Friday, March 30, 2007

The Heart Gets Harder (last of the trilogy)

by Ken Houghton

Janna came in from Seattle. Peter is up from Maryland. There are undoubtedly Others from Elsewhere.

The Usual Suspects are mostly there. Glenn is a Presence. I find myself seated between Lucienne* and her husband and Keith and his wife. Janna sits with Keith. Jean, arriving as the service begins, sits behind Lucienne. Many others are familiar or known. There are those I have always known as editors (Claire, Ian, Josepha, eventually Ginjer) and those are now or may now not be (Amy, Kim, Carol). And writers. And those who do both, including many of the above. Surely there are others.

The front row must be the family.

I know the map, if not quite the territory. It is Another Country: No Longer Quite My Own, perhaps, but recognizable nonetheless.

We all look older. Except maybe Alex herself, who must have a video tape somewhere.**

The service begins with what I believe is one of Dylan’s versions of "Forever Young." It seems somehow both inappropriate and apt at the same time.

(In less than two years, I will expect to be older than he is now; David will not have aged.)

The Rabbi and the cantor speak. They remind us that we are supposed to be celebrating a life. The Rabbi reads a list of David’s attributes that Alex put together last night. "A hair dresser’s dream; a hair dresser’s nightmare" brings down the house.

It will not be the last time.

The chapel is full, despite it being a NYC work day. People continue to arrive.

The Rabbi puts props on the podium, Aspects of David. A Dumbledore. A Gandalf whose hat and/or head keeps falling off. A troll who is described as having been "his study partner."

The personal eulogies begin in earnest. Janna is called up, and reads a Rumi poem; maybe two of them, maybe two parts of the same one with a bit of personal anecdote in between.

The other poet read and cited during the service is Kahlil Gibran.

Others make brief, scheduled appearances. No one tells the same story. Tissues are being used up.

The Rabbi, appearing every so often, clearly knew and liked David. He’s not so much a cleric-for-hire as a fellow traveler.

Matt Walker talks about David’s eyes, and I don’t understand. He reaches for a joke or two, respectfully, and notes that the post-heart attack David was nothing if not self-aware. (Is it he who says that David’s last words to him, the night before he died, were "I feel good about what’s to come"? Make it so.)

Rachel, the woman who was David’s first converso (in the good, voluntary sense) gets up and starts, through tears, by saying (roughly) "This is like the 'Because G-d Says So' portion of the Torah." Through tears, there is laughter. She reconciles faith and apparently-untimely death, ending as she began.

It is Alex’s turn. Is the room ready? She speaks of their meeting at school, and of their first night together. ("We jammed and played music and talked all night. And in the morning, he shook my hand like a gentleman and left. I was so pissed.") He wins a scholarship—either to the Jewish Theological Seminary, or to finish his Bachelor’s at The New School—called the Studly Endowment.

She talks about she and Kim enjoyed costuming David. (Our row looks at Kim, sitting diagonally in front of us; Keith points her out to his wife.)

She speaks of the "confidence of competence" and renders loving juxtapositions of personality. "My voice never annoyed him" abides.

People queue up to speak. Keith talks about playing music, playing poker, listening to baseball, and drinking with him. He mentions having edited him for The Ultimate Silver Surfer, an anthology in which now two have died young.

Memo to self: don’t sell a story to Keith until you’re old. (Oh, wait…)

A Christian retroactively makes him a Mason (I think that’s what happened).

John Ordover’s wife reads a sensitive note from him. Another Editor Heard From.

Glenn hits all the bases:

    Gandalf has long since been knocked from the podium for what will be the last time, so there is space for a prop in the center. He places a flask between Dumbledore and the troll.

    Speaking of Alex and David having to be able to laugh, due to their living a comic-book life: “He’s Jewish, a game creator, and a rock musician. She’s Italian, Catholic, and a classical violinist. Together, they fight crime.”

    Putting David’s influence into a context: “There will be people using David’s words in their marriage ceremonies. (beat) They’ll be speaking Klingon, probably, but….”

    Religion: “We’re putting him in the ground on Friday. I expect him to pop up Sunday and say ‘April Fools!’”

    Technogeeking with the best: “I’m tracking the websites that mention him; can’t tell who everyone is—another reason to hate LiveJournal.”

A few people later, the Rabbi tries to stop the speeches; time to leave for the cemetery. There are three people left, including Peter Heck. "They’ll need to be short."

No one quite calls out, "That’s okay. Peter can edit as well as write.")

The Rabbi relents.

Peter speaks of David as songwriter and musician. Another Peter follows. A final speaker, who is too tall for the microphone, notes that he was David's study partner, and the troll dares not argue.

He invokes Bruce Springsteen.

The Rabbi reminds us that the cemetery will need to close early today, and encourages a quick transition to cars. The service ends as someone (Alex?) quotes the observation of a young nephew: "He’s happy now."

They planned to play “The Pattern” as a recessional song, but the sound system isn’t quite working. We leave, many preparing for Brooklyn, the latecomers greeting and doing some brief socializing, people signing the Guest Book.

It is a large crowd, and I don’t want to leave it, but I have another funeral to attend.

Life Goes On.

*This is the Lucienne the Good Agent, who created this site, not the one who spawned You-Know-Who

**Classic movie reference

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What Happens in Legoland Las Vegas...

by Tom Bozzo

...the obvious lede for a story on the Yahoo News "most popular" list this morning: the opening of a new miniature Las Vegas exhibit at Legoland California. At least it's currently ranking higher than the current "top story" regarding Paris Hilton's possible parole violation, showing that just maybe we haven't completely lost our marbles yet. (On the other hand...)

The chief designer for the project, Kristi Klein, has a blog with lots of construction pictures. (Also proving that Nuevo Blogger labels can be useful!)

Alas, ongoing construction at the house has my (oh yeah, and John's) LEGO building space out of commission for another few weeks.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

One Of These Things is not Like the Other

by Ken Houghton

...and not just because the middle one is a book.

Trying to lighten my tone a bit, my last three items checked out from the NYPL:

  1. John Coltrane, Live at the Half Note

  2. What's Welsh for Zen by John Cale and Victor Bockris, with those Dave McKean illos.

  3. Tales from Topographic Oceans, Yes (though, perhaps fortunately, without the bonus tracks)


I Thought of My Friends and the Troubles They've Had

by Ken Houghton

The funeral service for David Honigsberg will be tomorrow at 11:00 a.m. in New York.

We have an unrelated viewing—the father of one of Shira's college roommates—to attend in Connecticut at 4:00pm, so if the service runs less than about an hour, I expect to attend both with ease. (If it runs longer, may be late getting to Connecticut.)

I know this is supposed to happen at some point in life, but it seems rather too soon. Then again, doesn't it always?

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Now there's an exchange problem if ever I've seen one.

by Drek

Last night while grading some papers my Sainted Fiancee and I happened to find ourselves watching NBC. This, in and of itself, wasn't so strange except the program was Dateline. Many of you may remember Dateline from their series of programs, "To Catch a Predator," "To Catch a Predator II: Electric Boogaloo," and "To Catch a Predator III: Holy Shit, How Many Pedophiles Are There?" As you might guess, we don't tend to be enormous fans of sensationalized journalism so the whole "Your child might be getting raped by his computer RIGHT NOW"* style of reporting isn't a big draw for us.

Nevertheless we found ourselves watching Dateline because they were running an all new "sting" operation. Having, apparently, gotten tired of pedophilia, Chris Hansen has found something new to excite him: identity thieves. Doubtless you're aware of the problem- people somehow gain access to your personal identifying information and then use it to take out loans, open bank accounts, run up your credit cards, and so on. To scare the hell out of us inform us all about this dangerous new threat, Datline put together a little sting operation and took us all along in their appropriately, if stupidly, named program, \to catch_an i.d. thief.**

In any case, the program was mostly dull and uninformative, but it did include one thought-provoking segment. At one point Hansen, and an associate from a security firm, were masquerading as identity thieves on some sort of chatroom for the identity theft trade. There, they saw individuals selling identity information including credit card numbers, debit card numbers, ATM numbers, and so on. In and of itself that just seems terrible, but if we step back I think we may be able to learn something.

The most fascinating thing to me is that, simply put, people are actually selling these goods. There's a market. This is interesting because most of us generally assume that a credit card number is as good as cash. So, for example, let's say that you have illicitly obtained the information to use a $1,000 line of credit. That information is, therefore, worth $1,000. You wouldn't sell it except for more than $1,000 any more than you would "sell" a twenty dollar bill in exchange for a five dollar bill. On the other hand, nobody would buy a $1,000 line of credit except for less than $1,000. Thus, we would appear to have an insoluble exchange problem: nobody will sell the good for less than it's worth and nobody will buy it for more. The reality, of course, is that using a card, and getting the information in the first place, entail different risks. Thus, the initial thief is trading away the value of his or her holdings in exchange for a certainty of reward. So, if they sell a $1,000 line of credit for, say, $50 bucks, they're really "paying" $950 to stay out of the reach of police. Based on the existence of this market, we know that at least some law enforcement efforts are successful. Or, at the very least, that they are perceived as successful.

However, recognizing this we can ask two useful questions:

First, how do the buyers in this market evaluate the quality of the goods? Consider, for example, that you have obtained that same $1,000 line of credit as above. Now, this information is replicable, meaning you can sell it to as many people as you want. So, why sell the card to just one person? Why not sell it to two, or three, or four, or a hundred as fast as you can, collecting a fee from each one as you go? The result, of course, would be that you would make quite a bit of money but your buyers would receive a product shared among many others. Moreover, the faster charges are made, the shorter the useful lifetime of the card. Additionally, since the seller can't allow the buyer to "test" the card ahead of time as there is no way to do so without revealing the card information, there's no way for the seller to confirm that the number is even still valid before purchase. How, then, does this market generate sufficient trust between participants?

In a second, and related, question how do the participants in this market actually pay for the information? Let's say you were chatting online with an identity thief: how would you pay this individual without risking your own vital information? Certainly you can't pay with credit cards or checks. Do identity thieves use PayPal? Do they use some other even more secure method of payment? And how can they be sure that such a method is not, itself, a front for criminal activity? How can those in the identity theft trade exchange safely?

The answer here is most likely embeddedness. Reputational effects, essentially being embedded in a community, make it possible for eBay to function and the same thing might be true here. Developing a reputation for providing trustworthy goods may enable a seller to command higher prices from buyers. The buyer knows that this seller usually provides legitimate goods and so is willing to pay more for them. At the same time, without a central monitor like eBay's rating system, any deals with a new individual would always be risky even if both parties had been in the market for a long time. Reputation may only cohere in dyads and not generalize beyond that. There are also likely to be so many new entrants into the market at any given time that it may be difficult for true communities to form. How do the thieves respond? Do they form small syndicate like structures with groups of buyers and sellers who are known to each other? Similarly, if someone does develop a bad reputation, losing it may be as simple as changing IPs and handles. The anonymity of the internet, here, works against the market. Is it possible to repeatedly defraud sellers by changing handles, building up their trust, and then cheating? How can the market create trust if shedding a negative reputation is so easy?

I don't have the answers to these questions but I think a lot of fruitful, if difficult, research could be done in this area. What do all of you think?

* Man, that is a peripheral I wouldn't want to see.

** I especially like the random use of backslashes and underscore marks to emphasize that this is a story about the internets.

Wednesday Preschooler Extra

by Tom Bozzo

Been a while... here they are, on top of each other and smiling(!)



Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Quote of the Day

by Tom Bozzo

Holy Joe:
[Lieberman] said the effect of the timeline would be to "snatch defeat from the jaws of progress in Iraq." [Emphasis added.]
When even the Bush "strategy"'s most ardent Senate fluffer can't bring himself say "victory," ya know we must be well and truly f***ed.

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Heart-Jinxed Condition

by Ken Houghton

Two days from now, David Honigsberg is scheduled to perform at the Pussycat Lounge.

It won't be happening, and we are all the lesser for that.

When I first started going to conventions and conferences in the mid-1980s, David and his wife Alex were two of the people I saw most often. A common appreciation of nocturnal life and good Scotch got us through several multiple-party evenings.

He wrote incessantly, on several subjects, appearing in places such as Biblical Archaeology Review and writing for Steve Jackson Games. (iirc, he created games, not just documentation, for them.) He played music. He grinned. He laughed. He brightened a room.

In recent years, I haven't seen him as much; two young children re-prioritize convention attendance, and other matters have interfered. Mostly, I would see him at the "Mill & Swill" (SFWA Writers and Editors Reception; I believe he was the first person to use that phrase to describe it to me).

I ran into Alex, coincidentally, on a train to New Jersey last Autum. (I was going to class; she was working with an Orchestra in, maybe, New Brunswick.) She mentioned his heart attack (telling it as only someone who has come through the other side can) and that he was recovering.

By mid-November, he was up and about, playing a few places in the area in support of his new CD, but really just making people happy.

I don't think I have anything more to say, but I don't think I would have enjoyed the past twenty years—and especially 1987-1999—anywhere near so much if David hadn't been a part of it.

Rest in peace. Play a gentle tune.

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Let Us Wish Him Well

by Ken Houghton

Isn't his job bad enough?:

A growth removed from US presidential spokesman Tony Snow shows his cancer has returned, the White House has said.

It said the growth removed from his abdomen this week was cancerous and had spread to his liver.

I hope he does right by Rush.

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Big Brother(s)

by Unknown

Remember when you were a kid and went on family vacations and had to share the backseat of the family station wagon (or Dodge van, in my case)? And after about ten minutes of looking at the passing landscape, your older brother decided that poking you would be far more entertaining? And you hated it and whined, "stop it!," but he kept poking and poking until your dad said, "if you two don't knock if off, I'm going to stop the car!"? And your older brother's ingenious, if not terribly original, solution to avoiding both boredom and Dad's wrath would be sit with his arm outstretched and finger within an inch of your arm, but dutifully not touching you? And you would keep saying, "stop it" and Dad would bellow, "kids!" and your older brother would say, innocently, "what, I'm not touching her! It's not my fault if she's whining."?

Well, I do, and for some reason I was reminded of it when I read this:
"What it should be seen as by Iran or anyone else is that [the buildup of warships in the Persian Gulf] is for regional stability and security," Aandahl said. "These ships are just another demonstration of that. If there's a destabilizing effect, it's Iran's behavior."

Original story here.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

Life Goes On, Long After the Thrill of Livin' It's Gone

by Ken Houghton

Turns out that John Edwards isn't the only one who has been told to continue working while his wife is battling cancer:
The past two years, John Thompson III hasn't said much about his wife's battle with breast cancer. But don't think for a second that he hasn't been dealing with more stress and pressure than anyone else coaching in this field.

Thompson III somehow has balanced coaching the Hoyas to the Big East regular-season and tournament titles and now to the East Regional crown, while also helping with his wife's battle and raising three children under the age of nine.

Waiting for Rush to talk about how Thompson "turned to Basketball instead of G-d."

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Virginia Hart

by Tom Bozzo


Here's the Capital Times obituary. She had a remarkable career as a labor activist, labor economist, mentor to some of our best local Democrats, and the first woman to head a Wisconsin cabinet agency. Suzanne and I were privileged to know her for a short while since moving into the "new" house made us neighbors. Our sympathies to Henry and their family.

My Bracket isn't the Only Thing Busted...

by Ken Houghton

UPDATE: Prayers no longer needed. Joins Virginia Hart.

Send a prayer (or whatever) to UNC mascot Jason Ray:
More than two dozen of Jason Ray's family and close friends were at his hospital bedside Sunday, holding a vigil as the University of North Carolina mascot lay gravely injured after being hit by an SUV.

The 21-year-old senior remained on life support and in extremely critical condition Sunday, two days after he was run down near his hotel in Fort Lee....

The UNC mascot had run out to get a burrito and a coke at a nearby convenience store Friday afternoon, and was walking back to his hotel along Route 4 when he was struck from behind by an SUV. The driver stopped immediately to call 911. No charges have been filed.


Sunday, March 25, 2007

A Brief HRC Interlude: Read Caroline Spector at Eat Our Brains

by Ken Houghton

I'm in the midst of a more detailed response to Lance's post here, which was inspired by Garance Franke-Ruta's abomination at TAPPED.

It may take another day. In blog-years, that's an eon or three.

Fortunately, I (as would any sane blogger) read Eat Our Brains on a regular basis. So while Lance waits for more details, I'm going to send him (and all of you, everyone) over to read Caroline Spector's post on Hillary R. Clinton.

(Go now. No need to come back to me.)

Just in case you're still here, let's be clear. Caroline's got political bona fides I don't; she contributes (or at least contributed) to Democratic Underground. She's in the same age demographic as Franke-Ruta's Gallup Poll (18-49). And she's female. So when she says to Hillary:
You’ve got an image problem that no amount of nifty TV ads is going to cure. And sadly, the first hit to your image is one you inflicted yourself.

She lays on details—including ones I had forgotten. And, after the inevitable discussion of The Man from Hope, Caroline continues:
That’s just the tip of the personality problem. Despite the fact that you’re funny, and have managed to raise a lovely daughter who has, you know, manners, there are people who just find you grating. Sadly, you don’t have Bill’s easy charisma. And it doesn’t help that over the years you’ve stopped being a person to many people and are now an icon for everything horrible they can think of.

The other problem is your record on the War in Iraq. You voted for the resolution to allow Bush the power to invade, and you haven’t bitten the bullet and admitted it was a huge fucking mistake.

The next few paragraphs are even better, and I want everyone to CLICK THROUGH THE LINK, but I'll quote the end as well
I’m sorry, but it had to be said. By all means, run for office. But when things go terribly wrong, don’t say you weren’t warned.

because throughout, I'm quoting a member of that demographic—18-49, Democratic, female, progressive—that Garance Franke-Ruta thinks claims* is Hillary's base.

So all that's left to me are numbers, Lance. We'll get to them tomorrow by Wednesday,** I hope.

*Edited for clarity. As Scott notes, "Garance hasn't made [the case for Hillary] either." [italics his]

**Edited for accuracy

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Questions of Scale and the Uncertain Origins of Life

by Tom Bozzo

Someone left last month's Wired at the gym, in which a variety of scientists and science journalists took on Big Unanswered Questions. Then there was Gregg Easterbrook, assigned to the question, "Where did life come from?" His review of the classic abiogenesis experiments starts off almost as if he doesn't have an ax to grind:
Famously, in 1952 Harold Urey and Stanley Miller mixed the elements thought to exist in Earth’s primordial atmosphere, exposed them to electricity to simulate lightning, and found that amino acids self-assembled in the researchers’ test tubes. Amino acids are essential to life. [Link in original.]
You might think, hey, that's pretty cool! And pretty neutral so far, even if he doesn't mention that followers-on have managed to synthesize all the protein-forming amino acids in the lab. But pretty soon, Easterbrook is reminding us what those smarty-pants scientists didn't do, as if he were writing a Conservapedia entry with slightly above-average balance:
[Easterbrook, continuing directly:] But the ones in the 1952 experiment did not come to life. Building-block compounds have been shown to result from many natural processes; they even float in huge clouds in space. But no test has given any indication of how they begin to live - or how, in early tentative forms, they could have resisted being frozen or fried by Earth’s harsh prehistoric conditions.
The thing Easterbrook might have noted, in a universe where he wasn't a hack, is that the "natural experiment" on Earth played out on a vastly greater scale. I'm too lazy to look up how much primordial soup Urey, Miller, and other researchers in the area sought to make (*), but let's assume for a realistic figure something on the order of a cubic meter (perhaps a lot less — that's a thousand liters, after all), allowed to stew for a relatively short time — on the order of weeks or years at most. Earth's oceans, meanwhile, have a volume on the order of a billion (10^9) cubic kilometers, or about 10^18 cubic meters. So imagine a quintillion versions of these experiments running simultaneously and interacting with each other. Moreover, nature ran its "experiment" for hundreds of millions of years.

So, while it's technically conjecture to say so, if you can get some building blocks of life to self-assemble in a relatively limited experiment, it doesn't seem like a huge stretch of the imagination to think that scaling up the experiment by 20 or more orders of magnitude would get results that might actually impress an Easterbrook. Easterbrook, instead, chooses to preach to the Intelligent Design (sic) choir (**):
Did God or some other higher being create life? Did it begin on another world, to be transported later to ours? Until such time as a wholly natural origin of life is found, these questions have power. We’re improbable, we’re here, and we have no idea why. Or how.
The question of the nature of our origin is interesting, no doubt, but how does appeal to a designer help answer them? If you're going to push the 'why' question back beyond the ability of essential chemicals to form themselves, why shouldn't the action of the designer be subject to question?

Moreover, if Easterbrook and/or the ID'ers were in some ways correct, one might imagine they might be disappointed to discover that we're The Sims 25 running on a really big computer.


More (3/26/07): PZ Myers picks up on the Poor Man Institute's take and links a useful review post from last year of a book that covers the actual science!

Ginger Yellow notes in the comments that it's "boneheaded" for Easterbrook to scratch his head over how early life can survive the harsh conditions of the primordial Earth one sentence after you've said that building-block compounds float around in space. Perhaps needless to say (though Easterbrook didn't say it), there are many critters adapted to environments that would be decidedly hazardous to human health, as well as polymers such as prions that are resistant to heat and/or radiation damage.

(*) Interested readers may consult the intertubes for additional information.

(**) Unusually abundant in the Wired readership?!

(Cross-posted at Total Drek.)

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Just the Facts...

by Unknown

From CNN, a brief story of alleged kidnapping and physical abuse:
GREENSBURG, Pennsylvania (AP) -- A couple and their three teenage children held a woman captive for six months, referring to her as their "slave" as they beat her, forced her to do chores and threatened her life and the lives of her relatives, police said Wednesday.

All five members of the [Pollard] family, ranging in age from 43 to 16, were arrested on charges of kidnapping and making terroristic threats. They had not entered pleas Wednesday but denied wrongdoing.

Awful, if true, but note the charges: kidnapping and making terroristic threats. Setting aside whether "terroristic" is even a word, why this charge, and not something like, oh, assault and battery? Has the USA Patriot Act so skewed the justice system that DAs see a better payoff to trying to prove "terroristic threats," demonstrable only through "he said/she said" evidence, than to proving assault and battery, for which relevant evidence is physical?

Truth be told, that's not what initially caught my eye about the story. It's this bit of reporting:
No one was home Wednesday at the Pollard house in a dingy alley. The front door was open and had no doorknob; its white aluminum siding was covered with dirt. [emphasis mine]

Either the AP journalist is practicing for a second career as an author of airport-kiosk fiction or he/she wanted to be sure that readers understand that abuse doesn't happen to Nice Folks Who Live in Nice Houses in Nice Neighborhoods. No classism here, nope, just reporting the facts, move along...

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Death of Progressive Rock, or Yes, I have an 8-track, but...

by Ken Houghton

It's all Dr. Black's fault.

In order to continue "annoying steve simels," he keeps posting Yes videos. And since he's not fighting with Brad and The Boys, he's not generally posting "Owner of a Lonely Heart" or "Don't Kill the Whale" or any of the, er, music from the time at which is was Really Obvious that the band had run whatever course made it interesting that didn't have to do with those Roger Dean album covers.*

So given that I prefer Hearts and Bones to Graceland, I decided to give another try to Going for the One.

Only to find out today that the last copy owned by the New York Public Library is no longer available.

Should I be relieved?

*Fairness note: Nothing was as poor an effort as ELP's Love Beach, in which the Portentious Musician-Rockers attempted to be late-stage Barry, Robin, and Maurice without ever having written anything comparable to the tracks on this disc.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Richard Cohen Keeps Bidding for Wanker of the Day

by Ken Houghton

I knew it was a mistake, but it was either this or Anne Applebaum explaining Alan Dershowitz's "interesting theories about torture: when and how it might legitimately be used, for example, given a candidate who might seem so clearly deserving of it."

Or doing something useful.

Cohen's column today is entitled Wasted Lives; strangely, instead of being his autobiography, it's an attack on the Democratic National Committee:
The word "wasted" came to mind.

That word has made something of a comeback. It was used by both Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama -- and the context was the present war in Iraq. McCain used the "W" word when he announced on the David Letterman show that he would run for president. "Americans are very frustrated, and they have every right to be," he said. "We've wasted a lot of our most precious treasure, which is American lives." Precisely so.

The Democratic National Committee, ever poised for the cheap shot, accused McCain of "insulting our brave troops" and demanded an apology. Others joined in, and McCain obliged, saying he should have used the word "sacrificed." Among the sacrifices being made, of course, is McCain's integrity.

There's something new.

Cohen continues, atemporally:
Earlier, Obama had also been caught uttering the truth. Soon after he announced for the presidency, the senator concluded a criticism of the war with the "W" word -- "over 3,000 lives of the bravest young Americans wasted." Obama quickly apologized, confessing to a "slip of the tongue." He then reformulated his statement using the word "sacrifices." For some reason, the Democratic National Committee held its tongue.

Maybe they did, but it's not exactly as if there was a void of commentary from Michelle Malkin, Allah at Hot Air, and, of course, the Freepers.

And for those who only want their media mainstream, the Wall Street Journal.

And,by the way, which National Committee did attack Obama? Hint: Starts with an R. And it's still there, where even Richard Cohen might be able to find it (the latter link even quotes Cohen).

Eschaton should just retire the title to Cohen on any day his column appears.

UPDATE: Dr. Black's selection, while a noble choice, received the award for work on Monday. There is still hope for Mr. Cohen.

There appears to be none for Lawrence Mead, however. To excerpt the simplest delusion:
Nonworking men deserve to earn more, but they also must be required to work, as they seldom are today. Formerly, they could have entered the Army, where they could be ordered to work, and military service does help some men get their lives together. Unfortunately, today's volunteer military is too selective to accept most disadvantaged applicants.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Defending the Indefensible (Bushies and Regulation Edition)

by Tom Bozzo

Shorter Robert Hahn and Robert Litan (directors of the American Enterprise Institute-Brookings Institution Joint Center for Regulatory Studies):
Having political officers sign off on regulations will help ensure that career civil servants' vision is down the right tunnel.

Ken (*) offers a couple choice quotes:
“Of course, the particular person the president appoints could skew the process away or towards the balancing of costs and benefits, but we think the president should have that choice.”
“While it is an open question as to whether the president has the legal authority to make this change, we think that he does; if the president does not, then Congress should give [i.e., cede] this general authority to the president directly.”
Fact is, the executive branch's ability to interpret statutes in drafting regulations already gives it considerable power. Meanwhile, Hahn and Litan don't actually show that the legislative process isn't biased towards excessive weighting of costs of narrow interests that can afford to lobby against diffuse societal benefits. And they trot out a "regulations may cost hundreds of billions of dollars a year" line without proper comparison to our low-fourteen-figure GDP. (**)

Additionally: While Hahn and Litan are free to make normative statements regarding how regulation should be carried out, it should not be forgotten that the legislative power is not constrained by cost-benefit considerations. I hope turn to some of the good reasons for that (at least by AEI-grade cost-benefit calculus) the next time a blogging window opens.

(*) Who has teh ability to see posts-in-the-making.

(**) Which puts me in mind of this fabulous post from Brad Altrocket. The key pull quote (ah, if only I could write such things):

Put it like this: let’s say I pay a chimpanzee two cents every day to come over to my house, pull down my pants, light a match and singe one of my pubic hairs. “Ouch!” you say. “Bradrocket, that seems like an awfully silly thing to do!” “Nonsense!” I say in between howls of burnt-pubis agony. “I’m only paying this chimp two cents a day to do this!!... YOU CAN’T EVEN GET MIGRANT LABOR THAT CHEAP!!!! IT’S A DAMN BARGAIN!!!!”

And that... is basically what the Iraq war is like, but much, much worse. Please keep that in mind the next time you write an article about the war being a “bargain.”

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I Have a Free Option, but need advice on how to Exercise it

by Ken Houghton

Shira is willing to move out of the New York City area to wherever I choose (warm preferrable to cold, mountains preferred to plains, but those can be free-finessed), on the condition that I be able to get a job there first.

Given that I am a lazy sod, I have never found out the process for finding a job in an area in which one doesn't live. Any advice?


Sunday, March 18, 2007

Don't Doubt the Power of Compunding

by Tom Bozzo

Roger Lowenstein plays the real estate bull in a NYT magazine real estate supplement, seemingly to accompany all the ads for luxury condos and apartments surrounding the article. Lowenstein makes a valid point that, unlike a dot-com stock, a house will keep the rain off of one's head. But at the heart of the article, there's a subtle but important bit of innumeracy:

The dirty little secret of home ownership is that it lets you play with other people’s money. Say you want to purchase the median home (in California the cost would be about $565,000, but let’s take the United States median, which would run you $220,000). Typically, you would take perhaps $50,000 from savings as a down payment, borrow the balance and pay the monthly mortgage from your income.

But wait! Just before you close, a friendly real estate bear points out that you could rent the same house, or a similar one. Your monthly payment would go to the landlord, not the bank. And you could invest the $50,000 in stocks, which, with dividends, might appreciate at close to 10 percent a year, rather than the 5 percent or so you could expect from your house.

That would be a very dumb move. Suppose the stock market did rise 10 percent; after a year you would be up $5,000. Whereas the gain on your home would be 5 percent over the entire purchase price — or $11,000. Over 10 years the gap becomes huge — not to mention over 20 or 30 years.

Eh, what? There's always a time horizon over which higher-return assets dominate lower-return ones, however large the head start you give the latter. In the case of the simple example Lowenstein provides, the equity gap initially increases (peaking around year 17, by some relatively simple math), but over the longer haul closes and, in fact, at 32 years you'd be as well off not buying. Beyond that, the 10% stock market takes off and trounces the slow-appreciating house. That's a long time, but less than a typical span between graduating from college and retiring, say.

For an additional complication, Lowenstein's example seems to assume that the homeowner isn't paying more implicit rent on a house (basically, interest, property tax, and maintenance, after income tax breaks) than on an equivalent rental. That's often tough to test, since the rental market is far from complete — in many markets, it's distinctly thin in rentals equivalent to the owner-occupied single-family housing stock. (*) But in some of the bubblier markets, the "rational" rent you'd need to charge yourself might considerably exceed what you'd pay on an actual rental. That would favor not buying.

Furthermore, a lesson of the stock market bust (not to mention the real estate bust of the early nineties) is that buying at the market peak can subject you to lower-than-typical returns for a long time. Someone who had stuck a chunk of money into a fund tracking the major stock market indexes in early 2000 wouldn't be ahead — especially after inflation — seven years on.


(*) This is one sense in which fancy mortgage arrangements that amount to rentals by another name (i.e., with little or no amortization) may, as the Marginal Revolutionaries might say, drive the world towards Markets in Everything.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

In Honor of Amateur Day

by Ken Houghton

Irish Phrases Reinterpreted:

Erin Go Bragh(less) (scroll down; not safe for young children) UPDATE: For those who prefer the original phrase (caution: without the scrolling).

Faith and Begorah

The fine old Irishman who wrote "The Unicorn" for The Irish Rovers.


Friday, March 16, 2007

Just What Gas are Those BLS Shoppers Buying?

by Tom Bozzo

So the Fed is looking soft on inflation, not that there's anything wrong with that, but one oddity in the February CPI report is this, via the NYT:
Gas at the pump inched up 0.3 percent after falling 3 percent the month before.
Oh really? I could be forgetting just how much of the current run-up was in the last two weeks, but we're up about 25% here for the year-to-date, and that isn't all within the last three or four weeks. Nor do I understand this to be particularly localized. The national average price reported by AAA shows a substantial increase in February, and no decrease in January. Seasonal adjustment also doesn't explain it (the NSA CPI-U for gasoline was up more, but only 0.8%).

Are we missing out on a special BLS deal, or will energy prices really not help the March headline CPI?

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Annals of Creative Financing: One of These Things is Not Like the Other

by Tom Bozzo

Dr. Black points us to Prof. Roubini who approvingly quotes a Washington Post article (also linked by Prof. DeLong, who makes an interesting point on when lenders should renegotiate vs. foreclose on defaulted loans) which indeed is a good primer on the types of loans that have been causing all the late fuss. Here's the Post's Stephen Pearlstein, along with some bracketing snark:
Here goes: Which of these products do you think makes sense?

(a) The "balloon mortgage," in which the borrower pays only interest for 10 years before a big lump-sum payment is due.

(b) The "liar loan," in which the borrower is asked merely to state his annual income, without presenting any documentation.

(c) The "option ARM" loan, in which the borrower can pay less than the agreed-upon interest and principal payment, simply by adding to the outstanding balance of the loan.

(d) The "piggyback loan," in which a combination of a first and second mortgage eliminates the need for any down payment.

(e) The "teaser loan," which qualifies a borrower for a loan based on an artificially low initial interest rate, even though he or she doesn't have sufficient income to make the monthly payments when the interest rate is reset in two years.

(f) The "stretch loan," in which the borrower has to commit more than 50 percent of gross income to make the monthly payments.

(g) All of the above.

If you answered (g), congratulations! Not only do you qualify for a job as a mortgage banker, but you may also have a future as a Wall Street investment banker and a bank regulator.

No, folks, I'm not making this up.

I would have to object to the inclusion of item (d), the borrow-most-of-the-down-payment loan, and to some extent (a), in the "would you believe it?" list. (*) My reaction is, in part, based on experience — we bought our first house with 5% down. (**) Apart from not having a traditional down payment in the bank, affordability of the old house ($160,000 — sigh) wasn't an issue.

We were, for sure, a bigger risk to the bank than someone who had an extra $24,000 lying around, but that risk was not uninsurable, and indeed we paid an insurance premium for a while. What sort of economist would object to such an arrangement as a matter of principle?

As for the piggyback loan, their role in this sort of arrangment is that the interest on the down payment loan (treated as a second mortgage) is deductible for U.S. income tax purposes, whereas the mortgage insurance premiums are not. Suitably chose, the higher interest rate on the second mortgage can make the lender just at least as well off as under the mortgage insurance regime (***), while being able to attract a few more buyers via the tax savings angle. In short, the piggyback loan product is a tax-favored equivalent to the economically unobjectionable mortgage insurance regime. Among the newer-fangled mortgages, this is the least worthy of tut-tutting.

Conceptually, there's nothing particularly magical about putting 20% down on a house; as a practical matter, it's darn hard for people such as first-time buyers without sizeable trust funds to scrape up that sort of cash. With even the lucky well-educated emerging from school, typically, with sizeable debt as a byproduct of cost-shifting, and with St. Alan — via Digby — suggesting that lower wage growth for the fortunate skilled (except, presumably, himself) would make the world a better place it doesn't look to be getting any easier.

I don't think there's any doubt that lenders went more than a little insane, some of the loan products cited by Pearlstein are barely distinguishable from fraud (b), and others even under better circumstances would slowly boil a good number of their takers alive (c, e, and f). Still, it shouldn't be forgotten that creative financing, up to a point, can be good for you, and some of the objections have more than a little whiff of elitism if not moralism.


(*) Balloon mortgages may make sense for someone with sterling credit who knows that they'll leave a house before the balloon payment comes due (e.g., because of work-related transfers).

(**) We took out an ARM at that, as in the spring of 2000 the likely direction of interest rates was as obvious as such things get. Through the magic of the bubble's run-up and the amortization of the 15-year fixed-rate mortgage that eventually superseded the ARM, the equity on that house became a slightly-more-than-20% down payment on the "new" house.

(***) Whether or not the lender actually buys the mortgage insurance with the money isn't the buyer's problem.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

HP 7: The First Three Chapters

by Ken Houghton

Channeling an act of this blog's patroness in her most recent movie, and fulfilling a promise made at Mannion's place several weeks ago, we now present for your amusement, a summary of the first three chapters of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (BOOK SIX SPOILERS FOLLOW):

Chapter 1:

Comedies end in weddings; tragedies end in death. As this volume is not a comedy, and Ms. Rowling wants to leave no doubt of that, the book opens not with the promised Bill/Fleur nuptials, but rather a scene reminiscent of the last book, in which Draco, Lucius, and Nausicaa Malfoy, along with Severus Snape, recapitulate the climax of HBP, the death of Albus Dumbledore.

And neither Malfoy parent is pleased. This was to be Draco’s crowning achievement, the signal that he was a worthy inheritor of his father’s position as Voldemort's right-hand man. Draco’s powers had been specifically developed over the previous summer so that even Harry’s invisibility cloak could not prevent his perception. While there had been rumors throughout the school year that Draco had engaged in some problematic actions (crying in the bathroom where Moaning Myrtle had seen him, for instance), theMalfoys had always been certain Draco would, when faced with his ultimate duty, be able to perform. And now Severus was suggesting it had not been so.

There could be little doubt the description was accurate; there had, after all, been other witnesses to the death of Albus Dumbledore, witnesses who corroborated that it had not, in the end, been that Draco had come through.

And so it was that Draco learned that his mother Nausicaa was the true power behind the Malfoy family, that it was she who ensured their chosen position within the Death Eaters. It was a lesson he would not soon forget. And one he swore (to himself, at least) that Harry Potter would learn as well.

Chapter 2

The Weasley household’s wedding preparations are in full swing. In part because of the success of Fred and George’s business, the family would be traveling in style to the marriage of Bill Weasley to Fleur Delacour. Hermione would travel with them, as would—a pleasant surprise that—Hermione’s parents, who had decided that the site of the wedding would be an excellent place for this summer’s holiday. (That they would also be able to spend some time getting to know the Weasley family, with whom they expected to have close relations in the future, was no small part of their calculation.) Indeed, the only slight damper on the preparations was the absence of Harry Potter, who was living at the Dursleys for the summer.

It wasn’t that he wanted to be there, but he was mindful that Aunt Petunia, his only living blood relative, provided him the protection that even 12Grimauld Place in London could not, especially with Dumbledore dead. (Indeed, with Snape apparently returned to the other side, 12 Grimauld Place could in no way be considered a safe house for anyone, let alone Harry, which Lupin had noted to him with no small degree of regret.)

So Harry was spending the first part of the summer with the Dursleys, dreading to go out of the house—his encounter with the Dementors and Dudley two years previous weighed heavily on his every move—communicating daily by owl with Hermione and Lupin (who were doing the heavy research) while trying to figure out how best to convince Headmaster McGonagall to allow him to use the Pensieve to find the reliquaries he would need to destroy.

Chapter 3

The wedding celebration of Bill and Fleur begins with Hermione and Ron running into Victor Krum, looking splendid. He tells them he has been hired to teach Transfiguration at Hogwarts and Hermione immediately begins to discuss procedures that leave Ron jealous, and noting wryly that Victor’s English appears to have improved much from the “Hermio-ninny” days.

A summer away has returned Ginny to herself, and she is focusing on her new school year, and most especially her OWLs, as well as the upcoming Quidditch season, with the need to find Gryffindor a new Seeker. Always practical, and not one to let grass grow under her feet, Ginny is now dating Neville Longbottom.

All seems settled as the ceremony begins. An attack by Death Eaters, which leads to the death of Molly Weasley, changes the mood of the celebrants and the course of the book.

Ginny and Harry discuss his next steps. She offers Harry all of the details she can about her possession by Tom Riddle, including the sensations and memories from the diary of what the other reliquaries might be. Ginny avows a suspicion that the Diary was not the first relic, and notes that it might be fruitful for Harry’s search if he were to return to Hogwarts.

Harry notes that he can’t very well search for the reliquaries and maintain the full schedule of a seventh-year Hogwarts student; as he does this within the hearing of Headmaster McGonagall and the Minister of Magic, Rufus Scrimgeour, who proposes a solution: Harry shall return to Hogwarts on a reduced class schedule, with additional duties as the Special Assistant to the new teacher for the Defense Against the Dark Arts. Harry agrees to this on the condition that StanShunpike be freed, without knowing who that teacher will be.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Buy GM cars; the mortgage market needs to be subsidized

by Ken Houghton

Via Calculated Risk:

The next time GM explains that its pensioners need to take a hit, it won't be because car sales have fallen.

It will be because of their subprime mortgage lending:
General Motors Corp. will inject $1 billion into GMAC, its former finance arm said on Tuesday, a capital infusion needed to complete the sale of the automaker's majority stake in the face of escalating defaults in the U.S. mortgage market.

Under terms of its sale to a group led by Cerberus Capital Management, GM had guaranteed a minimum book value of $14.4 billion when the sale closed at the end of November.

It's not that adding equity to ResCap wasn't a good idea:
GMAC's ResCap unit, which specializes in housing finance, reported $48 billion in subprime loans -- about 76 percent of its mortgage portfolio as of year end.

ResCap increased its allowance for loan losses to 2.17 percent at year-end from 1.55 percent a year earlier and reported a spike in nonperforming loans to 10.5 percent of its mortgage portfolio.

but the result is that Private firm is being compensated by public share-, debt-, and lienholders of GM. And the private firm wins twice:
GMAC said it earned $1 billion in the fourth quarter of 2006, compared with $112 million a year earlier. The results included a $791 million tax benefit from its conversion to a limited liability company.

Translation: that's another $791 million that GM pensioners and others will have to pay into the general fund.

In a related matter (from comments at CR), Master Financial Inc. has "cease[d] its wholesale loan origination operation including accepting new applications for mortgage loans and funding loans in its pipeline."

A coworker noted:
Their web site brags about a feature called their “30 second desk.” Maybe some approvals actually needed more than 30 seconds of attention in retrospect.

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How Not To Fill Out an NCAA Bracket

by Ken Houghton

Ken: Did you go to PT today?

Shira: Yes. I filled out a March Madness bracket.

Ken (after pause): And you didn't call me? What do you think I've been doing (other than work) for the past two days?

Shira: He had copies from the Star-Ledger, which can't spell "Indiana." I'm competing with a bunch of "little old ladies." (hopefully) I picked Georgia to win it all.

I decided at that point not to tell her that my Business School alma mater is not in the tournament. I'm not certain if she picked Georgia Tech (a 10 seed), George Washington (11), or Georgetown (2).

UPDATE: It was, naturally, Georgia Tech. Which would be considered adding insult to injury. She notes—rightly—that if Tech goes anywhere in the tournament, everyone is to point out that she knew what she was doing.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

At Which Point Tom Says ...

by Unknown

"I told you so." . (May require subscription to see story.)

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Quoting Myself, almost ten years on

by Ken Houghton

It was a simpler time. The answer to the question at the end was not clearly "yes."

Michael R. Bromwich, the Justice Department's Inspector General, raises an interesting issue ("Bad Science in the F.B.I. Lab Isn't a Crime," letter, April 22). Speaking of agents who, by the conclusions of his own report, willfully gave "flawed and inaccurate testimony" based on "bad science...and failures of management," he declares nobly that they "did not deserve being branded as criminals."

I was always of the impression that the courts consider "flawed and inaccurate testimony" to be perjury. Has the Department of Justice decided that perjury is not a criminal act?

New York, April 22, 1997

And this time, no one is pretending there is anything scientific or management-related about the perjury (PDF link).

Instead, the Attorney General "now [says] that he's dismayed that he may not have given the congress accurate information. UNDER OATH, I might add."

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Hit Somebody, or There are now four hockey videos I won't embed

by Ken Houghton

There are moments in sports that are painful to watch. Baseball has Dave Dravecky's arm re-breaking or J.R. Richard's stroke-on-the-playing-field. College basketball has Hank Gathers, while the pros had Kermit Washington's near-fatal punch of Rudy Tomjanovich. Football has Jack Tatum's hit on Darryl Stingley.

Hockey is hardly immune to this. Travis Roy may be our version of Stingley. As described in the Washington Post:
Roy, 28, achieved his dream of playing Division I college hockey when he jumped onto the ice for his first game as a freshman for Boston University in 1995, only to suffer a horrifying head-first crash into the boards just 11 seconds later, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. Roy remains confined to a wheelchair, but his optimism is boundless and his spirits especially high with an unprecedented four days of hockey unfolding at the Fleet Center.

Not something anyone wants to think about, but I wouldn't hesitate to embed the YouTube clip if I had it. It was a clean hit, and is remembered now for the same reason that Ray Chapman is remembered: it's unexpected, not malicious, and the result is entirely out of proportion to what one would reasonably expect.

That said, and given this post, there are three hockey videos I would never embed:
  1. Clint Malarchuk's throat getting slashed by a skate. Google tells me that one is on YouTube, and it's an amazing video. If you ever wanted to know why goalies wear neck protection:
    The notable incident occurred during a game on March 22, 1989 between the visiting St. Louis Blues and Malarchuk's Buffalo Sabres. Steve Tuttle of the Blues and Uwe Krupp of the Sabres collided at the mouth of the goal, and Tuttle's skate caught Malarchuk on the neck, slicing open his external carotid artery. With pools of blood collecting on the ice, Malarchuk somehow left the ice under his own power with the assistance of his team's trainer, Jim Pizzutelli. Many spectators were physically sickened by the sight with seven fainting and two suffering heart attacks while two teammates vomited on the ice [1] [2]. Local television cameras covering the game instantly cut away from the sight of Malarchuk....

    After Malarchuk's injury, the NHL instituted a policy requiring all goalies to wear neck protection.

    I've seen the video, which is yet another reason it's not possible to take The 300 seriously.

  2. Bertuzzi on Steve Moore. I trust no more need be said.

  3. Marty McSorley attempting to behead Donald Brashear. I honestly don't believe there is another way to describe the actual action (slow-motion replay at 54 seconds). Wikipedia understates the description:
    During the February 21, 2000 Vancouver-Boston game, when Brashear played for Vancouver, Marty McSorley struck Brashear in the side of his head with his stick. Brashear fell to the ice, his head bounced, and his unsecured helmet flew off. Brashear's suffered from a grade 3 concussion and memory lapses. He returned to play after several weeks and has fully recovered.

    Brashear testified he has no memory of what happened. Marty McSorley was found guilty of assault with a weapon but wasn't sent to jail. He had to complete 18 months of probation, in which he could not play against Brashear. McSorley claims that he tried to hit Brashear in the shoulder to start a fight with him and didn't mean to hit his head.

    McSorley never played in the league again.

    And now there is a fourth:

  4. Isles' Simon ejected for hitting Rangers' Hollweg
    Just seconds before he was hit, Hollweg drove Simon into the boards with a hard, clean check. Simon got up angrily and met Hollweg as they came together again. He then swung his stick into Hollweg's face, just above his neck.


    Simon spent Friday afternoon being examined by a doctor. He appeared to be shaken up on the hit by Hollweg into the boards. An injury could prevent Simon from flying to Toronto, where disciplinary hearings are commonly held....

    Simon's hit...flattened Hollweg with 6:31 remaining and left him motionless for several minutes in the Rangers' zone.

    Swung is a rather-too-nice term (the original check at 1:37; Simon's "response" follows, roughly at 1:41)

Don't get me wrong; both Simon and Hollweg, like Brashear and McSorley before them, are enforcers, so it's not necessarily a mismatch, in the way that, say, Tie Domi cold-cocking Scott Niedermayer with his elbow in the 2000 Playoffs, or Dale Hunter on Pierre Turgeon, or several of the other gems captured here are.

But that doesn't make it any less evil, and the league has acted appropriately in suspending Simon for at least 25 games.

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Friday, March 09, 2007

Blame Battlepanda for This One

by Ken Houghton

Men's health group classifies erectile dysfunction on `rough and ready' scale
The Asian Erectile Dysfunction Advisory Council and Training (EDACT) Group's latest survey may use rather vivid imagery to describe its subjects' manhood, but one physician said the measurements work.

I dread to think of what would happen if they didn't use graphic imagery. Oh, wait:
EDACT conducted a telephone survey of 1,009 Taiwanese men and then classified each man's manhood in one of four groups -- cucumbers, bananas, peeled bananas and conjac jelly.

Where's Peter Greenaway when we need him?

The good thing about waiting a day: d at LG&M already sacrificed blogspace for the Greater Good.

The Surest Sign the Mortgage Apocalypse is Nigh

by Ken Houghton

We reached an agreement in principle to refinance last night.

Tom adds: And our bank is going to lend us a sizeable chunk of money for a round of work on the house, which starts with major heating-system surgery a week from Monday. (Hey, someone has to prop up residential investment!)

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

THREE YEARS AGO TODAY (formerly, Well, So Much for Rooting for the Red Wings this Year)

by Ken Houghton

NOTE: This is a recycled post from the 27th of February, except for the Second Update Below, which should give full context to the first update.

Scott is likely to explain the full details. [And did.] Suffice to say that this doesn't tell the half of it:
While playing for the Canucks in March 2004, Bertuzzi sucker-punched Colorado's Steve Moore in the head in one of hockey's ugliest episodes. He served a 17-month suspension.

I'll be waiting for ESPN to post a correction of their use of "sucker-punched."

What Scott Will Say.

UPDATE: I found the video on YouTube. No embedding, and not recommended for the faint of heart. This is a family blog.

UPDATE THE SECOND: ESPN provides an update on Steve Moore. Curiously, no one mentioned his name at the trading deadline*:
He makes periodic visits to the renowned Cleveland Clinic and to his Toronto doctors, but he said he still has concussion-related problems that have prevented the physicians from clearing him to take contact and to attempt to play....

It has been three years since Moore was wheeled off the General Motors Place ice with three fractured neck vertebrae, a concussion and facial lacerations.

I guess that's the closest we'll come to a correction of "sucker-punched" in the previous article.

*I hasten to note that Scott was absolutely correct about Luongo for Bertuzzi:
trading an elite goaltender for Bertuzzi was an extraordinarily bad trade leaving the morality out of it.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Madison Landlords to City: Damn You for Your Negative-Cost Regulations!

by Tom Bozzo

Nobody should be surprised at Madison getting on the compact fluorescent (CFL) bandwagon. A little more surprising is the relatively mild form of the first proposed regulations. Following a suggestion from the Sierra Club, city council president Austin King has proposed a measure requiring CFLs in common area fixtures for older multiunit buildings as well as for suitable hard-wired fixtures within the buildings proper.

Reading the story in this morning's State Journal, I was waiting for the inevitable negative reaction from some local business association — the Chamber of Commerce or the like. Just what limb would one such an org amputate to avoid a dreaded mandate? I was not disappointed. The WSJ quoted Eileen Bruskewitz of the Madison Slumlords Landlords Council:
This is not something that needs to be regulated. This is the Progressive Dane approach to telling people how they should live.
This is Totally Stupid. The simple economic Fact O' The Matter is that at current CFL prices, you can replace any incandescent bulb with a CFL, and in doing so you'd put money in your pocket: the CFL bulb returns far more than its price in energy savings. This is true, even, of expensive bulbs like the dimmable CFL floodlights we installed in our kitchen and family room. This is true even if you count the cost of properly recycling burnt-out bulbs. So Bruskewitz is actually asking the city council for leave for her association's members to piss money away. Bad, bad Progressive Dane for stopping them from doing so! As it happens, my former 8-unit apartment building, which I gathered to be of late-eighties or early-90s vintage (and thus probably subject to the proposed ordinance), used CFLs in common areas in the late-90s, when electricity prices were lower and CFL prices much higher, still for fairly obvious total-cost reasons.

Seconarily, Bruskewitz suggests that tenants might not want CFLs in their living spaces. This is a stupid argument, too. The illumination quality of modern CFLs is essentially indistinguishable from comparable incandescents. (That is, there are CFLs that have similar qualities to both soft-white and full-spectrum incandescents.) Plus, I'd be surprised if tenants would actually be willing to pay to replace a CFL with an incandescent bulb in a hardwired fixture.

The case of the CFL is, in my view, a signal failure of the H. economicus model. If people really could evaluate the full cost of lightbulb purchase decisions, the market for incandescents would have collapsed some time ago. Accordingly, I support regulations that would more-or-less ban the sale of incandescents. (I'd carve out an exception for low-wattage bulbs. Full disclosure: our front hallway fixture [in a 1930 house] is an antique that uses four 25-watt exposed-bulb incandescents. I judge such things to be insigificant in the grander scheme.)

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Servant Problem

by Ken Houghton

Go read Mannion (who provides appropriate framing), and follow his link to Scott (who presented the issue) and, especially, the comments there.

Back not-so-RSN.

Bullets of Stuff I Might Have Blogged About In Greater Depth

by Tom Bozzo

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Monday, March 05, 2007

I Really Do Hate Microsoft Bashing; Reality Is Sufficient

by Ken Houghton

C-Net's e-mail question a few days ago was "Is Microsoft's Live OneCare sufficient virus protection?" They presented a wishy-washy answer, roughly "one program is never enough."

It appears they might have just said only if you want substandard protection:
Microsoft's Live OneCare security software has failed tests which check how well it spots and stops malicious programs designed to attack Windows.

OneCare was the only failure among 17 anti-virus programs tested by the AV Comparatives organisation....

The majority of programs tested, 14, got an advanced pass or better from AV Comparatives; two got a standard rating and OneCare failed.

The corporate response is as encouraging as usual:
" We are looking closely at the methodology and results of the test to ensure that Windows Live OneCare performs better in future tests."

Translation: We are going to "teach to the test"?
He added that Microsoft was trying to: "determine whether any learnings from these tests can be used to improve our services as part of our ongoing work to continually enhance Windows Live OneCare to ensure the highest level of protection and service that we can provide our customers."

I dunno; I'd guess that being the poorest performer in the group means you have a lot to learn. Either that, or you need to concentrate on your competitive advantages:
A spokesman for BT [British Telecom, I presume] said: "I think we are now supporting it though we did have some issues with it."

In particular, he said, Vista was conflicting with the Norton security software that BT sells with some of its broadband bundles.

"That's now been ironed out," he added. [emphasis mine]

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Dep't of Framing: Consumer Rights in the Digital Age Edition

by Tom Bozzo

The MSM has an annoying habit of using "Patriot Act" to refer to what should be the USA PATRIOT Act, which is an acronym for United States of America Prying and Tattling to Really Improve On Terrorism Act or something like that. Still, I have to smile when the good guys get in on the scam.

Rep. Rick Boucher recently introduced a bill, H.R. 1201, that would codify some exceptions to the anti-circumvention provision of the notorious Digital Millennium Copyright Act (*), as well as enshrine in statute a version of the Supreme Court's Betamax decision. The latter provision would declare in some way that time-shifting broadcasts for personal use is not a copyright infringement. Text of the bill isn't yet available at the Library of Congress THOMAS site, so I'm not sure just what it will allow.

In the last two Congresses, predecessor legislation had been known as the Digital Media Consumer Rights Act, but who's for consumer rights? The new bill is entitled the Freedom And Innovation Revitalizing U.S. Entrepreneurship Act of 2007, or the FAIR USE Act. Nice.

To try to reduce content providers' opposition, the FAIR USE Act does reportedly eliminate the fair use defense for circumvention other than that specifically allowed by statute. This apparently is to no avail, as Playlist reports on the story under the headline "RIAA opposes new fair use bill."

Still, this sounds like a good thing for us netroots to agitate for, seeing how much we all depend on fair use.

RIAA, not surprisingly, oversells the benefits of DMCA's anti-circumvention provision, claiming that it has enabled much of the online digital-content distribution economy. This is a stretch when the top music download service's DRM is so weak as to barely limit rights (i.e., you can strip iTunes content of its DRM by allowed burning of iTunes tracks to CD), another service offers music with no DRM at all, and for that matter online games use copy-protection methods such as CD and DVD keys that would be familiar to old-skool gamers of the pre-DMCA era. But it's their job to be to fair use what the NRA is to gun control.


(*) This makes it unlawful to circumvent copy protection systems for digital media.

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