie Kaufman, author of "Being John Malkovich" and the forthcoming Pirandellian "Adaptation."
AS I'VE SAID BEFORE, I'd be a lot more sympathetic about the plight of the convicted rapists of the Central Park jogger if their defense wasn't, as the New York Times put it, that they were busy mugging someone else in the park when the rapes occurred. The criminals spent a handful of years in prison, which was too little punishment for the other violent acts they committed, even if it does turn out to be too much punishment for a rape they confessed to but didn't commit.
"That was the issue," said Peter Rivera, Mr. Santana's lawyer in 1990. "But we didn't say, `No, when the jogger was raped, my client was on 96th Street, mugging someone else.' That would have been self-defeating."
So, instead, the lawyers attacked the victim.

Let's be clear: it was an injustice if these criminals were convicted of a rape they didn't commit. But given the crimes they did commit, and the punishment they received, I find it hard to say that the overall result was unjust. They got a fair trial: the criminals chose not to use the best evidence that they had of their "innocence" because it would have implicated them in other crimes. The jury, not aware of that evidence, convicted them of a larger set of crimes than the set of crimes they actually committed. In the land of cliches, this is sleeping in the bed you made for yourself.

Of all the injustices that take place in the legal system every day, one where a group of teenagers who committed eight muggings (including one of a schoolteacher who was severaly beaten and kicked) was also mistakenly convicted of a rape that took place contemporaneously in the same vicinity probably doesn't make the top ten thousand. I'm more appalled that the criminals aren't still in jail than I am at the mistaken verdict. The Daily News is more vivid in describing what happened:
The roving gang moved south, stopping at 101st St., where they formed a gantlet and surrounded tandem cyclists Gerald Malone and Patricia Dean.

"I was terrified," Dean testified. "They were grabbing at my legs and pushing at my shoulder. They were making animal noises, grunting. I thought for sure we were going over."

Malone and Dean got away. Others were not as fortunate.

British jogger Robert Garner, 30, was pushed down an embankment and pummeled. He thought he "was going to die."

Teacher John Loughlin, 41, was thrown face down in the grass and whacked in the head with a pipe until he was bloody.
Would Patricia Dean have been raped had the muggers succeeded in overturning her tandem bicycle? We'll never know, but we can make an educated guess.
YOU ALREADY KNEW that Ann Coulter was an idiot, but she confirms it by putting the pseudo-scientific "Darwin on Trial" on her Christmas book list.
VERY IMPRESSIVE DC Ethnic Dining Guide from Tyler Cowen. (via Mooney, who writes about Cowen's theories that globalization diversifies culture, as opposed to reducing it to a melange of McDonald's)