The Electric Commentary

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Sports Round-Up

Start with Al and Vivek's Scramble for the Ball: A Series of Unfortunate Games.

Don't miss Michael David Smith's Every Free Agent Counts:

Donovan Darius, strong safety, Jacksonville

His hit on Robert Ferguson probably makes it impossible, but I actually think Green Bay would be a good fit for Darius. He’s one of the best run-stopping strong safeties in the league, and the Packers could really use that. I’ve said before and I’ll say again that Marcus Stroud and John Henderson get too much credit for the Jags’ success stopping the run, and Darius doesn’t get enough.

Clinton Portis is about to get a lesson in breach of contract.

Bill Simmons has a new Mail Bag:

Q: You mentioned that they could have done a blood test on "My Two Dads" to see who the real father was.�This was addressed in the show, but she didn't want to go through with it because she loved them both equally, much like her mother, and would have hurt the one who wasn't the real father.�They should have ended this show with them going on "Murray" and finding out that neither of them was the father.

-- Greg, Huntingtown, MD

Maury Povich

SG: I just like how he referred to Maury Povich as "Murray." By the way, the number of readers who e-mailed about the blood test in "My Two Dads" was simply startling. And I thought I needed a life.

And finally, Todd Pinkston explained!

Heh.

Mandatory Television

As Sarah Lyall writes in the New York Times:

Each time, Mr. Oldham writes back to declare that he has no TV. But in its most recent notice, the agency told him that he should be prepared to prove it to the enforcement division, whose officers planned to drop by for a little television-hunting expedition at his house.

While not commenting on Mr. Oldham's case, Chris Reed, a spokesman for the agency, called TV Licensing, outlined its general policy. "We wish we could believe everyone who tells us they have no TV," he said. "But unfortunately, last year just under half the people who claimed not to have one were found to be using one, and therefore needed a license, when we checked the premises."

No I did not make this up, and yes, it really is in the NYT. Read the whole thing. (Use Bugmenot if necessary.)

(Hat tip, Megan McArdle)

Everything Is Unconstitutional: The first in a series.

Part I: Tollbooths

In a few days the tolls in Illinois will double in price for anyone without an I-Pass transponder. The I-pass transponder is a small electronic device that automatically deducts money from a pre-paid account when you drive through a tollbooth. For your information:

1. An I-pass transponder costs 50 dollars, making it a poor investment for infrequent Illinois travelers.

2. Tolls at the Wisconsin border were already higher than tolls further in state. The “Beloit” toll on I-90 is currently 50 cents, and will be $1.00 as of the first of the year. The I-94 toll is currently 75 cents and will increase to $1.50 as of the first. In-state tolls are currently 40 cents and will increase to 80 cents on the first. Unless, that is, you get an I-pass transponder in which case you will still be charged the cheap rate.

3. (Disclaimer - I am unfamiliar with all other tolls in the state, so my sample size is limited).

From this information you may deduce that the state of Illinois is trying to screw Wisconsin residents, and you are correct. Fortunately, If memory serves, screwing people from other states is in this fashion is unconstitutional.

Fun Constitutional Law fact: Commerce Clause

The Congress shall have Power . . . To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.

-Art. I, § 8, cl. 3

As Congress can regulate interstate commerce based on the above clause, it follows that individual states may not regulate interstate commerce. This is known as the Dormant Commerce Clause (here is the Wikipedia entry on the DCC, for what it's worth). The political purpose of the DCC is to ensure that producers have open access to every market in the US. Therefore, states may not discriminate against out-of-state producers in favor of in-state producers (with two exceptions, if memory serves. 1. Congress authorizes the state to do so, or 2. The state is a market participant). Clearly, due to tollbooth rates, it is more expensive for out-of-staters to ship things into Illinois than it is for local producers to ship things within Illinois.

I believe that the Illinois tollbooth setup violates the Dormant Commerce Clause and is therefore unconstitutional. A class action lawsuit may be possible. Granted I’'ve done minimal research on the subject and as a libertarian I think almost everything is unconstitutional, but this actually seems rather obvious (maybe Evan Schaeffer can take it up). This fact pattern seems similar to the Wine Wars fact pattern (minus the 21st amendment issues, which should actually strengthen my tollbooth case, as the 21st amendment is used by the government to justify state regulation of the interstate commerce of alcohol).

There may be some issue I'm missing (perhaps Congress has specifically authorized this tollbooth scheme) but this case seems like a slam dunk.

One last thing:

The tollbooth must rank as one of the worst ideas ever conceived of, and is another example of government's tendency to make a public service intentionally annoying so as to drive customers away (see: here). The freeway around Chicago is congested. The obvious solution is to build a bigger freeway. Instead they decide not only to drive away customers, but also to slow them down and charge them for it. If all toll booths were simply removed from Illinois freeways I would wager a large sum that business in the area would pick up, the air would be cleaner (most air pollution from cars is produced while idling), and people would be happier (especially along the indefensible I-90 stretch from Chicago to Beloit which includes five (5!) tollbooths).

Instead they choose to waste a good 15 minutes of my time, per tollbooth, to extract 40 (soon to be 80) cents. My time is more valuable than that. Maybe I’ll send them a bill.

Amazon is amazing

Amazon has now raised over $5,000,000 for the tsunami relief effort, and the total increases every second.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Arnold Kling makes a good point about charter schools

that is usually overlooked by charter school opponents:

The economic argument for private schools, including charter schools, is that consumers will be able to close down those that fail. The test of the charter school system is not whether it produces bad schools, but whether the bad ones get winnowed out by the market.

It will be a great day when someone from a teacher's college writes an op-ed saying that government should support the high-achieving public schools and close down the rest, and when it is recognized that government schools generally do not serve poor children well.

Markets do not create value through magic. They create bad products as well as good products, a fact often overlooked by market proponents as well as market detractors. The difference between free markets and planned economies is that free markets kill bad products, whereas central planners tend to subsidize them. This is perhaps the most fundamental differences between statist systems and free systems. Both systems will create good and bad products, but only the free market can tell you which is which.

Update: More here.

Tsunami Video

at Cheese and Crackers. The first video on the list is simply amazing.

Then, read this.

Amazon is taking donations for the relief effort (and passing along 100% of the proceeds). They just exceeded the $2,000,000 mark. Chip in, if you can.


Jon Rowe

has a plethora of interesting posts up. Just keep scrolling.

RIP: Jerry Orbach

He died Tuesday night of prostate cancer. I used to love Law and Order in its glory days (defined by me as Waterson, Hennessy, the fantastic Steven Hill, Chris Noth, Orbach, and S. Epatha Merkerson, although my favorite episode ever featured Michael Moriarity in the role of DA). Orbach's Lenny Briscoe was the finest character on the show (other than Hill, who took the character of "crotchety old codger" to new heights) and he made my noon to 2:00 lunchtime break during college a pleasure.

Sure he tried to put Baby in a corner, but this should not tarnish his reputation as one of the finest actors ever to grace the small screen.

(Hat tip, Crescat Sententia)

Monday, December 27, 2004

Still in the great white north

until Wednesday. It's gettin' rough up here, ya you betcha. Lookin forward to bein' home soon. This here hoser language gets into your system dern quick, eh?

I wish I was in Colombia:

Another innovative idea was to use mimes to improve both traffic and citizens' behavior. Initially 20 professional mimes shadowed pedestrians who didn't follow crossing rules: A pedestrian running across the road would be tracked by a mime who mocked his every move. Mimes also poked fun at reckless drivers. The program was so popular that another 400 people were trained as mimes.

Now that's making the most of a useless resource. It gets better. Read the whole thing.

After you're finished there, check out this TCS article by Glenn Reynolds:

With this, as with much else, it's better to be rich. Inattention is partly the result of poverty -- rich nations can worry about threats like asteroid impacts, while poor nations can't even worry about tsunamis. And, in fact, inattention played a role here:

"None of the countries most severely affected - including India, Thailand, Indonesia and Sri Lanka - had a tsunami warning mechanism or tidal gauges to alert people to the wall of water that followed a massive earthquake, said Waverly Person of the USGS National Earthquake Information Centre.

"'Most of those people could have been saved if they had had a tsunami warning system in place or tide gauges,' he said yesterday.

"'And I think this will be a lesson to them,' he said, referring to the governments of the devastated countries.

"Person also said that because large tsunamis, or seismic sea waves, are extremely rare in the Indian Ocean, people were never taught to flee inland after they felt the tremors of an earthquake."


If you're coming back from fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan, and you need a job, check out Maytag:

Maytag Corp., for example, has an aggressive recruiting program turning recently discharged soldiers into repair technicians. Home Depot Inc. began Operation Career Front and Toyota North America started its Hire A Hero program in the past few years.
Companies say it's a win for them because they get high-quality workers.
“They have great discipline. They have great technical skills. They understand how to follow orders and follow procedures,” said Art Learmonth, president of Maytag Services.


And this is interesting too.

Enjoy!

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Big News Today

First, an enormous earthquake hit Sumatra, Thailand, India, and everywhere else that is remotely close to these places this morning. An 8.9 on the Richter scale, which is close to total destruction. For a roundup of news, click here.

Instapundit, Althouse, and Drudge have more.

Second, apparently it's very likely we will be hit by an asteroid in the year 2029. The odds are currently about 1 in 45.

From Jay Manifold:

In any case, the projected energy of impact is 2,200 megatons. Now we turn to one of the earliest posts on Arcturus, Thinking About the Unthinkable, where I used some handy equations from Arsenal to find that the 5-psi overpressure radius (which may be regarded for the purposes of this discussion as the Bad Day radius) for a 10-kiloton explosion is just over 900 meters. These things scale inversely as the cube of yield, so ³√(2,200/0.01) × 0.9 km = 54 kilometers or thereabouts. The area thus affected, A = πr², is over 9,000 km², which at the average population density in the US of about 31 per km² (derived from this source) would contain about 280,000 people.

At the average population density of India -- which as I explained in my earlier post, is quite a bit nearer the probable impact site -- however, this works out to nearly 2.5 million people. Yikes.

(Hat tip, Marginal Revolution)

Finally, Reggie White died of a massive heart attack today, at the age of 43. From the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

"I didn't come in here saying, 'I'm Reggie White, I've been to the Pro Bowl seven times and I'm the man.' I came here and my whole attitude was that when we realize that No. 4 is the man, that No. 4 is the one who is going to take us and that we're going to be the supporting cast, then we're going to start winning."

Four seasons into his tenure in Green Bay, White recorded a record three sacks in the Packers' Super Bowl XXXI victory over the New England Patriots. He would help lead the Packers to the Super Bowl again the next season, though Green Bay would lose to the Denver Broncos.




Saturday, December 25, 2004

A holiday message from the commentators

So, have a Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, kwazy Kwanza, a tip-top Tet, and a solemn, dignified Ramadan.

-Krusty the Klown

Happy Holidays from all of us here at the EC.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Ebert is confused.

Whenever this happens the movie is generally very good. So it is with The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. I've been looking forward to this one, and Ebert's review just increased my interest. The good bits:

My rational mind informs me that this movie doesn't work. Yet I hear a subversive whisper: Since it does so many other things, does it have to work, too? Can't it just exist? "Terminal whimsy," I called it on the TV show. Yes, but isn't that better than half-hearted whimsy, or no whimsy at all? Wes Anderson's "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" is the damnedest film. I can't recommend it, but I would not for one second discourage you from seeing it.

I'll probably see it before I return to Chicago, and a review will come shortly thereafter.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Thank god I didn't wake up with a hangover.

The semester is finally over. It was a tough one. 15 credits, two jobs, one Ironman. Not bad. Needless to say I went out after my last final on Tuesday and got obnoxiously drunk. In fact, when I woke up Wednesday morning I didn't feel so good. I had a headache and felt nauseous. Could I have drank so much that I actually got a hangover? I have been hungover approximately three times in my life. The first one was the first time I ever drank. It was also the first time I ever played speed quarters and two older guys on my high school swim team made sure I got as much out of the game as possible. The other two times involved drinking German beer out of a big boot at the Essen Haus. None of these hangovers were particularly bad so I was particularly puzzled by this one. I spent all day Wednesday throwing up like an Olsen twin and my headache never went away. I never got out of bed and slept all the way through Wednesday night. I woke up this morning, still felling a little nauseous and thought there is no way I am still hungover a whole day latter. It must have been an ill timed bout of the flu. So at least I didn't have a hangover. Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Holiday Travel

Tomorrow morning I'm heading up to Minnesota to visit my in-laws for the holidays. As a result blogging (from me) will be sporadic, light, and probably weird.

Before I leave today, I have to bring something to your attention, because it's the stupidest thing I've ever seen. Words can not possibly do it justice. Just click here.

The Philosophy of Football, 101, Part 3

Read part 1 here, and part 2 here.

#1 Special Teams Priority: Field Position

More NFL teams should keep three kickers on the roster. It would be nice if every place-kicker had the leg strength to kick off, but they don’t. Let’s use a golf analogy. Say your kicker is “Cory Pavin,” renowned for his short game, but weak on his drives. If Cory Pavin could have John Daley hit all of his drives would he do it? Of course he would. It makes no sense to have one guy do both jobs unless he is skilled at both jobs. Yes, it costs a roster spot to keep an extra kicker, but let me ask you this: Would you attempt to save a spot by keeping a WR/DB (other than Troy Brown) or an OT/DT?

A strong punter and kick-off specialist are essential because they provide your offense with free yardage. If your kicker kicks every ball into the end zone, your defense will not surrender as many points as if he kicks every ball to the ten or fifteen-yard line. Moreover, when the defense makes a stop, the offense will have better field position as a result. Punting should create similar benefits, and having a good pooch punter is also crucial.

The bottom line is that good special teams will get you easy yards. Bad special teams will put your skill players in bad situations and will prevent your team from realizing their full value. Having a good punter and place kicker is essential.

An adequate coverage team is a nice bonus, however it is difficult to economize in coverage because 11 players are involved (including the kicker/punter). There is no practical way to attract an above average coverage team without skimping on important offensive and defensive positions. In this respect, a given team must draft well and coach well in special teams coverage.

On the other hand the kicking position and punting position can be exploited because each is composed of a single player. If a team's coverage unit allows an average of 7 yards per punt return, it is much more cost effective to invest in a punter who can kick 5 yards further vs. signing the necessary players to make up the five yards in coverage.

I do not mean to understate the importance of a good coverage squad (or a good return squad), I am merely stating that it is easier, with regard to special teams, to invest in one player v. ten players.

Follow these steps and you will create a dominant, cost effective football team.

Monday, December 20, 2004

UPDATE: The NFC just got a whole lot worse.

Eagles fans, meet your new #1 receiver: Todd Pinkston!

TO is likely out for the season (that's regular season and playoffs, with an outside shot at returning in time for the Super Bowl). Read all about it here.

(Hat tip, Outsiders)

The NFC Sucks, and other obvious observations.

First of all, Robert "Turd" Ferguson will simply be "Robert Ferguson" for a week or two, out of respect, and because he got the turd knocked out of him by Donovin Darius and still held onto the ball, which puts him squarely above Antonio Chatman and especially Donald Driver for the game.

Robert Ferguson

Driver let what would have been a touchdown pass get taken away for an interception. There is not much to say about this game. It was one of those sloppy games that the Packers occasionally have under Mike Sherman. Turnovers galore, Ahman fumbling, Favre throwing interceptions that can only be described as "baffling," and about 300 pass interference/holding/illegal contact penalties on Harris, Carroll, and company. In fact Ed "Hercules" Hochuli is still out there somewhere marking off Al Harris's last grab of Jimmy Smith. No one knows where he is, he just kept going.

That's enough of that. It all comes down to the Packers and Vikings on Friday. Win and you take the North, ensuring a playoff home game. And even though the Pack lost, they still backed into a playoff birth...at 8-6. With two weeks left. Wow.

The NFC is a sad, sad thing. Just look at it. If we eliminate the statistical outliers Atlanta, Philly, and San Fran, the best record in 8-6 (Packers and Vikings) and the worst record is 5-9 (Giants, Cowboys, Redskins, Lions, Bears, Bucs, and Cardinals). Carolina, at 6-8, is still in the driver's seat for a playoff birth, which means that almost every team can still make the playoffs. That being said, let's talk about the Detroit Lions.

I watched the Lions-Vikings game at the Gin Mill (with this guy, who was extremely nice and very knowledgeable, and a Lions fan). The Lions needed a lot of help to attain a favorable playoff scenario, and they got all of it. And even though they let Randy Moss run uncovered up the field on 3rd and 24 (in truly Packeresque fashion), and almost failed to let Moe Williams score when doing so was their only chance of winning, they still heroically drove down the field with no timeouts and under two minutes to play, scoring on a Harrington to Williams pass to pull within one. I can't imagine a worse fate then losing on a missed extra point with under 10 seconds to play, but I imagine it's sort of like winning the lottery only to drop your ticket in a rain gutter just outside the lottery office on your way to claim the prize. Rarely have I seen a tavern grow so despondent so quickly. And the Vikings have new life thanks to their ill-gotten victory. Just an all around terrible turn of events.

But at least we have a meaningful Friday game to look forward to. And at least I traded Packers tickets with my brother, allowing him to sit through the -3 degree day (nice to see you're alive by the way). And at least it wasn't my team losing on a missed PAT.

Grabbing the Bull by the...

I went to the Packer game yesterday. It was cold and they lost and, although I had a good time anyway, I don't want to talk about the game. However, I did have one of the strangest conversations of my life on the drive up. I went to the game with my friend Ben. Ben is a fellow 2L at UW. He's from Waupun Wisconsin which is located in just about the middle of the state which also means it's located in just about the middle of nowhere. It has a population of about 10,000 and its claim to fame is that there are a bunch of prisons there. Ben doesn't come off as small-town (except for the fact that he has a bunch of animal heads on his wall) and has some fun at the expense of Waupun. Ben's roommate is a med student named Dusty who has been going to school with Ben since kindergarten. Anyway, this is how our strange conversation went as we drove through Waupun on the way to Green Bay:

Ben, pointing to a building we were passing: There's Dusty's dad's business.
Me: What do they make?
Ben: Bull sperm.
Me: .....What?
Ben: They make bull sperm. Well, the bulls they own make bull sperm and they sell it to dairy farmers.
Me: hahahahahhahahahha
Ben: In order to produce milk, cows have to be pregnant and the genetic quality of the bull is really important. It's a big business. They just bought a bull for like $10 million.
Me: hahahahahahahahahah So, how do they get the bull to, ya know?
Ben: I'm not really sure, I think they have a machine that looks like the back of a cow or something.
Me: hahahahahahahahahah
Ben: hahahahahahahahahaha

If only there was an organization...

concerned with standing up for the privacy of individuals. Some watchdog that would take up the cause of people who have been spied on by the likes of these guys.

(Hat tip, Instapundit)

The Carnival of the Capitalists

is up at XTremeBlog. Get you business/economic fix for the day!

Thanks to Marshall for the link.

Friday, December 17, 2004

The Philosophy of Football, 101, Part 2

Read Part 1 here.

Let’s talk defense.

#1 Defensive Priority: Defensive Line.

The play of a defensive line creates secondary benefits (or costs, if they play poorly) just as an offensive line creates secondary benefits. In the case of the defensive line, a pass rush helps DBs by forcing quicker, less accurate throws. A good pass rush will create opportunities for even bad defensive backs (I might, at this point, mention Larry Brown and Dexter Jackson). They don’t have to cover WRs for more than a few seconds per play, they will not get as tired, and they will also not have to worry about deep throws as often.

Linebackers also benefit from a strong defensive line, specifically the interior defensive line. Grady Jackson is undoubtedly one of the best examples of this phenomenon. When the Packers are without their stout defensive tackle, they are barely a defense at all. The Bears’ Brian Urlacher famously suffered when the enormous Keith Traylor and Ted Washington were forced out of the lineup by injury and free agency. The Bears 2001 season in which they went 13-3 is now considered to be a fluke, but the defensive play dropped of markedly with the loss of Traylor and Washington on the line. Even the great Ray Lewis has seen his play decline with the loss of Tony Siragusa. Linebackers perform best when they are not confronted with offensive linemen.

A good defensive line also allows a team to play with smaller, faster linebackers (like Urlacher and Derrick Brooks). This increases the available pool of possible players for a defense and saves money, as not every team can be successful with small linebackers.

It is important to generate a pass rush with four players. Blitzing can be used effectively, but it leaves the secondary vulnerable. If the need for blitzing is reduced, offensive big plays are reduced. Forcing an offense to run more plays per score will increase the likelihood of a turnover. Combining a solid pass rush (denying the QB time) with run stuffers in the middle will make any secondary and linebacker corps look great.

When building a defense, a premium should be placed on the large men up front. Money can then be saved in the secondary (Note: I feel that DBs are overvalued in the NFL) and at the linebacker position.


Boys, I'm very disappointed in you.

Via Drudge:

Teenage girls in Britain are binge drinking more than boys, turning the tables on a traditionally male practice, a study has shown.

Classified Motoring

More than a quarter of girls in the 15- to 16-year-old age group admitted to binge drinking.

The report, which looked at 35 countries, found that Britain had "exceptionally high levels of heavy drinking and illicit drug use" in the teenagers studied.

It also found that young Britons were high in the league table which measured how often they got drunk.

The analysis of more than 100,000 teenagers surveyed last year showed that 29 per cent of British girls binge drink, compared with 26 per cent of boys.

When the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and other Drugs was first carried out in 1995, the figures were 24 per cent for boys and 20 for girls.

The Transatlantic Rift: Why? So What? What Now?

To say there are no cultural differences between Europe and the United States would be akin to saying that there are no cultural difference between New Yorkers and Texans. There are differences, that is undeniable, but is this to blame for the recent enlargement of tensions between Paris, Berlin, Brussels and Washington? Christopher Layne denies the cultural impact is a root cause calling the cultural divide “alleged." No, we have more in common than we do in difference.

Perhaps it has more to do with our policy decisions. The Iraq war was incredibly unpopular in Europe and support of the United States was made into a campaign issue in both Spain and Germany (where being anti-American was the vote getter); however, we have made policy decisions before that stressed our relationship with the Old World, Vietnam for example, but never to this degree. Fareed Zakaria states that the “strains [on the U.S.-Europe relationship] go well beyond the matter of Iraq, which is not vital enough to wreak such damage." I would argue that policy decisions of late have allowed the deepness of the divide to manifest itself, but they are not in and of themselves responsible.

Although policy decisions and cultural differences do play some part in the growing divide, the most likely explanation is good old-fashioned realist power dynamics, specifically a way to counteract American hegemony.

America emerged as a world power by the end of the 19th century and emerged unscathed at the end of World War II as the stronger of two super-powers. From that time until at least the collapse of the Soviet Union, Europe, and the rest of the world viewed the U.S. as more of a “benign power than a predatory hegemon." But the presence of U.S. troops in Europe after the fall of the Wall suggest another less benign side of U.S. policy towards Europe: the desire to preserve American primacy. Indeed, Christopher Layne argues that the U.S. could have pulled troops back from Europe in the early 1960’s, as they Europeans themselves could have deterred a Soviet advance. In this light, the well-worn NATO critique “to keep the Soviets out, the Germans down, and the Americans in” boils down to keeping the Americans in (and on top) and keeping the Germans down.

The American presence in Europe was designed so the Europeans would not have “any pressing incentive to unite politically," but absent the presence of the Soviet Union the Europeans did so almost immediately at the Maastricht summit in 1992. Without the USSR in the way, the Europeans could, collectively, re-ascend to great power status, a position clearly threatening to American primacy. In the words of UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, “Europe’s citizens need Europe to be strong and united. They need it to be a power in the world. Whatever it’s origin, Europe today is not just about peace. It is about projecting collective power.” With this return to great power status and political unity the Europeans are challenging the U.S. in several different ways, hence the growing rift between the two powers. The European challenge through economic channels, international institutions, and eventually an indirect military force, is responsible for the majority, in power-politics fashion, of the rift between the U.S. and the EU.

The Europeans (and a majority of the rest of the world) are wary of “living in a world shaped and dominated by one country, the United States,” and have become “deeply suspicious and fearful of us," hence their desire to unite politically and challenge the U.S. This is what international conflicts are made of, not a McDonald’s opening in Paris, or even the Bush Administration’s rejection of the EU supported Kyoto Protocol. But American power is nothing new, and neither is the European desire to amass power, so why does it seem that the divide is so stark now? This is where the secondary player of the rift, policy disagreements and the exercise of American power, comes into play.

According to John Ikenberry the western order has depended on the American willingness to commit itself to international institutions that force the U.S. to neither threaten nor abandon its allies. That order is being threatened by current U.S. foreign policy. The U.S. has been a power for quite some time without Europe feeling the need to challenge the U.S. politically, but U.S. policies have turned it into more of a threat to Europe and Europe’s great power ambitions have made it more of a threat to the U.S. As Stephen Walt has theorized states don’t always balance against other powers, but do balance against threats.

When the U.S. emerged dominant at the end of WWII and Roosevelt and Truman had the possibility of establishing “an American imperium,” they chose to instead create the United Nations and the Bretton Woods economic systems thereby bucking the balancing trends of history. The Bush Administration’s outright disdain for working in international institutions (invading a country without UNSC approval, withdrawal from Kyoto, withdrawal from the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, etc.) coupled with a flexing of American power on a “scale almost unimaginable” to most countries, has illuminated the fact that although the U.S. has chosen not to mobilize all of its resources to get what it wants in the past, that does not mean it will not do so in the future. Any determined American government could get whatever it needed whenever it wanted because of the unbelievable resources possessed by the U.S. In light of the death of multilateralism and the recent unambiguousness of the reasoning behind keeping U.S. troops in Europe, the Europeans have marshaled their collective resources to form a union that can challenge the U.S. economically and politically if not militarily.

This active balancing caused by a new American policy and Europe’s desire to re-emerge as a great power has strained the relations with Europe at a time when greater cooperation is necessary to provide for the security of both continents.

Many of the terrorists who struck the U.S. on September 11 emigrated to the EU and were nurtured there by an unwelcoming populace and radical Islamist mosques. Europe’s Muslim population is growing and the xenophobic policies of anti-immigrant political parties, such as Le Pen’s National Front in France (a country with a 7.5 percent Muslim population) are doing nothing but stoke the fires of anti-western thought. The U.S. must work together with the EU to track down these radical Islamists and make sure the borders of both the U.S. and the EU are secure to prevent a flow of terrorists. When Europeans were asked what the EU means to them more than a fifth said the EU had lax border controls. Nine in ten Americans believe that the Europeans can help solve global problems (of which terrorism is one) even though they are not as militarily powerful as the U.S. When Europe helps to solve problems, it would be beneficial to both parties to agree on where and how they are solved.

While there is no denying that the EU is currently nowhere in the realm of the US military (the $50 billion increase in the U.S. defense budget following 9-11 is greater than the total military budget of the UK or Germany), the EU has proposed a force of 60,000 to be mobilized. While Charles Krauthammer is right that throughout the 1990’s the EU focused on integration and building a social infrastructure at the “expense of military capacity,” what now that that integration is slowing and will eventually halt? With the social infrastructure built, the next logical project would be to develop a military or “peace-keeping” force. The U.S. opposes this “Rapid Reaction Force” because it is a threat to U.S. military dominance in Europe; this is another bad policy decision that exacerbates the underlying power balancing problem between the continents. It is in the best interests of the U.S. to have influence over this EU force, perhaps through cooperation with an international institution such as NATO, because as some scholars have suggested, the U.S. military is great at breaking Humpty Dumpty, but lousy at putting him back together.

The EU is actively reducing U.S. participation in international institutions, most likely as a reaction to increased American unilateralism, at a time when they should be working together. The irrelevance of NATO and the expulsion of American troops have not happened, but there are events to foreshadow it. Both American and European officials have warned that NATO can “no longer be taken for granted." The U.S. has been voted off the UN Council for human rights and the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) with the EU taking the lead. The less influence the U.S. exercises in these international institutions, the less control the U.S. has in formulating international law and policy. Bush backers may scoff at the very idea of international law, but being involved with an organization such as the INCB is crucial to stopping the funding of terrorists (often derived from the sale of illicit narcotics) and the breaking up of organized crime. The United States is shooting itself in the foot by pursuing such a flagrant unilateralist policy and the EU is doing the same by discarding American resources in what are global causes.

With the European drive for great power status not likely to subside, is there anything that the United States can do heal the rift? The answer is, of course, yes. The European desire to balance the U.S. will not recede, as it has been in existence since de Gaulle and Adenauer signed a treaty to do so over 40 years ago. The answer then lies in American policy, which causes the ever-present rift to manifest itself. Several of the strategies outlined by Stephen Walt to alleviate the world’s uneasiness with American power can also be applied to healing the rift with Europe.

First and foremost, the United States must retain its immense power. By maintaining its immense resources the U.S. can continue to offer states benefits whose interests are in line with its own, including the EU. The EU would do well to do the same as having the EU and U.S. as the preeminent global players in the future is entirely beneficial for both sides as the societies that the two support are for the most part compatible and very similar.

Second, the U.S. must use force more selectively than it did when it hastily invaded Iraq. The U.S. already has the reputation as the “trigger happy sheriff,” so there is no need to attack without ample evidence. Some may argue that pre-emptive attacks are necessary to secure American national security. This may or may not be true, but there are things our government could have done in light of our WMD ignorance and bungling of the post-war environment to heal our “lone gunman” image. George W. Bush could have sacked the Secretary of Defense, but he repeatedly vocalized his support for Rumsfeld, even in the light of Abu Ghraib. Bush could have axed George “slam dunk” Tenet due the fact he was the head of the CIA, yet was completely wrong about Iraq’s WMD, but instead he gave him a medal. These bold actions do not go unnoticed in Brussels.

Third, the Americans must encourage an emergence of European power, both economically and militarily. Europe is still America’s biggest export market and the wealthier Europe is, the better it is for America. On the military front, it would be nice if the United States did not have to act as the “world policeman” at all times and could look to the Europeans to compliment the western order, even if it may be at the expense of determining exactly how the operation is executed.

The “transatlantic rift” is, at its roots, a power struggle between two states (we’ll call the EU a state for illustrative purposes) in a classic realist sense. There is nothing that will ever stop the competition between the two continents given their mutual fondness for free markets, which will always cause political and economic competition at the very least. There are, however, intelligent policy decisions that can be made to cool the conflict down to a continental sibling rivalry. The power of the United States is not likely to dissipate any time soon, and neither is the EU’s desire to attain more power in the geopolitical arena. The U.S. must: stay powerful; exercise its power wisely and sparingly; encourage the Europeans to amass power of their own. The disease of realist balancing is going nowhere, but the continental powers can make intelligent and healthy decisions so that the disease does not manifest itself.

Quotes and information drawn from:

Bacevich, Andrew. The Imperial Tense.
Fergusson, Niall. Collosus: Costs and Consequences of the American Empire.
Ikenberry, John. America Unrivaled.
Layne, Christopher. "America as European Hegemon." National Interest Summer 2003. Issue 72.
Nye, Joseph S. Jr. Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politcs.
Zakaria, Fareed. "The Arrogant Empire." Newsweek. March 24, 2003.

The Philosophy of Football, 101

The first in a three part series.

On Sunday I’ll be watching football with Football Outsider contributor Michael David Smith and other Outsider fans at the Gin Mill, which is, unfortunately, a Michigan State bar. The unfortunate clientele notwithstanding, it should be fun.

I'm a fan of the "Moneyball" phenomenon in sports, and I believe every major sport is still laden with exploitable inefficiencies. That said, here is how I would go about constructing an NFL team.

There are two issues that I would focus on when constructing a team. The first is what I call "Providing Time" (Henceforth, ProTi)

ProTi should not be confused with the largely overrated "time of possession." ProTi encompasses the aspects of football that allow the quarterback to have as much time as possible to throw. There are two ways to improve ProTi. The first is to have an offensive line that excels in pass blocking, and the second is to have an evasive quarterback. By evasive, I do not mean Mike Vick. The ideal "evasive quarterback" can buy more time to throw, and will only take off running as a last resort. Steve Young is an excellent example. This year both Donovan McNabb and Daunte Culpepper have excelled at keeping a play alive.

The second is simply “Limiting Turnovers” (and since we can’t call it LT, we’ll go with LiTur). Turnover differential is one of the most telling statistics, and the reason is very simple. If you have more possessions, you are more likely to score more points. Turnovers are primarily a quarterback phenomenon (Ahman Green and Travis Henry notwithstanding) and limiting the opportunities for a turnover by the quarterback is essential to being successful. All interceptions stem from the quarterback (although some picks are the fault of wide receivers, for purposes of this post all that is important is that the quarterback was passing in the first place) and many fumbles are the result of a prone QB taking a blindside hit. (Note: Most fumbles in a career: Warren Moon, 161. Dave Krieg is #2. Most fumbles in a season: Kerry Collins, 23. In a game: Len Dawson, 7. )

Therefore:

1st Offensive Priority: The Offensive line.

Run blocking is a nice bonus, and most linemen who excel as pass blockers will also be suitable run blockers, but "running a lot" is much more important to winning than "running well." Moreover, pass blocking lines (especially the Indianapolis line) will produce a solid if unspectacular running game most of the time anyway.

Why is ProTi so important? There is an adage in basketball which states that the defense will break down every thirteen seconds. This is largely true in football as well. As a result, having a great offensive line creates secondary benefits for every other offensive position. Quarterbacks will be hit less frequently, resulting in fewer turnovers. Receivers will get more separation, which makes it easier for less talented receivers to get open, and also for the quarterback to find them. It allows for deeper route running, and low-risk deep passes. If you have an offensive line capable of ProTi, great things become possible with less-than-stellar players.

Think of Kurt Warner, Drew Bledsoe, and Troy Aikman. Each played in at least one Super Bowl, and none are considered "Hall of Fame material." (Note: some would make a case for Aikman.) Each QB played behind a great offensive line. Aikman played behind what is debatably the greatest offensive line in history. All are accurate throwers, and all are immobile. However, because each line provided great protection they never had problems finding open men. And while some good receivers played for these guys, there are also the Alvin Harpers, the Ricky Proehls, the Az Hakims, and everyone except Ben Coates (All right, so Terry Glenn was OK for a year).

Moreover, when the offensive lines started to go south on Aikman, Bledsoe, and Warner, they all became very ordinary. Bledsoe became awful. Warner started taking huge shots every game and eventually became expendable enough to let go. Even Aikman saw his yards per pass decline severely (especially in 1997 when he was sacked 33 times).

The bottom line is that as long as your offensive line is dominant, you can save money at the QB position and at the WR position. And, in true Moneyball style, once your receivers (and QBs and RBs) build up a reputation for greatness you can trade them for draft picks or star cornerbacks (See: Champ Bailey, Clinton Portis). At worst you can let them go in free agency and torpedo someone else’s salary cap (See: Alvin Harper, Az Hakim). (Note: This is similar to the "Moneyball" philosophy regarding closers. It is easy to produce a good closer, as saves are relatively easy to record on a winning team. Billy Koch is probably the best example, as he was fine as an A, but terrible as a member of the White Sox. The "real" A's closer at the time was Chad Bradford.)

To sum up:

1. Spending money on the offensive line will save money at other positions.

2. It will also result in fewer turnovers

3. Finally, it will allow for low-risk big plays, and require that an offense execute a minimum number of plays to score. Running fewer plays (especially in third-and-long situations) to score reduces the risk of a turnover.

Insomnia

Too many "venti dark roasts" (which, is of course, "Large Coffee" in Starbucksese) and too much on my mind. I guess this is what finals season is all about. Stay awake with coffee. Get to sleep with scotch. Study and take some tests between.

And since the University "Police" didn't think I had enough to do they decided I needed to fight a speeding ticket tomorrow at 9am. I got pulled over going 37 in a 25 on my drive home from a friend's house following the Packer's Monday night victory over the Rams (Note: this game was on 11/29. The end of the month. I'm assuming the UW "Police" hadn't quite filled their lives-ruined quota for the month). I was on Johnson Street which, for those of you not familiar with Madison, is a four lane road that changes from a 40 mph speed limit to 25 over the space of one picometer. No one actually changes their speed however. So I didn't see the 25 mph sign because I was being passed on the right when I drove by it. I got pulled over and the first thing the cop asked me was, "how much have you had to drink tonight?" I wonder if it is possible that she was playing the odds that anybody driving home at that time was drinking and hoping to find a life to ruin with no probable cause. "Not a drop" I said, truthfully. She had to settle for ruining my life with a speeding ticket. I still haven't decided whether I want to plead no contest and hope the judge realizes what a crock a 37 mph ticket on Johnson Street is since he probably took Johnson in from his home in Middleton at 45 that very morning, or fight it and drag that damn cop in and make her admit she was trying to get me for drunk driving because she thinks guys that drive shitty ford T-birds after Packer games are all drunk drivers.

Anyway, since I can't study anymore tonight and I no longer have TV I've been reading Tucker Max (hat tip TS) Tucker Max, from what I've learned so far, is a really smart, somewhat crazy, extremely drunk, often womanizing, always insulting, Duke Law School grad that gets himself into a lot of situations that should get him thrown in jail. It's hillaious. I was laughing out loud today as I was reading it in the law library. I think that his stories have to be embellished a little if they're not complete fabrication* but it's funny as hell either way.

*Note for example this post (warning: not for the faint of heart) which concludes with, "The camera we used was one of those old fragile ones that filmed onto a VHS tape, and when he crashed out of the closet, the tape recorder and tape broke. It didn't occur to us at that the tape records the images magnetically, and we could take the actual tape itself and get someone to put it in another holster until after we had thrown it out. I know it seems stupid now, and believe me I kick myself about it everyday, but you should have seen the apartment afterwards--the tape was not a high priority."

Or this post, whic concludes with, "Texas hasn't been the same since that October. Unfortunately, the Baby Dolls that I wrote about no longer exists. Dallas zoning laws have changed the club, and though it still stands, it's no longer the bastion of debauchery it once was. A few weeks after we were on 6th street, Cheers Shot Bar caught fire from Flaming Dr. Peppers and though it was fine, the drink was banned after that in Austin. You can still get them at some bars, but officially they are illegal." How convenient.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Planning a night of drinking?

The Blood Alcohol Level Calculator is a must. Just click here.

(Hat tip, Texas Scott)

Get your Washington Nationals Jersey Now

Here is the latest from the Washington Post.

Click here for an op-ed by former crack addict/prostitute aficionado/mayor Marion Barry.

Arnold Kling's take is here. (And he links to Mike Wilbon's column here.)

And some more info from Russell Roberts at Marginal Revolution.

Daniel Akst has a slightly different take on the subject.

So what do I think? In an ideal world I would object to public funds for stadia. Unfortunately there is a competition for sports franchises and I now feel that public subsidies for stadia are unavoidable absent a rich individual willing to construct his/her own facility (like Milwaukee's Bradley Center). Most economists will tell you that stadium deals are generally not worth it. The economic development created is minimal (take a look around Miller Park if you require a real world example) and it mainly serves as an enormous equity boost for the owners. I have a slightly different take.

When public money is used to construct a stadium, a great deal of public scrutiny comes with it. Public financing is always controversial, and once a plan is enacted people tend to pay a great deal of attention to the construction, the expenditures, etc., in an effort to make sure they get their money's worth. As a result of this additional scrutiny, stadium construction is among the most efficient government projects in existence. (Even Miller Park, which suffered a catastrophic crane collapse and a broken retractable roof was more or less on budget, and a great deal of public pressure exists to maintain lawsuits against Mitsubishi for screwing up the job.)

Government is bad at spending money. In Milwaukee we just give it away to corrupt people. At least when a community builds a stadium, it can see exactly where the money is going. If any government was given $500 million to spend on something, the odds are they would blow it on something stupid or worthless or corrupt. Basically, I would rather have them spend money on a stadium, as I know exactly what I'm getting. And it is nice to have a pro sports team in town. Maybe not $500 million nice, but nice.

When economists perform cost/benefit analyses on this topic I think they usually compare the stadium project to an ideal use of those funds, or alternatively they compare it to the present value of said funds. This makes the mistake of not assuming government failure. Those funds could be put to better use, but in all likelihood they will be wasted. It may still be a bad idea, and Washington may be doing the right thing (although, in the words of Adam Sandler, they could have let MLB know yesterday), but it is a close call.

The best argument against financing a stadium may be that it almost always comes with a tax increase, and therefore the government is still spending as much as it ever would on stupid, worthless, corrupt projects. While this may be the case, I believe that people have an upper limit on the tax increases they will allow. Therefore, I believe that a stadium tax increase precludes certain other future tax increases. Once again, it may not stop future increases very much, and it may not be worth it. My point here is only this:

The government will take your money, and it will spend your money. A stadium construction project offers a rare opportunity for citizen oversight of government spending. Most government spending is worthless, stupid, and corrupt. Building a stadium precludes, at least slightly, the use of funds on less worthwhile projects. And finally, computing the cost of a stadium project in "real dollars" is disingenuous, as the government rarely gets fair value for its dollar.

Ursula K. Le Guin is not happy with the Sci-Fi Channel.

She is the author of the Earthsea books, recently converted into a miniseries on the Sci-Fi channel. Apparently they took some liberties with everything important to the author:

They then sent me several versions of the script—and told me that shooting had already begun. I had been cut out of the process. And just as quickly, race, which had been a crucial element, had been cut out of my stories. In the miniseries, Danny Glover is the only man of color among the main characters (although there are a few others among the spear-carriers). A far cry from the Earthsea I envisioned. When I looked over the script, I realized the producers had no understanding of what the books are about and no interest in finding out. All they intended was to use the name Earthsea, and some of the scenes from the books, in a generic McMagic movie with a meaningless plot based on sex and violence.

Most of the characters in my fantasy and far-future science fiction books are not white. They're mixed; they're rainbow. In my first big science fiction novel, The Left Hand of Darkness, the only person from Earth is a black man, and everybody else in the book is Inuit (or Tibetan) brown. In the two fantasy novels the miniseries is "based on," everybody is brown or copper-red or black, except the Kargish people in the East and their descendants in the Archipelago, who are white, with fair or dark hair. The central character Tenar, a Karg, is a white brunette. Ged, an Archipelagan, is red-brown. His friend, Vetch, is black. In the miniseries, Tenar is played by Smallville's Kristin Kreuk, the only person in the miniseries who looks at all Asian. Ged and Vetch are white.

Read the whole thing.

I've never read this series (actually I was completely unaware of it until two days ago when I heard a commercial for the series on NPR) so I'm unfamiliar with the intricacies of the plot and whether it would adapt well to television. However, does it strike you as odd that the Sci-Fi network is producing adaptations that stray from the book versions? Isn't the entire Sci-Fi audience extremely concerned about this sort of thing? Can't you just imagine Comic Book Guy standing around pointing out every little flaw with any given sci-fi series?

Excuse me. I believe that the dragon in this scene is supposed to have four wings. The two-winged version was wiped out by the androcholera outbreak of 2468. Maybe if you employed more Ford Prefects in your fact checking department...

Isn't that the entire Sci-Fi channel audience? What were they thinking?


Ebert calls Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby" the best film of the year.

From the Chicago Sun-Times:

Morgan Freeman is the narrator, just as he was in "The Shawshank Redemption," which this film resembles in the way the Freeman character describes a man who became his lifelong study. The voice is flat and factual: You never hear Scrap going for an affect or putting a spin on his words. He just wants to tell us what happened. He talks about how the girl walked into the gym, how she wouldn't leave, how Frankie finally agreed to train her, and what happened then. But Scrap is not merely an observer; the film gives him a life of his own when the others are offscreen. It is about all three of these people.

Hilary Swank is astonishing as Maggie. Every note is true. She reduces Maggie to a fierce intensity. Consider the scene where she and Scrap sit at a lunch counter, and Scrap tells how he lost the sight in one eye, how Frankie blames himself for not throwing in the towel. It is an important scene for Freeman, but I want you to observe how Swank has Maggie do absolutely nothing but listen. No "reactions," no little nods, no body language except perfect stillness, deep attention and an unwavering gaze.


On Diversity in Academia

First read this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about a classics professor at a southern university who suffers in silence.

Now read Orin Kerr's "sympathetic" response.

Finally, Christine Hurt offers her take:

Maybe I'll write an article about the horrors of being a liberal at a conservative Texas law firm: "Then, they gave us autographed copies of James Baker's biography -- and all the other associates put it on their shelves."


This is too weird not to mention.

Just click here. Words can not do it justice.
(Hat tip, Marginal Revolution)

Illinois Governor to crack down on auto theft.

Wait a minute, he's not cracking down on auto theft. He's cracking down on Grand Theft Auto!

I would like to offer my support to the governor, as GTA is clearly aimed at children. Children are very nostalgic for the grunge/rap dominated early 90s, just like they went crazy for the previous version, GTA Vice City based on their love of Miami Vice and 80s pop. 10-year-olds love that stuff. (I blame Hal Sparks. Let's ban him too.)

Moreover, it's worthwhile to focus on this because real auto theft is barely even a problem in Chicago. Of all the people I know in the city, only two have had their cars stolen since I've lived here.

I just hope the governor doesn't overlook the Mario based games, as the plucky plumber has been a negative influence in the drug war for over 15 years. Mushroom use has skyrocketed in that time, and the correlation is too strong to deny. And don't even get me started on Pac-Man.

Power Pellets? Come on.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

An Excerpt from Ryan's Diary

Dec. 15 2004,

A while back at work I screwed up big time. I mean, I made the boss look bad, indeed, I somehow managed to make the entire company look bad, and of course I made myself look like a colossal jackass. In fact, although the boss didn't point it out, I know in my heart that it could have been the greatest fuck-up in the history of the company. I was feeling really down, so I quit to avoid further justified ridicule and humiliation, and left the company with my head very, very high. I knew deep down that I was a total buffoon but at least I had my dignity. Today the boss called me, and you'd think he'd be still pretty sore about me making him look like a bigger simpleton than he makes himself look like, but deep down he's such a softy, and he said he wanted to give me a medal to make it up to me. I didn't know what to say. Here I had made a huge, giant, enormous mistake the likes of which fuck-up luminaries like Charlie Brown and Homer Simpson could only fantasize about and the boss wanted to give me a medal. What a guy! It made me feel like when I was in grade school, and although I came in last in the relay race, I still got that popsicle like everybody else!

What the hell does congress have to do with professional boxing?

For the most part, I really like John McCain, but sometimes I wonder how he chooses his "pet projects." I really don't like that our legislature is spending any time, money or other resources thinking about boxing. I don't even really know the issues involved but I do know they shouldn't be issues. Is boxing really a matter of national importance?

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Why does the EPA keep losing good people?

Gregg Easterbrook has some thoughts:

Equally, EPA administrators discover that environmental law is extremely prescriptive, spelling out in acute detail what they can or cannot do, leaving administrators almost no discretion. Whitman, for instance, determined that General Electric should be held liable to the tune of about $500 million for PCBs released into the Hudson River. Assume for the sake of argument that the fine was justified (though the releases were legal at the time). The extremely prescriptive Clean Water Act mandated that Whitman could only use the money for removing the chemicals from the river. So an elaborate Hudson dredging operation is now gearing up, though PCB levels in the river were already declining naturally anyway, and though it's possible the dredging will backfire by stirring up PCBs that sunk into sediment. The $500 million fine from General Electric could have been far better used to revitalize Hudson River towns or buy land for preservation in the watershed areas that supply New York City drinking water--a thousand more constructive uses suggest themselves. But under law, Whitman had to impose dredging: Essentially, she was required to order that the money be wasted. These kinds of things are pretty frustrating to governors.

and

So whatever you think of George W. Bush, in 2002 his administration proposed a clean-air legislation reform that would have accelerated reductions in pollution while cutting costs. For reasons of political theater, Democrats and enviros were opposed to a bill to reduce pollution (emphasis original), while Tom DeLay and his nut-case faction continued to claim that environmentalism is ruining the country. You'd want to flee, too, from a job where the political dynamic is this far removed from reality. The EPA has had five consecutive good administrators: Lee Thomas at the end of the Reagan presidency, Bill Reilly under Bush 41, Browner under Clinton, and Whitman and Leavitt under Bush 43. But why, in the current political environment, would a top person even want this job?

By the way, his TMQ column is up here.

You can always go, downtown

I was out of the office yesterday as I had some business downtown, specifically at the Daley Center. The Daley Center has a large courtyard around it which features farmer's markets and craft fairs in the summer. I hadn't been there for a few months and I expected the courtyard to be empty as it is currently 15 degrees and the wind is blowing off of the lake at approximately 87 MPH, and no sane person would attend an outdoor activity in those conditions. As I so often forget, this city is populated by crazy people.

The courtyard is populated by what appears to be a "Santa's Village." There are little huts that serve food and a few craft stores, but the dominant building is a long hut which extends from one end of the Daley Center to the other, and contains several picnic tables running the length of the shack, and a bar. A bar! Santa's Village is awesome. And the bar was full! Sure it was 11:30 AM. And it was in the middle of the loop business district in front of a courthouse. But really, who couldn't use a nice cold beer before their court appearance, before noon, after walking through the 87 MPH wind for a few minutes? Somehow I resisted, but it shortly became clear why so many people decided to take advantage of Santa's Pub.

Apparently the Mayor really wanted a Christmas Tree in the Daley Center courtyard, as well as some other more religiously themed displays. (Note: If you are unfamiliar with the general political atmosphere of the city of Chicago, here are a few facts to get you up to speed. 1. The Mayor is usually named "Daley." 2. The Mayor does whatever he wants, and no one can stop him. 3. This includes, but is not limited to, illegally bulldozing an air field in the middle of the night, and planting flowers everywhere because he is an amateur florist.) He decided that he would allow religious displays on this public property, and to avoid any Constitutional problems he would allow all religions to have a display so long as they are so completely ridiculous that no one would ever be drawn to said religion based on looking at them. As a result of this policy the court is littered with a giant Menorah (40 feet tall at least, it's quite staggering), and a nativity scene in which the fake animals make noises. Seriously. You walk by the baby Jesus and a cow moos at you. It really adds to the whole experience.

This all seemed strange until I got inside and walked by the high school song and dance troupe performing in the lobby. This is obviously a fantastic idea. Sure there is no place to sit, and there are metal detectors and security personnel everywhere, and the lobby is often filled with criminals and deadbeats, but everyone seemed to be enjoying the troupe's Gershwin number immensely. I don't know why high school kids were singing in the courthouse building's lobby, but they were. It was the functional equivalent of having mimes entertain people in the atrium of City Hall, or a hip jazz combo at the DMV. Actually, that last idea isn't half bad.

It was a strange day. Shortly after I left the scene on the song and dance troupe I ran into a woman whom I thought was a prostitute until I saw her a few hours later trying a case and realized she was just a lawyer with incredibly bad taste.

Anyway, that's why blogging was light yesterday. In case you were wondering.

I hate you Mike.

I lost in the first round of "the incredibly complicated fantasy football league" and it is all Mike's fault.

Who's Mike? That would be Mike Tice, and Mike Shanahan.
My team has relied heavily on Daunte Culpepper and Reuben Droughns for most of the season. Generally, they have risen to the task and performed well, but on Sunday my two powerhouses were denied easy points, first by the emergence of Tatum Bell for the Broncos (who came in for Reuben after he fumbled twice, promptly scored two touchdowns, basically made himself into a first round fantasy selection next year, and then blew out his shoulder. Couldn't he have waited a week?) and then by that horribly incompetent interception thrown by Randy Moss. Maybe Culpepper doesn't convert either, but it would have been nice to have a few tries. Not that I'm complaining too much about that, as the Pack comes first, and that was a nice loss (I love Mike Tice and I hope he coaches the Vikings forever. Actually, I love the consistently bad coaching on every NFC North team other than the Packers, from Dave Wannstedt to Wayne Fontes to Denny Green's fantastic playoff collapses, it is truly marvelous. Unfortunately it seems to be improving with Lovie Smith and Mooch, but we still have Tice. At least we were smart enough to fire Ray Rhodes right away.)

I was also about 1/2 an inch from getting a Tony Gonzalez TD (Note: I still maintain that the ball broke the plane of the goal line when he was swinging his arm around wildly. I know that when he was tackled the ball wasn't in the end zone, but I maintain that it was in before he was ever tackled). By my unofficial count, I lost by a single point. Oh well, there's always next year. And I am still alive and in good shape in a different league.

But I should have won this game. And it's your fault, Mike. So I hate you. Just so you know.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

My Lexicon

I wanted to document a phrase that I've been circulating as of late to describe my wants and needs as far as female companionship. What I'm looking for is my Army Reserve Girlfriend (ARG)...Not a female that's actually in the Reserves, but rather a girlfriend one weekend a month, two months per year. I don't really need any more than that; however, given the current status of the Reserve, I might sign on for an ARG, but get roped into a 1-2 year commitment.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Mark Cuban on the future of Movies and DVDs

from Marginal Revolution:

Cuban and Wagner plan to buck the Hollywood system of releasing movies over many months, through separate windows for theaters, pay-per-view, DVD, and broadcast TV. Instead, Cuban said, they intend to attempt "day-and-date releases," in which their films premiere simultaneously on Landmark screens, HDNet, and DVD. "We think it's a way of maximizing our revenues, controlling marketing costs, and adding value to our brands," he said. "And we don't think giving people alternatives to going to the theater will hurt us at the box office. It's just like with the Mavericks: We still sell out the games even though they're on free TV."

Even more heretical is Cuban's opinion of DVDs, which is that they suck -- or, at least, that they're inferior to hard drives as a medium for storing digital content. "Why would we invest in DVD," he asked, "knowing that hard drives are going to grow in capacity, shrink in size and price, and can also be erased and rewritten?" He imagines selling HD movies stored on key-chain drives -- or putting multiple films on larger drives, "like
software used to be packaged on PCs." Moreover, he added, "with ever-expanding storage, we can increase picture quality for years to come by taking advantage of new cameras and better compression schemes. With DVDs, we can't."

I'm so very glad that "A Charlie Brown Christmas" exists.

This is pretty funny though:

From National Lampoon's 10 Least Successful Holiday Specials or All Time

Ayn Rand's A Selfish Christmas (1951)

In this hour-long radio drama, Santa struggles with the increasing demands of providing gifts for millions of spoiled, ungrateful brats across the world, until a single elf, in the engineering department of his workshop, convinces Santa to go on strike. The special ends with the entropic collapse of the civilization of takers and the spectacle of children trudging across the bitterly cold, dark tundra to offer Santa cash for his services, acknowledging at last that his genius makes the gifts — and therefore Christmas — possible.

Prior to broadcast, Mutual Broadcast System executives raised objections to the radio play, noting that 56 minutes of the hour-long broadcast went to a philosophical manifesto by the elf and of the four remaining minutes, three went to a love scene between Santa and the cold, practical Mrs. Claus that was rendered into radio through the use of grunts and the shattering of several dozen whiskey tumblers. In later letters, Rand sneeringly described these executives as "anti-life."

Noam Chomsky: Deconstructing Christmas (1998)

This PBS/WGBH special featured linguist and social commentator Chomsky sitting at a desk, explaining how the development of the commercial Christmas season directly relates to the loss of individual freedoms in the United States and the subjugation of indigenous people in southeast Asia.

Despite a rave review by Z magazine, musical guest Zach de la Rocha and the concession of Chomsky to wear a seasonal hat for a younger demographic appeal, this is known to be the least requested Christmas special ever made.

Read the whole thing.

(Hat tip, Andrew Sullivan)

Fun Friday

Need to kill a few hours at work? How about a few of Scott Adams' True Tales of Induhviduals?

I have to turn in my wife for a True Tales of Induhviduals. We live in the Colorado mountains and sometimes see bears on our property. Recently my wife asked if I knew how bears know when to hibernate. I said I thought it had to do with temperature, when it got too cold to be out wandering around. She suggested that the end of daylight savings time probably triggered hibernation. When I asked what that would have to do with it, she said, "The bears would notice it getting darker an hour earlier." I guess I didn't realize bears had clocks.

and

My friend was standing with an Induhvidual at a crosswalk the other day when they heard the signals that indicate to the blind that it is safe to cross the street. The Induhvidual asked "What is that?" My friend said, "That's for the blind. The chirping sound indicates that it's safe to cross the street north to south. The cuckoo sound indicates that it's safe to cross east to west." The person looked at my friend and asked, "What do the deaf people do when they need to cross the street?"

and finally

The secretary came in this morning and noticed that her big, picture calendar had fallen off the wall, to which it had been held by taping the monthly pages as they folded upward. It wasn't so surprising that it had come down, she said, because "It's getting toward the end of the year so it's heavier."

Enjoy!

Pilgrimage

I will be attending the Packers-Lions game this weekend, which is always a good time. Hopefully the defense shows up this week, as Kevin Jones has been doing well.

Kevin Jones


I'm a little worried, but if you want to make the playoffs, you should win games like this. Then again, in the NFC the Packers might be able to sneak in without winning another game, so what do I know? Anyway, it's time for a little Paul v. Bill (and I'll throw in Ahren if he posts his picks soon).

Bill says:

BILLS (-11) over Browns
Bengals (+11) over PATRIOTS
Giants (+10) over RAVENS
VIKINGS (-6.5) over Seahawks
Saints (+7.5) over COWBOYS
Raiders (+7.5) over FALCONS
Bears (+7.5) over JAGUARS
Buccaneers (+5) over CHARGERS
Dolphins (+11) over BRONCOS
Colts (-10) over TEXANS
LIONS (+9.5) over Packers
REDSKINS (+9) over Eagles
Rams (+6.5) over PANTHERS
Jets (+6) over STEELERS
Niners (+6.5) over CARDINALS
Chiefs (+2) over TITANS

Paul says:

Browns (+11) over BILLS
Bengals (+11) over PATRIOTS
Giants (+10) over RAVENS
VIKINGS (-6.5) over Seahawks
COWBOYS (-7.5) over Saints (Brooks factor)
Raiders (+7.5) over FALCONS
Bears (+7.5) over JAGUARS
CHARGERS (-5) over Buccaneers (Ride the Bolts)
Dolphins (+11) over BRONCOS
Colts (-10) over TEXANS
LIONS (+9.5) over Packers
Eagles (-9) over REDSKINS (Cat suit at stake)
PANTHERS (-6.5) over Rams (Martz factor)
STEELERS (-6) over Jets (Team of Destiny)
CARDINALS (-6.5) over Niners (McCown is back)
TITANS (-2) over Chiefs (Chiefs are done)

This may be the single worst thing that I have ever read.

CBS should be embarrassed that they have their name on it. Click on the link at your own risk, but be warned that I am now dumber for having read it. At no point does this article state anything that can be construed as a rational thought.

Seriously, read this quote:

“The question is: What are the appropriate regulations on the Internet?" asked Kathleen Jamieson, an expert on political communication and dean of the Annenberg School for Communications. “It’s evolved into an area that we need to do more thinking about it.

“If you put out flyers, you have to disclaim it, you have to represent who you are,” Jamieson said. “If you put out an ad you have to put a disclaimer on it. But we don’t have those sorts of regulations for political content, that is campaign-financed on the Internet.”

Notice that no one sees the restrictions on free speech that they refer to -- "regulations on the internet" and "disclaimers" -- as a bad thing. They see the lack of regulation as a bad thing. And this from the Dean of a communications school! I suppose there is less material to cover in the field communications if we cut back on all of that pesky communication.

Moving on:

First Amendment attorney Kevin Goldberg called blogs “definitely new territory.”

“[The question is] whether blogs are analogous to a sole person campaigning or whether they are very much a media publication, which is essentially akin to an online newspaper,” said Goldberg, who is the legal counsel to the American Society of Newspaper Editors. “Ultimately, I think, the decision will have to come down to whether the public will be allowed to decide whether bloggers are credible or whether some regulation needs to occur.”

I'm not sure what the last sentence means, if it means anything at all. "Whether the public will be allowed to decide?" Who will stop the public from deciding? This is actually too stupid to discuss further, I wrote seven different sentences in place of this one and they were all insulting to your intelligence. (At least they were insulting to your intelligence before you read the article).

Then there is this smear on Duncan Black, AKA Atrios, one of the most widely read bloggers, who runs the Eschaton site. I don't agree with Black on anything really. I think he's often dishonest, and almost always wrong, but he is widely read, influential, and he's committed no "ethical violations" (other than being wrong) in the time he has been blogging. How then does CBS arrive at this conclusion:

The affiliations and identities of bloggers are not always apparent. Take writer Duncan Black, who blogged under the name Atrios. His was a popular liberal blog. During part of the period he was blogging, Black was a senior fellow at a liberal media watchdog group, Media Matters for America. Critics in the blogosphere said this fact wasn't fairly disclosed. “People are pretty smart in assuming that if a blog is making a case on one side that it’s partisan,” Jamieson said. “The problem is when a blog pretends to hold neutrality but is actually partisan.” That is not a legal problem, however, but one of ethics. Black eventually claimed credit for his blog and his affiliation with Media Matters. Fellow bloggers heavily publicized his political connections. And Black continued blogging. Defenders of Black point out that unlike the South Dakota blogs, he was not working on behalf of a campaign. And clearly, absent blog ethical guidelines, what Black did was not that different than many others.

Of course CBS would never run a story without checking its facts. But just in case, let's get Mr. Black's side of the story:

Dear CBS & David Paul Kuhn I'm writing to you regarding your recent story titled "Blogs: New Medium, Old Politics." Your article, which was concerned with, among other things, whether "bloggers are credible," contained some errors. First, the title of this blog is "Eschaton" and not "Atrios." This is apparent from the big black letters at the top of the page. Second, you state that I had been working with Media Matters for America "all along" while I was doing this weblog. I began writing this weblog in April, 2002. MMFA only came into existence in May, 2004. I began working with them in June, 2004. Third, you suggest I had an "ethical" problem. Could you be more specific about what that was? Having one's character impugned by a major media outlet is a serious matter. Finally, a quote is positioned in your article such that it suggests my assocation with Media Matters for America makes me somehow "partisan" and that beforehand I therefore was perceived as non-partisan. I have never worked for a candidate or campaign, though I have never made my political views secret, any more than has the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal. This blog is produced entirely using my own time and resources, and Media Matters for America is a non-partisan "501(c)(3) not-for-profit progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media."

Black is now, was then, and will forever be, as big a lefty as a person can be. This was no secret and he has never claimed to be objective. It would take all of ten seconds for someone reading Eschaton for the first time to determine the political leanings of the host.

For more, read this rather devastating roundup by Harry Copeland. Read this too for an update.

The article ends chillingly (so to speak):

Beginning next year, the F.E.C. will institute new rules on the restricted uses of the Internet as it relates to political speech. “I think those questions are going to have to be asked and answered,” said Lillian BeVier, a First Amendment expert at the University of Virginia. “It’s going to be an issue and it should be an issue.”

A great big hat tip to Instapundit.

Arnold Kling on Winnie the Pooh, Paul Krugman, and Social Security

In his latest Tech Central Station column, Arnold Kling asserts that liberals and conservatives have their positions backwards on Social Security:


TCS


The debate over Social Security privatization is starting to remind me of my favorite Winnie-the-Pooh story, In Which Piglet Meets a Heffalump. At one point in the story, Pooh and Piglet are discussing the best bait to use in a trap for a Heffalump (author A. A. Milne's deliberate mispronunciation of elephant). Pooh, who likes honey, starts arguing for honey as bait. Meanwhile Piglet, who likes acorns, starts arguing for acorns. Suddenly, each of them realizes that he is arguing against his own interest: if acorns are chosen for the trap, then Piglet will have to supply them; whereas if honey is chosen for the trap, then Pooh will have to supply it. So the argument ends, with Piglet giving in first.

I think something similar would happen if the Left and the Right were to think through the consequences of Social Security privatization. Krugman and others on the Left would suddenly realize that they are in favor of it, and conservatives might decide that they should be against it.

You should read the whole thing, and make sure you notice the picture in the caption. It made my morning.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Canadian Health Care...

has gone to the dogs.

Wait a minute...

This is undoubtedly a big story, but what grabbed my attention is that Ann Althouse has been to a Pantera concert.

Ann Althouse has been to a Pantera concert?

F. James Sensenbrenner Jr.

My Congressman for most of my life was Jim Sensenbrenner. He's a stubborn old goat who likes impeding legislation more than anything else and for that reason I actually sort of like him. Wisconsin has a tendency to produce representatives who stick to their own ideas rather than caving in to special interests or party pressure, and Sensenbrenner is one of them. He reminds me a bit of Sen. Russ Feingold in that respect. I don't agree with Sensenbrenner on everything, but he is generally a moderate Republican and for the most part he doesn't put up with extremist crap.

The New Republic has an article in today's online edition by Michael Crowley (subscription required, d'oh) profiling Sensenbrenner, one of the few representatives to oppose the intelligence reform bill. Oppose is probably not a strong enough word. You see, Sensenbrenner chairs the House Judiciary Committee and therefore has a lot of power to kill legislation. Sensenbrenner believes that the biggest holes in the security of the US can be found in our immigration policy and enforcement, and he introduced legislation to deal with this, but:

Those provisions, equally unpopular with Democrats and Republicans who are wary of alienating Latinos, would have brought down the entire bill. But the famously bullheaded Sensenbrenner refused to budge. Personal appeals from President Bush and Vice President Cheney couldn't sway him. Nor did the eventual capitulation of other Republican holdouts--Duncan Hunter in the House and John Warner in the Senate--who had complained that the bill might threaten military intelligence-gathering.

His biggest sticking point is with drivers' licenses for illegal aliens. Licenses function as ID for security purposes nationwide in almost all places where security is necessarily tight. A driver's license will get you on an airplane, and into most government buildings. Sensenbrenner's plan called for the licenses of legal aliens to expire with their visas, which seems sensible enough. In the end, none of his ideas made it into the bill. As TNR goes on to point out, you don't want to be on Sensenbrenner's bad side:

He is not part of the clubby leadership gang that revolves around Majority Leader Tom DeLay. But he's not friendly with many Democrats, either. "He's not the warmest guy. Jim has a distrustful nature," says a senior GOP aide. "He's curmudgeonly," adds a Democratic Judiciary Committee member. "He's not a pleasant guy. There's not a moment where you feel like he's someone you want to hang out with." One manifestation of this is Sensenbrenner's obsession with order and procedure. Since taking over the committee from its former chairman, Henry Hyde, in 2001, Sensenbrenner has insisted on punctuality, and calls on committee members based on their arrival time rather than seniority. He once canceled an appearance before his committee by Attorney General John Ashcroft because Ashcroft failed to submit his written testimony at least two days in advance.

Heh. I thought the Attorney General was more organized than that. And then there's this:

Although the Judiciary Committee tends to be a home for crusading extremists--"the crazies of the left and the crazies of the right," as one Democratic member puts it--Sensenbrenner has been relatively moderate, willing to stand up to the GOP's right-wing base. For instance, he infuriated pro-gun conservatives in 2002 when he blocked a bill that would have allowed current and former police officers to carry concealed weapons even in jurisdictions with laws against doing so. Saying the bill infringed on states' rights, Sensenbrenner refused to hold hearings. Only after a whopping 275 co-sponsors had signed on did House Republican leaders finally force the chairman to act. (Still, Sensenbrenner pointedly declined to invite the bill's sponsor, Representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham, to testify at the hearing.)

He was also a harsh critic of the Patriot Act (especially the wiretapping and surveillance provisions):

When his committee was charged with writing the first incarnation of the Patriot Act, Sensenbrenner started by complaining that Ashcroft's proposed measures were draconian and "sacrificed civil liberties." Sensenbrenner then worked with Judiciary Democrats to add a two-year sunset provision to the bill's expanded police-wiretap and surveillance powers. The resulting bill passed the committee unanimously, an amazing feat for a bunch of ideological "crazies." Sensenbrenner's role led to a strange outcome in which the Democratic Senate's bill was far closer to Ashcroft's request (a "rubber stamp," Sensenbrenner grumbled) than the House version. Though the measure was toughened up some during a House-Senate conference, the sunset remained, albeit as a four-year rather than a two-year clause.

The entire article is very interesting and I recommend reading the whole thing. I will throw in one last tidbit though:

Now, Sensenbrenner may be the face of immigration reform on the Hill. Speaking on the House floor before the intelligence reform vote this week, he vowed to rejoin the fight again next year: "I can assure you that this issue is not going to go away." Hastert has said immigration reform will now be a top priority next year. And, if Sensenbrenner doesn't get his way, he might take out his anger by blocking other Bush administration priorities. For instance, the Judiciary Committee will hold hearings next year on renewing the Patriot Act, which expires at the end of 2005. Sensenbrenner has already vowed to place "the burden of proof" on the administration to defend each of the act's provisions--including the wiretap and surveillance powers he was skeptical of back in 2001.




 
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