Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Most Competitive Event in Sports

by Ken Houghton

Tomorrow is my eldest daughter's sixth birthday, which can only mean one thing: It's Time for the National Spelling Bee Finals, the most grueling sporting event on television.*

UPDATE: For the video-impaired (at work, in Europe), results are available here.

Back in "the good old days," the Finals were exclusively telecast on ESPN and, during the day, on ESPN2.** Gradually, as the network realized that there was a small, deeply demented audience*** that was large enough to, say, compete easily with NHL hockey in the Late Bettman Era, or at least dwarf that of Glenn Beck.

The contest is sponsored by Scripps-Howard, which itself has been transformed over time, including owning Shopzilla.

There are memories for the ages: probably the best known is the joy of the 1997 Winner Rebecca Sealfon as she spelt "euonym" (see the video here, via Spelling Grrl).

Sealfon is now a Ph.D. student in biology at Duke; Scripps-Howard has been transformed from a chain of family newspapers into a multimedia behemoth.

Spelling continues. And, tonight, Disney/ABC has decided that "attention should be paid"**** in prime time.

*Context: Shira and I spent much of the afternoon of May 31st, 2001, in a hospital room at St. Barnabas watching the middle rounds (her initiation to The Cult). This was in no small part because the rhythm of the show matched rather well with the breathing exercises being done to encourage the possibility of a "natural" child birth.

**This was when we could really believe that there would eventually be an ESPN8 ("The Ocho") with arcane sports programming.

***Movie reference #2.

****Not a movie reference, although five movies have been made.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I thought I was joking

by Ken Houghton

Me, yesterday: "It's just that every game of the last round was on "Versus," which probably is available to, what, about 30,000 non-Comcast subscribers in the Western Hemisphere?"

ESPN, today, discussing a great game that no one saw:
After a postseason low of 20 shots in the series opener, the Senators managed less of a punch in Game 2. But what the game lacked in goals, it didn't fall short in exciting, tense play. Whether it was enough to bring viewers to TV sets is another issue. Game 1 on Versus got only a 0.72 cable rating and was seen in 523,000 households in the United States.

There are often weeks when that kind of turnout won't even produce the top selling CD or DVD of the week. Way to go, Gary Bettman.


Where the Elite Meet

by Tom Bozzo

Some Famous People who have stayed at the Hotel Panhans:
(Click through for bigger versions.)

In the second row from the top, not L-R as such, that's Josephine Baker, King Hussein of Jordan [*], Kurt Waldheim, and FALCO.

Alles klar, Herr Kommissar?

[*] The vacancy of Wingnuttia is on clear display in its attempt to demonize Barack Obama over his middle name. How soon they forget the Hussein that was a good friend of the U.S. Me, I've lost faith with Obama over subsidies for coal liquefication, at least if Edmund Andrews's reporting can be trusted. And shame on Dick Gephardt for shilling for this piece of crap.

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Why Am I Blogging?

by Tom Bozzo

Darned weather:
Picture 3

Naturally, today is the R&R day before the conference; tomorrow is a workday.

The travel from Amsterdam to Semmering was pleasant enough. KLM indeed has a better concept for in-flight snacks than the frankly hopeless Northwest: a couple small sandwiches (tomato, lettuce, and cheddar; tandoori chicken) that were tasty enough. Eons ago (as in just before the First Gulf War), the Times (of London) ran a very interesting look inside BA's kitchens at Heathrow seeking an answer to the question of why airline food so often goes wrong, though at the time excesses of ambition were the main concern. Snacks like KLM's where what the author wanted for economy-class food.

Having endured relatively frequent flying in the U.S. post-9/11, KLM is a welcome throwback. I have no idea how they manage to efficiently operate essentially every variety of twin-aisle aircraft (I saw the 747, 777, A330, MD-11, and was under the impression that they fly the 767 too), keep them all relatively spotless and blue-looking, put multiple blue-uniformed agents at each gate, etc. For that matter, while the ubiquitous 737 is the mainstay of their short-haul fleet, national pride or something also saddles them with a number of aging Fokkers. Heck, I saw one agent carrying an exhausted preschooler of about John's age so that the kid and his mother could make a flight departing from a nearby gate.

Vienna airport is tranquil in comparison to Schiphol, and does have a Starbucks. It's under major construction. The train connection was from the grubby but relatively efficient Südbahnhof, where the main problem was finding out what train to take for a minor destination not listed on any of the posted timetables. The guy at the information desk had to look it up online, in fact; that would be a useful functionality for the ÖBB ticket kiosks.

The train ride itself was an interesting tale of two runs, one fast and flat through Vienna's outskirts and exurbs, another slow, uphill, and winding through the mountains — a climb of 725 meters to Semmering, most over the last 30 km. The line is electrified the whole way, and I'd wager smoother than any stretch of passenger railway in the U.S., in the department of better uses for a half-trillion dollars. [*] (I'll let Supt. Stephen Karlson correct me as needed.)

What I hadn't been adequately prepared for was the additional 125 m (410 ft.) in altitude from the station to the hotel. Which made this an especially welcome sight:

On the upside, it was a decent workout, and arguably helped me better sleep off the jet lag last night. Now if only it would stop raining so I could hike up the mountain behind the hotel for some scenery...

[*] We did set out with a diesel engine at the head of the train, which eventually separated and took the front two coaches to another destination.


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

50 Games In (Third in a Series)

by Ken Houghton

While Drek and Kim read The Onion in Tom's absence, I'm deep in the midst of a Secret Project (for which I am so late that it really isn't at all funny).

So I'm just going to post the third in the series of Why Mathematics Doesn't necessarily Produce Rational Results. (Part 1, not that anyone should care, is here; Part 2 was included at the bottom of this post.*)

When last we left our Heroes in Da Bronx, they needed to play .708 baseball (win slightly more than 7 of each 10 games) to reach the "expected" 110 wins. As they have not quite done exactly that, the results are, as they say, not pretty.

Fifty games into the season, the Yankees now need to play .795 baseball—win just shy of eight out of every ten games—the rest of the way to reach 110 wins. This would eclipse the best single-season record of any major league team in the modern era by more than 4%.

Indeed, they would have to play .683 baseball the rest of the way just to reach the bettors's expectation of 97.5 wins. Only the Red Sox, of the 30 major league teams, have managed to do that for the first almost-third of a season. (The Mets, who are generally viewed as the NYC success story of the Spring, are second overall at .660.)

Perhaps Rocket Man, now that we are fifty games into the season, will guide them to glory, but it really is now prohibitively Not the Way to Bet.

*It isn't, by the way, that I've lost interest in the hockey playoffs. While I still maintain that Jiggy's 2003 MVP Award was an abomination, the Ducks are a fun team to watch, and Ottawa are not slouches either. It's just that every game of the last round was on "Versus," which probably is available to, what, about 30,000 non-Comcast subscribers in the Western Hemisphere? The opening post-game declaration last night, "If you weren't a hockey fan before this game..." absurdly assumes that anyone else would wander into that area of the dial deliberately. (I suspect that the lack of Hogging from Scott and The World's Most Dangerous Professor is due to a similar reaction.)

As far as predictions go, either way I win: either the Devils lost to the Champions or—the way to hope, if not bet—Scott Niedermayer will prove that Lou Lamoriello should have kept him instead of opting for, say, Colin White in a cost-saving measure. So I'm going to root for the de-Disneyfied team that Brodeur nearly swept in 2003.

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I Have a Cunning Plan...

by Anonymous

Proof that Baldrick=God, from a reputable news source:
"They need to know that God is watching over them always, and that he has a plan for each and every one of them—a nonlinear, probabilistic plan he set in motion more than three billion years ago with single-celled organisms, ended with a group of small, lizard-like herbivores, infused with a bunch of miracles, and then restarted."

Read the whole thing. It's classic, and appropos given yesterday's grand opening of Ken Ham's Creation Theme Park Museum.

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Can't believe Tom didn't spot this one...

by Drek

From his "The Onion is a Priceless National Treasure" department comes this account of the Bush national health care plan:

Jesus Is My Health Insurance

I tell you, people these days have lost their faith. Everybody's turning to the television or drugs or the government to solve their problems, when they should be trusting in the Lord.

Why, just the other day I went to County General because my legs were giving me awful pains, and this nurse starting asking me questions about providers and what was my health care plan and wanting my insurance card so she could copy it. I said, "Child, I don't need all that fancy paperwork—not as long as I have Jesus in my heart."

No matter what sorts of hardships and illnesses life throws my way, I always count on the Lord to oversee my managed care. So I told that nurse to send my bills right up to heaven. Send them right on up, because Jesus is my preferred provider and He always grants me full coverage. After all, Jesus believed in healing the sick and helping the poor, so He most definitely believes in paying my doctor bills on time.

It'd be a lot funnier if it weren't so tragic. I just wonder how soon we're going to start seeing WHMOWJU?* bumperstickers.

* Seriously, people, you can figure it out if you try.


Nieuw Bericht from Amsterdam: Random Bullets of Transoceanic Flight

by Tom Bozzo

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Monday, May 28, 2007

What I'm Doing This Week

by Tom Bozzo

I'm going to Austria, baby!

Here's my fistful of Euros:

...and the plane to Amsterdam. I expect this will beat the ancient DC-10 from the last trip to Europe. If nothing else, there's laptop power and (it looks) decent content on the video system.

No idea what the connectivity situation will be at my destination, which is a couple hours outside Vienna. In the worst case scenario, I'll be back with pictures early next week.


From the Archives: On Gabaix and Landier on Executive Pay

by Tom Bozzo

Via PGL at Angry Bear, I see that Gabaix and Landier's paper "explaining" CEO pay dispersion as a function of market capitalization has made its way to the Quarterly Journal of Economics. No accounting for taste.

Here's what I said about the working paper version just about a year ago:
My two cents is that this paper (which would-be clickers through should note uses a fair amount of math) presents some interesting results derived from fantasy fundamentals — you read a sentence like "Our [CEO] talent market is neoclassical and frictionless" and try to resist the urge to snort...

[U]sing alternative measures of firm size, the "fundamentals" don't support the magnitude of the CEO pay increase as obviously as Gabaix and Landier suggest. The authors wave their hands around the connection between the present value of profits and firms' measured market values, and in fact offer that profits could be an admissible measure of market size. In the aggregate, though, corporate profits adjusted for inflation (as measured by the BEA) have increased by a factor of three; the leadoff comment at Marginal Revolution also highlights the excess growth of CEO pay relative to corporate earnings and the potential dissconnection between profits and market valuations.

This points to a second, and arguably bigger, problem. Even if you were to accept market capitalization as the appropriate benchmark, the growth of market capitalization reflects various factors that are not causally attributable to CEO talent or effort. Investors' willingness to pay more for a dollar of earnings than they were in 1980 (for the time being, anyway) is Exhibit A.
Read the whole thing, as you like.

A lesson you might draw from this is that while a published study like this may be assumed to be substantially free of direct errors (and there are plenty of papers that don't rise to that standard), that doesn't rule out blindspots of such magnitude that you (like, say, Kevin Drum) might reasonably wonder what world it is that is under study. Neoclassical and frictionless markets for corporate executive services? Riiight.

It's also almost the one-year anniversary of the verdicts in the trial of the late Kenny Boy Lay and Jeff Skilling , and that led me to take another whack at G&L:
If you believed the compensation committees and compensation consultants, all of the CEOs are above average. What's worth explaining is the collection of CEOs who joined their companies long before the firms should have been shelling out for top executive talent and subsequently rode the market cap rocket to riches without their boards replacing them with someone more talented along the way. There are reasonable explanations for that, of course, but frictionless sorting of CEOs by talent in the labor market isn't one of them.

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Vintage Blogage, Plus Ca Change Edition

by Tom Bozzo

I don't know exactly why Ken is resurrecting ancient memes from the Just Thoughts archives, but he's come up with a possibly somewhat more amusing answer than my original version (here).

Here's the context for Ken's choice for 5th sentence, 23rd post. The lede, September 21, 2004:
UW law prof and blogger Ann Althouse [link omitted] polls her readership as to whether the presidential choice should be made on the basis of the connections (or lack thereof) Bush and Kerry draw between Afghanistan and Iraq, and who comes out on top. The result: overwhelmingly (75%) for Bush! Oh no!
Ann described the result as "striking," which was dumb. Though the election outcome still stings a bit.

For the benefit of my mom, my grandmother, Suzanne, and my friend Cathy (a.k.a. the entire Marginal Utility readership of the time), I described the Althouse phenomenon:
Prof. Althouse's claim to fame is as a sort of Rovian fantasy of the "security mom." She's a self-professed Democrat for Bush (via some sort of lingering post-9/11/01 bond, though she claims to have voted Edwards in the Democratic presidential primary), an academic at a famously liberal institution, and moreover one who takes frequent digs at John Kerry via her blog, and has been linked by prominent conservative bloggers [i.e., the Ole Perfesser] for doing so. This has apparently given her a spike in readership, of the sort that doesn't care about the views from the 100 Wisconsin Avenue condos [link added]. So if you poll a bunch of righty blog readers, and perhaps a few Madison academics who may need to stage an intervention, what do you expect?

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For Janelle

by Ken Houghton

Tom gets to do the tagging, though:

The job:

1. Go into your archives.
2. Find your 23rd post.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your blog along with these instructions.
5. Tag five other people to do the same thing.

So here it is:

"Assume for the sake of argument that Bush and Kerry supporters are equally likely to self-select into the poll and to stuff the ballot box."

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Question Hour: Very Tall Buildings Edition

by Tom Bozzo

(An occasional series on search queries that lure visitors to this blog.)

The new-and-improved Site Meter had been making it look like Ms. Hathaway's turn as Jane Austen was going to induce a Second Hathalanche. So far, though, it hasn't quite washed out a bunch of people looking for information — exact queries unknown — on the rapidly sprouting Dubai skyline. Some time back, I'd posted this in response to a characteristically finely-honed observation from Helen Macdonald.

Since then, the Burj Dubai has soared to 128 floors and 460 meters (a.k.a. 1509 feet) and counting. That's not only taller than the 442-meter roof of Chicago's Sears Tower, but also the unoccupied pinnacles of the cheating Petronas Towers in Malaysia. It should exceed the 509-meter height of the current tallest building, Taipei 101, by late-summer or early-fall '07. Here's a recent construction picture of Burj Dubai, which is remarkable in no small part for the number of construction cranes visible servicing other sites in the frame.

Back then, I'd put the final height of the Burj Dubai in the range of 705 meters to a kilometer — remarkably tall at either end of the range. Current rumor (backed by plans) has it that Burj Dubai will top out above 800 meters (2625 feet), making it the tallest human-built structure on the planet by a good margin. If you are aching for news, is the place to go.

A big question for skyscraper geeks is whether another proposed Dubai tower, the Al Burj, will be amazingly tall (700 meters) or amazingly amazingly tall (1100 meters).

Meanwhile, Wikipedia tells me that following Chicago city council approval, construction of the Santiago Calatrava-designed Chicago Spire is to commence Real Soon Now. While its 610-meter height won't put it in the league of its middle-eastern betters, it'll have a plenty-remarkable effect on the Chicago skyline. (Though note that the lake-side skyline render shows neither of the supertalls rising along the Chicago river, the Trump International hotel/condo or the Waterview Tower.) If nothing else, the Spire's distinctive design will remind me that Nail's Tales cannot be seen very far beyond the intersection of Breese Terrace and Regent St. And insofar as my edit to the Madison, Wisconsin entry correcting an erroneous claim that the first Wisconsin capitol building burned in 1904 (it was the second) hasn't yet been reverted, I semi-trust Wikipedia on the subject.

If you want to follow the progress of the world's tallest buildings, this is the thread to follow, with a cool diagram showing the construction progress vs. the final outlines of the buildings.

The old post referenced the Blade Runner (the movie) design for post-apocalypse 21st-century L.A. We would be remiss were we not to note that what the production design really missed was the proliferation of big, flat TVs and associated display panels.

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A Marathon Ramble

by Anonymous

A couple of sociobloggers (see here and here) are talking about the upcoming Madison marathon. I'm sure Bourdieu has a thing or two to say about the professorial predilection for jogging, no doubt tying it to the anxious striving for conformity of those who have more cultural than economic capital.

At any rate, I'm reminded of my one and only marathon experience, which pretty much turned me off running for the next 22 years and counting. Solitary, poor, nasty, and brutish pretty much describes it. Short? Well, not so much.

It probably didn't help that the course profile of my hometown marathon looked like this. An 1800-foot elevation gain starting at mile 8 makes for a nice bell curve, but not for a pleasant first marathon experience.

I assume the Madison marathon is a bit friendlier. Good luck to all those attempting it!


Sales to the Mathematically-Impaired

by Ken Houghton

Following up to Tom's comment mentioning that Peet's is served in Select Cities, I find this page offering their Coffees of the Americas.

Note that $10.95 + $10.95 + $12.95 < $37.95. Clearly, like the $100 bill on the sidewalk, this page does not exist.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Tastes Like ... Potatoes?

by Anonymous

At the student union where I sometimes buy lunch, a new addition to the ranks of biodegradable products: Spudware (TM), disposable eating utensils made from potato starch and guaranteed to biodegrade in 180 days.

Luckily, someone in Food Service has a well-developed sense of humor, if not irony. Next to the Spudware was a matching bin of individual servings of ketchup, distributed in decidedly non-biodegradable plastic packets.

UPDATE: This morning I found TaterWare (TM) coffee cup lids at a different on-campus dining establishment. Food fight!

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Moyers on Postal Ratemaking

by Tom Bozzo

Usually, I stay away from blogging about postal issues, even though it's theoretically my area of expertise, to avoid work-related conflicts. But I see via Avedon Carol that Bill Moyers contributed a short article to The Nation — I am a print subscriber, BTW — regarding the claimed effect of Periodicals rate increases on small publishers, and Moyers' short piece has some issues that go in large part to the postal rate-setting process itself, regarding which I don't suppose many people are very well-informed. (Also a h/t to Tom C. in NYC for forwarding another account of the situation. There are significant and very complex economic and other regulatory policy issues involved as well, which are well beyond the scope of this post.)

Moyers describes the situation as follows:
An impending rate hike, worked out by postal regulators, with almost no public input but plenty of corporate lobbying, would reward big publishers like Time Warner, while forcing these smaller periodicals into higher subscription fees, big cutbacks and even bankruptcy. [Emphasis added.]
In any regulatory proceeding, "public input" may not quite be of the Springfield town meeting variety. Still, the rate case that led to the controversial Periodicals changes involved 60 "intervenors" representing various interests — large and small mailers, competitors to the Postal Service, and even a couple members of the public who regularly participate on their own time. Intervening in Postal Regulatory Commission proceedings is just about as easy as sending a letter to the Commission's secretary. Thanks an excellent electronic docket section, it's also easy and inexpensive (except in one's time) to follow proceedings online. It's not hard for interested parties to have their say.

Perhaps more to the point, The Nation L.P., which publishes The Nation, is a member of the Magazine Publishers of America, one of the more active of the 60 participants. Several other publishers directly intervened, as did another trade association representing Periodicals mailers. So there was, in fact, an extensive airing of differences between (in MPA's words) "efficiency hard-liners" seeking maximal reward for publications prepared to have low processing costs for the Postal Service, parties who wanted to limit the recognition of cost differentials in rates on fairness grounds, and parties such as MPA who sought a middle ground that would encourage efficient mailing practices while mitigating "rate shock" on small mailers. Additionally, the direction of rate design had been extensively previewed in a complaint case brought by Time Warner in 2004. So it's just not accurate to say that there wasn't diverse input from the interested public.

All thrilling stuff, I'm sure, but that's life under the Administrative Procedures Act for you.

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"If My Boobs Aren't Sagging, the Terrorists Win"

by Ken Houghton

Between Caroline Spector's fear of underwire and Starving Representative Ryan being starved, it has been a banner week for the TSA—probably their best since Julia threw her pacifier.

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belated Blogging II: Fared Zakaria Wishes For a Pony, Too

by Ken Houghton

Via AngryBear
What America needs is a new way to tackle trade. It is a C-and-T agenda: cushion and train. The government should help people to weather the shocks of this roller-coaster ride, and it should help train them to be better equipped for the next round of global competition. We do very little of this today. When someone loses his job in America, he loses his health care and pension. Imagine if that didn't happen—and it doesn't in other rich countries—would that worker be as terrified of change? And then imagine if he took a series of retraining and education courses to prepare him for a new job or career.

More later, but feel free to pile on.

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Tanta Goes Wild

by Ken Houghton

Scratch a free-marketer, and you’ll find someone who secretly believes that a vast, heterogenous, discontinuous, non-centrally-planned and inconsistently regulated industry with participants who enter and exit over time not only can be but has been reporting uniform historical data to some central database which is freely and unproblematically available to the public, and therefore any inconsistency or incommensurate data must be another Enron.

Read the whole thing here.

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Isn't this how the situation arose in the first place?

by Ken Houghton

Be Afraid. Be VERY Afraid.:
The Bush administration promised today to find someone quickly to succeed Paul D. Wolfowitz as president of the World Bank, and bring management skills to the job of healing an institution battered by the turmoil over Mr. Wolfowitz’s tenure.

To coin a phrase, "A fine mess you've got us into, Georgie."

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My Last Word on Competitive Cycling

by Ken Houghton

So the Court of Public Opinion is swayed more by "a legally ill-advised and personally vicious phone call" than by the preponderance of evidence?

But wonder no more about privileged treatment for athletes; the next time someone at ESPN preaches about its evil, feel free to point out this:
The ironic consequence of Geoghegan's action was that it gave LeMond's statements greater impact. Without it, LeMond's other testimony would have boiled down to an ambiguous he-said, he-said about his original chat with Landis last August.

Landis called LeMond to chew him out for making publicly critical statements after Landis' positive drug test was confirmed. LeMond's recounting of that dialogue, while intriguing, hardly constituted a smoking gun.

"I would hope and encourage you to come clean," LeMond said he told Landis.

"What good would that do," LeMond said Landis replied. "If I did, it would destroy a lot of my friends and hurt a lot of people."

The potential problem with that testimony, as spoke-heads know, is that its essence so closely resembles a similar conversation LeMond said he had with Lance Armstrong after the Texan won his third Tour de France in 2001.

How believable is it that LeMond had the ability to induce veiled admissions from both of the other American Tour winners, when a battery of lawyers and investigators and journalists have failed at the same task for the past eight years?

Right. Because athletes tell fellow athletes the same things they say to journalists, and only that. And journalists always reveal everything true they are told.

UPDATE: See Nate Fowler's perspective here, especially:
The more I raced and the more I followed professional cycling, the more I began to become aware of the dark side of American cycling and the deep personality conflicts that existed. The mainstream media has never covered that side of the story, but like the family next door that appears to be perfectly normal until the day it all falls apart in a huge dazzling public display of whackiness...

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Dialogues of the Preschoolers

by Tom Bozzo

John has been saying stuff that makes us wonder if he's got a surge of testosterone or something:

"I'm the fastest runner in the world!"

"I'm bigger than you, Julia!"

"I can count higher than anyone!" (Though that's currently informed by a preschooler belief that the positive integers stop at 161.)

This can get annoying, but we did get a laugh this morning's installment:

"My shirt is prettier than Julia's!"

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Friday Nonrandom But Totally Downloadable Ten

by Tom Bozzo

A while back, a little bird told me (in effect) that I could dramatically reduce my vinyl digitizing problem with the DRM-free eMusic service. A number of these are available via iTMS, too.

1. Benny Profane, Skateboard to Oblivion, Trapdoor Swing

We heart the LTM label, which specializes in "definitive editions of classic post-punk catalogue," not least the Not New Order end of the Factory Records catalogue.

2. Edwyn Collins, Don't Shilly Shally (Demo), "Expressly"/"A Girl Like You" E.P.

3. The March Violets, Walk Into The Sun, Botanic Verses

If you take a bit of light commercial goth (à la The Cult, The Sisters Of Mercy) as an occasional guilty pleasure, this is a useful addition to your collection. Plus, it has saxophone! Fun if not important fact: my brother and I named our mid-eighties "sister" cats Siouxsie and Cleo.

4. Quando Quango, Tingle, Pigs and Battleships

This second-tier Factory Records band has a two-sax attack, plus the funky bass typical of second-tier Factory bands in the early eighties. Another LTM goodie.

5. The Cassandra Complex, Defcon 1, Theomania

European technopunks got (and maybe still get) lots of mileage out of American apocalyptic tendencies — nuclear weapons deployment, theocracy, survivalism, and combinations and/or mutations thereof. This late-Reagan-era item may have the breeziest chorus of "we're going to die" you'll hear. For a counterpoint, try Tortoise's "Millions Now Living Will Never Die."

6. Naked Raygun, Suspect Device, Jettison

This live Stiff Little Fingers cover nicely captures Naked Raygun's big Chicagoland post-hardcore sound. Old punk themes ("Don't believe them — don't be bitten twice") are also strangely topical now.

7. Blow Up, Own World Waiting, In Watermelon Sugar

8. The Soft Boys, Underwater Moonlight, Underwater Moonlight

I highly recommend Rhino's "Children of Nuggets" collection for a solid review of mostly eighties neo-psychedelia, but their programming of the Boys' "Wading Through A Ventilator" disrupts the flow of Disc 1. They should have included this.

9. Pop Will Eat Itself, Like An Angel, The Subway Organization 1986-1989

10. Scrawl, Gutterball, Plus, Also, Too


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

It's Good To Be A "Select City" (*)

by Tom Bozzo

Three cheers for Sundance 608:
  1. Real butter on the popcorn.
  2. Real coffee (**) at the concession stand, a.k.a. Caffe 608.
  3. No ads (***) before the films.
Regarding #3, there is no free lunch. The Sundance ticket price is split between an admission charge and a reserved seating fee (****), the latter of which — economists will love this — varies by time-of-day and day-of-week. My boss said that he and his wife were informed at a weekend show that the seating fee really is a facility charge, and the admission part goes to the films' distributors.

Even if the fee were advertised as a new upholstery on the Sundance jet charge, going back to the old, less ad-barraged, days was totally worth it. This is also a grain of salt with which to take market researchers' pronouncements that ad-supported video streaming will kill off iTunes-style pay-once-and-never-watch-an-ad downloads. The "advancement" is DRM technology that will make the ads "unskippable." As if the technology of getting up and going to the kitchen/taking a leak during commercial breaks hadn't existed in the pre-TiVO stone age. My informal survey of DVD mastering practices suggests that unskippable ad content is becoming a bit less prevalent, perhaps (correctly) reflecting the desire of content owners to avoid inducing rage that can follow from such "features." Especially when you need to wait a frackin' eternity with a preschooler to hear some loser explain in a pathetic "Thomas" voice how you can visit the Thomas frackin' Product Gallery before getting to the hot engine-on-troublesome-truck action.

Meanwhile, sick as I am (despite limited movie-going) of Marcus Theatres' pre-show announcement reel (*****), it does theoretically remind patrons to SHUT THEIR FRACKIN' CELL PHONES OFF. That lesson was lost on one woman, whose phone rang audibly over the theater's surround sound ("Away From Her" not exactly having an earsplitting soundtrack) and who then audibly took the call in the auditorium. Vigilantism did the trick, as my boss pulled an Erin and before I could turn my head to locate the offender he had gotten up and told the loud-talker to take it outside. (Update: Apparently, she just took the call back to her row, where we couldn't hear her.)

As for "Away From Her," it was no barrel of laughs, but not the total downer you might expect from a film about early-onset Alzheimer's. I'd expect it to be played as a straight-up weepy by Hollywood, or worse a morality play about duty to one's stricken spouse, which would make the endeavor about as appealing as early-onset Alzheimer's itself.

(*) As in "Now playing in select cities."

(**) We preliminarily agree with Janelle à Paris that it wouldn't be a bad thing were Peet's to be the brand of American coffee hegemony.

(***) No TV-style ads, that is. No complaints about the preview for Paul Verhoeven's "Black Book."

(****) Some Sundance opening glitches: a misspelling of "purchase" on a screen in the mall kiosk; the online ticketing function works with Firefox 2.0 for ICBM (******) but not Firefox 2.0 (or Safari) on the G5 iMac this morning. Maybe Steve Jobs can have a Word with Mr. Redford.

(*****) Which is in large part product-placement ad for the refreshment stand, and otherwise tries to tug at the patron's heartstrings with rapid-fire editing of clips from action-packed 'mersh blockbusters. That's somewhat out-of-place at Marcus's Westgate Art Cinema, which will retain its 3 screens of art-film programming despite its proximity to Sundance's 6.

(******) Intel-Chip Based Mac, specifically, my work-issued MacBook Pro — now visibly snappier when running WinXP under Parallels thanks to a second gigabyte of RAM.

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The Attacks Begin?

by Ken Houghton

New Jersey, which the pollsters always call as close when the voters are decisive, became perhaps the first state to suffer extensive "collateral damage" from the weakening of standards in military recruitment.

The above paragraph is my audition for The Onion. For those who prefer their news straight who didn't click the link:
A wildfire on the border of Ocean and Burlington counties in southern New Jersey burned thousands of acres of brush and forest on Tuesday, closing several highways, forcing hundreds of residents to evacuate and damaging several homes....

The New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs confirms for Eyewitness News that the forest fire was likely caused by a flare dropped from one of two F-16 fighters, that were participating in a bomb-dropping training exercise over the Warren Grove Bombing Range.

Conversations, 18 Years In

by Anonymous

J: "I bought you a new toothbrush."
K: "Great, thanks... Um, are you trying to tell me something?"
J: "Yes, I'm trying to tell you that I accidentally used your toothbrush to clean the cat box."


Monday, May 14, 2007


by Tom Bozzo

On the news of today's Chrysler sale, Atrios suggests that the debacle may be in the running with the AOL-Time Warner as "Stupidest Business Decision Ever."

For the absolute magnitude of paper-wealth destruction, AOL-TW is rivaled only by enterprises whose managers are serving or would otherwise be serving lengthy prison terms for their troubles.

Still, the major media versions don't quite do justice to the Chrysler deal, covered at length by Automotive News here.

The merger that formed what's known for the moment as DaimlerChrysler was a $36 billion deal in 1998. Adjusting for CPI inflation, the transaction would be worth $45.4 billion in current dollars, so DC paid $36.3 billion in current dollars for the 80% stake that it's selling.

The headline amount for the purchase is $7.4 billion, making it look like the value of Chrysler is 20% of what it was in 1998. But really, it's even worse than that: a little more than $6 billion of the $7.4 billion is an infusion of equity into the new Chrysler. In all, DC is effectively paying about $600 million to get rid of its Chrysler stake — netting restructuring costs payable by DC from the $1.05 billion payment from Cerberus Capital Management to DC.

What the soon-to-be just-plain Daimler AG's trying to do, it seems, is free itself of Chrysler's
retiree health care liabilities, valued at $19 billion per Automotive News.

This makes Dr. Z look less than candid in claiming that:
[As a result of DC-era product development] Chrysler today is structurally more sound than its North American based competitors.
Which is why he's making it the problem of private equity gamblers — who presumably have cast-iron stomachs.

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

A Weekend Later: Up and About

by Ken Houghton

Many thanks to those (Tom, Drek, several via e-mail, etc.) who offered best wishes.

All has worked out as well or better than anyone expected. Shira is up, less in pain (and it's a different type of pain; more one that can be treated with Advil/Alleve than one requiring Percocet or similar Fed-restricted "controlled substances"), and walking well enough. (She's describing the procedure as more like arthroscopic surgery, where you are expected to get up and try to get the area back into shape.)

So we are bright and cheerful, and I'm not going to rant about the Continuing Narrative Tragedy of COBRA Insurance and the Pharmaceutical Industry. Yet.

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

From the "An[n]als of Too Much Information"...

by Anonymous

...a story about Tom's favorite Wisconsonian. (Wisconsonite?).

Via the Daily Kos. I had to check twice to make sure someone hadn't slipped in a link to The Onion.

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Why We Should Never Underestimate Undergraduates' Creativity

by Anonymous

Kieran's post on a colleague whose student promised to "try to set aside time" to take the final reminded me of one of the (few) amusing moments of my time as a member of the Faculty Senate.

A committee of the Senate was charged with the task of revising the university's finals schedule in order to minimize the number of students who had (a) back-to-back finals on the same day; or (b) three finals in one day. This turns out to be a complex logistical problem, especially if one begins with the prior that the university must provide sufficient party, um, study time between the end of classes and the beginning of finals, and also between the end of finals and graduation weekend.

After a careful analysis of years worth of data culled from the Registrar's records, the committee reported back to the Faculty Senate that, yes, these two goals could be accomplished. First, the Registrar would have to be authorized to wait until two weeks into the semester, i.e., when enrollments settled, before announcing which canonical hours were matched with which finals slots.

And second, the Registrar's on-line enrollment software would have to be reprogrammed. It turned out that a nontrivial proportion of the students with two or more finals in one day* had signed up for two, and in some cases three, classes that met simultaneously.

A motion authorizing these changes passed, unanimously I believe.

*corrected post-coffee for clarity.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Credit Where Due

by Tom Bozzo

Taking his chances with Crazy Base World, Mitt Romney says he does believe in evolution.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

And All Students Are Above Average...

by Anonymous

We really like our son's day care, a nonprofit organization that's linked to and subsidized by the USGS. It's not quite as good nor as convenient as the university-run program Quinn attended Back Home, but the teachers are top-notch, the facility is great, and the parents are highly involved.

Sometimes, though, it's just a leeetle out of touch. From its flier for the annual fundraising gala:
Our children and families come from diverse social and economic backgrounds. Almost half of our parents work for [i.e., are scientists or administrators in] the Menlo Park campus of the U.S. Geological Survey or the broader Federal Government, and the other half are [college] teachers, doctors, lawyers, and business leaders.

It takes quite a bit of squinting to see much evidence of economic diversity in an occupational roll call like this.

FYI, annual tuition is almost identical to the pre-tax earnings of a minimum wage worker in CA as of Jan 1 2007, assuming s/he works 2000 hours per year.

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The Day Continues II

by Ken Houghton

In recovery and conscious (it's a relative term); able to move extremities and on target for coming home as scheduled EOD Friday.

No room yet, but I continue to be more impressed by this hospital than our usual one.

4pm Update: Still waiting for a room (assigned, but there is still a patient there; since this will likely be our situation in reverse tomorrow, all is well).

11pm Update: She has a room (and has had one for a few hours). No working telephone yet, but all still on schedule for being able scheduled to leave the hospital by early Friday evening.

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More Similarity between EOB and E. O'B

by Ken Houghton

Compare this from Maureen at EOB with this from E. O'B.

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The Day Continues I and 1a

by Ken Houghton

Out of surgery; took slightly longer than expected but was about the norm for this doctor and this procedure.

I like this hospital more than our usual one.

UPDATE: Surgery went fine per the doctor. All on schedule for late Friday departure.

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My Unity Party Ticket

by Ken Houghton

While I can't argue with the appeal of Sharpton/Tancredo as a choice, and my preferred mainstream candidate (of those currently declared) is no secret—especially in light of recent events—I've been waiting for an Exciting Candidate Who Wasn't a Year Behind Me in College.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Erin 2008. Not certain about that second point, but the rest of the platform is solid, especially this:
Everyone can still bear all the arms they want, but bullets will cost $10,000 each and will only be available for sale between the hours of 4 and 4:30 a.m. on the third Wednesday of every month at a remote outpost deep in the heart of Death Valley.

The problem is that she needs a Vice President. And it should be someone with whom she gets along well, and who can appeal to those who might not be thrilled about the Screaming Yellow Zonkers and promise of nude pictures.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Rory Harper.*

So the only question is who should be president, and what their slogan should be. Subject to approval of the candidates (and given that Rory hasn't announced yet):

O'Brien/Harper: Because Erin Should Be On Top.

*Whose post provoked this response from his fellow EoBer, Steve Gould.

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The Day Begins

by Ken Houghton

It may be the euphoria of having been up for three hours, but so far all has been excellent. We arrived at the hospital on time (5:30 a.m.), and (unlike some previous experiences elsewhere) the time was filled with activity until Shira went in for surgery.

Not to mention that the hospital provides free wireless internet access in the Surgery Waiting Room and a few other public waiting areas.

Song of the morning: Lucinda Williams, "Learning How to Live," which was the first song heard this morning on the best radio station in the New York area.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Why We Refinanced, Part I

by Ken Houghton

As I said before, several transitions, not the least of which being that Shira is going in for back surgery around 7:00 a.m. tomorrow.

After dancing around the FMLA, I instead departed from the ranks of those full-time employed at an Investment Bank. Which means we are covering this through COBRA.

Since the departure was in mid-April, the paperwork from The Old Firm didn't arrive until near the end of last month. And since it was clear from their documentation that nothing absolutely needed to be done until the end of this month, I waited until the return from vacation to mail the formal notice out, hoping that the newly-formed business would be in place with its own checks by the end of the month.

This appears to have thrown a major spanner into the U.S. health care system.

Yesterday's second call from the hospital prompted me to the call my provider, and be assured that everything was fine. (Their representative, without my using the word said, "You went COBRA, right." I confirmed this, and she assured me that everything was approved and would be fine.)

There were three or four calls today, with both the hospital and the doctor. Apparently, the provider has not been so upbeat with the hospital, threatening that my opting for COBRA meant that, if the check hasn't cleared already, they may not cover it.

Upshot: barring a last-minute sanity check from The Old Firm (whose administrator had gone home before 4:30 today), and/or acceptance of my copies of the mailed forms, we're giving the hospital a $2,000 deposit tomorrow, and have committed a somewhat larger sum to the surgeon in the event that COBRA turns out to be something that businesses can treat as a free option not to allow employees to continue coverage.

This in addition to paying almost $2,000 a month in COBRA to The Old Firm. Which I guess makes us really "gold-plated." And a lot of others will follow me, just as Roy headlined (h/t Tom).

Between this and the insurance cf Tom described, is there any wonder that the voters believe that providing affordable health care independent of their employment situation is a key issue? Or that it's the centerpiece of John Edwards's War on Poverty/Two Americas campaign?

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Credulous as Hell

by Tom Bozzo

I confess that my exposure to the Orson Scott Card oeuvre to date has been limited to the discussion in Thomas Disch's The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of. It seems that I'm just as well off trying to keep up with a supermajority of the Hugo Award Best Novel nominees, though.

Following Wonkette, via Ken, I was amused to see Card's The Memory of Earth described on the famously left-biased Wikipedia as a "fictionalization of the Book of Mormon." The first question coming to mind was how do you fictionalize the already-fictional? (Sorry, any LDS pals out there.) Indeed, among seven theories of the origins of the Book of Mormon listed in the Wikipedia entry as of this evening (see time stamp on post), exactly none is "Joseph Smith made it up." It's almost as if there were a Conservapedia take-over of our left-biased repository of the Webiverse's knowledge.

As for Wonkette, it's a mystery as to whether Ms. Cox is responsible for the Card reference, or the Wonk (so we undertand) using Wonkette's avatar. No matter. Just see how real Bible-thumpers responded to Mitt's efforts to work his way out of his debate non-denial of evilution (h/t TPM) to see what the poor, if ever so handsome, guy's chances are in Crazy Base World.

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Mother's Day

by Anonymous

Those of you who are searching for that special something for the mother(s) in your life, who are simply fed up with the commercialism of Hallmark holidays, or who are simply looking for a worthy cause to which to send part of your tax refund, check out this website.

On a side note, I found it somewhat intriguing that the organization promoting this (very worthy) cause and video downplays Julia Ward Howe's link to the feminist movement. Neither the front page nor the history page mention the F word at all, and if it's in the video, it's pretty well buried. (Sure, Gloria Steinem is in the video, but gets minimal airtime.) Even the description of Julia Ward Howe's life emphasizes her abolitionist activities as much as her feminist ones, although my understanding is that the latter occupied a far larger chunk of her life.

One has to wonder if this was a strategic choice in framing, given that feminists rank right up there with atheists in [some] Americans' Pantheon of Evil.

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Brother Orson and Humor used Unironically in the same Sentence

by Ken Houghton

My Loyal Reader forwards this Wonkette post about Mitt Romney's Exploding Plastical Inevitable Campaign.

I'm certain most of you have seen the quote discussed elsewhere. And even the exegesis of it as being from Orson Scott Card's The Memory of Earth. But I don't remember the book ever being described as:
seven-year marriage contracts are a humorous feature of neo-con sci-fi author Orson Scott Card’s book The Memory of Earth, which is itself a science-fictionalization of The Book of Mormon.

Now, the good folk at Tor (or anyone else who read that far in Card's oeuvre) are free to correct me, but my memory is that the Prentice Alvin series was Card's retelling of The Book of Mormon.

And does no one else remember those LDS (iirc) commercials from 1970s late-night television (we're talking Tom Snyder, and Geraldo as a semi-real reporter) with the couple who come before a judge asking to be married forever because they have found Jesus Christ? (Though, I note for the record, they want to be married to each other, not some Semite who allegedly traveled only in Orthodox areas, ca. 30-33 C.E.)

I'm willing to give credit where due, but I suspect both Brother Orson and Massachusetts Mitt were watching the same commercials I was, though perhaps with a bit more reverence.

UPDATED with link to Obsidian Wings. Credit Ana Marie Cox with the description of The Memory of Earth, op cit. Once a Wonkette...?

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Tuesday Morning Economics-Related Bullets

by Tom Bozzo

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Friday, May 04, 2007

'Party of Ideas' Watch

by Tom Bozzo

As an addition to this blog's ongoing coverage of the evolution "debate," let's consider for a moment John McCain's reaction to being asked whether he believes in evolution, and the subsequent responses of other Republican presidential contenders. Go see it here in the media format of your choice (as long as your choice is QuickTime or Windows Media) then c'mon back.

Much as I might like to let this speak for itself, the nature of the medium puts us 'twixt Onan and Narcissus (*) — so here are a few words whether in order or not.

McCain's response seemed to follow a longer pause in the first viewing this morning than in the second this afternoon. Still, hard as it is to read minds, an interior monologue seems to play across McCain's face in the moment between the question and his response. I believe that must have gone something like:
Oh, shit, I want to evade this. But if I do, there goes what's left of the Straight Talk Express into Crazy Base World and so I might as well take my medicine and say Yes.
In case you hadn't gone and looked, the moderator asked for hands in disagreement with McCain, and got 'em from Brownback, Tancredo, and Huckabee. (**) Brownback's disbelief in evolution is notable as Brownback's credentials in the anti-abortion movement stem from his archconservative Catholicism. As such, Brownback's stance is not terribly principled, theologically, in light of the Catholic church's development, since the mid-20th century, of a fairly sensible view that (once you plow through lots of tedious Papalese) the behavior of the material world is what it is. Discoveries regarding the material world's dynamics don't have any theological consequences of note as drawing such would be effing the ineffable "purposeful divine providence" or something like that.

As the National Catholic Reporter article (previous link) mentioned, that's not enough for the likes of Michael Behe (Catholic embarrassment to his department), who is linked via the Discovery [sic] Institute to the publication of a notorious ID-friendly NYT op-ed by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna (**). While Brownback could be an archconservative Catholic of the sort who believes that the Church let Galileo off easy back in 1633, is "building a bridge to the 16th century" much of a 21st century campaign slogan?

Similar thoughts from my intermittently-blogging friend and actual scientist Dr. Corndog, who offers additional discussions regarding evolution, our possible neo-pre-enlightenment future, and pie.

Cross-posted to Total Drek.

(*) If only I had come up with that.

**) Though given the attitudes regarding evolution in Crazy Base World, having only three out of ten raise their hands might be a positive sign. On the other hand, audiences for a debate this early in the cycle are likely to lean towards elite opinion makers who might not be keen on overtly anti-science candidates.

(***) Where I'll be flying later this month to talk some sense into him, should he for some reason attend the Conference on Postal and Delivery Economics.

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Artificial Intelligences: Still Not So Intelligent (for now)

by Tom Bozzo

At least Mr. Murdoch can rest assured that he's still smarter than a computer — some of them, anyhow.

I've been reasonably impressed that Amazon's recommendations that arise from its social network analysis engines (as opposed to its money-grubbing engines) usually are things that I wouldn't reject out of hand, even if the expected marginal utility often doesn't rise to the opportunity cost. But throw two distinct preference sets at Amazon's systems and they get a bit confused:

(click to embiggen)

We do own two of the five titles.

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Slightly Shorter Rupert Murdoch

by Tom Bozzo

Big words make me tired.

Verbatim Murdoch:

A la Brad DeLong, we might give the W$J under News Corp management a life span measured in Friedman units.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Transitions Post

by Ken Houghton

We're back at Willow Valley, which in the intervening year has moved on to offering free WiFi in all areas. (And now on to Hershey Park, with the same amenity.)

Multiple transitions recently: pretty much everything except marriage/divorce and buying a new house (though we did complete the refi). A few more to come, so posting will be spotty.

But, especially since Tom referenced it, I want to post the beginning of this "lost post":

It's no secret that I disagree with Mark Cuban on the details of IP costing and benefits. (This and $2.00 gets you on the NYC subway, which I take much more often than Mr. Cuban, in part because he has made a lot of money from IP.) But we are completely agreed on the principle: if your content isn't available, no one will pay for it.

It's the reverse of that I want to consider today.

Tom dealt quite well with the absurdity of Cuban's example. Music videos, after all, are charged back to the artist, no less. But the question of how to make content "available" is rather more expansive than Cuban allows.

For instance, the first thing the folks of my hometown (defined as the place from which one graduated high school) were told when Visteon (nee Ford) announced they were closing the plant (to which many of our families were relocated ca. 1966-1968) is that the town is Valuable because of its Workers.

You know, the same Workers who are now out of jobs because Visteon decided they couldn't get enough value from the plant. So all that "available" content remains unused.*

This is hardly a unique situation. Check out any of Save the Rustbelt's posts about Ohio at AngryBear. What is interesting is that the first thing the Consultants do is come in and assure the workers (read: voters) that It's Not Their Fault.

Which is a good message. And, especially in this case, largely True. (The unemployed workers, after all, are not the Ford executives whose CF strategy put the company in its current situation.)

More later.

*Update: Apparently, there is now a plan for an ethanol processing plant. Considering the cost, in both senses, of using ethanol as fuel (as Tom has documented), this will allow the workers to Demonstrate their Value only if one double-counts the government subsidy. So much for Proud and Independent.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Random Bullets in Lieu of Fully-Fledged Posts

by Tom Bozzo


Tuesday, May 01, 2007


by Tom Bozzo

Or, The Fifth Generation of Social Science?! (ref.)

Where are the astrosociologists when you need them? NASA is pondering crew health issues raised by long-duration spaceflight at more-than-quick-re-entry distances. Well, not all of the problems:

One topic that is evidently too hot to handle: How do you cope with sexual desire among healthy young men and women during a mission years long?

Sex is not mentioned in the document and has long been almost a taboo topic at NASA. Williams said the question of sex in space is not a matter of crew health but a behavioral issue that will have to be taken up by others at NASA.

The agency will have to address the matter sooner or later, said Paul Root Wolpe, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania who has advised NASA since 2001.

"There is a decision that is going to have to be made about mixed-sex crews, and there is going to be a lot of debate about it," he said.

Uh, yeah, because if you stick a bunch of men in a glorified tin can for months on end, Teh Gay will never happen. Not with a Republican administration's astronauts, anyhow.

Not that I wouldn't expect legions of volunteers for sex-in-space research studies drawn from the population who think we should establish a Martian calendar now.

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