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Saturday, January 31, 2004

THANK YOU FOR NOT USING A PSEUDONYM 

I take it all back. Date googling is a very good idea. (via GeekPress)

Friday, January 30, 2004

INTERSTITIAL JAVA 

AskBrendan complained first so now I can pile in too: blogging is a time suck and coming up with post topics on a regular basis gets to be as welcome as walking the dog on a day like, well, today (the raw temp is -18 as I type, working its way up to -5 this afternoon). The Warrior Monk's will to blog ebbs and flows on an indeterminate schedule (something to do with the lunar calendar or perhaps, this being Minnesota, the weather). The Monk doesn't like dogs and since I'm the type who worries about the carpets I've become the interstitial entertainment for this blog. As such, I frequently find myself at a loss for entertainment material.

When a blogger short of material spots a coffee meme developing, can you blame her for following the crowd? It's so easy! Everyone can find something to say about coffee! It's like the weather, especially here in the frozen tundra (did I tell you my dishwasher froze this morning, as it does every winter during our annual subzero stretch?). We all have a tale to tell, or at least an expletive to eject (I'm talking weather now, not coffee). Here's the coffee contribution:
1 teaspoon ground coffee
1 jigger scotch
1 scoop vanilla ice cream

Don't tell me you need directions! Dump the scotch over the ice cream, then sprinkle the coffee on top, okay?
This ambrosia comes to you via a dinner party I attended in law school and I remember enjoying it greatly.

You're welcome.

TWISTED TITLE #9 

This week's demented children's book title is:
Yucky-Tasting Medicine Works Just as Well When Given to the Cat
To see last week's title, click here.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

DO I HEAR AN ECHO? 

Since the Dean fiasco (not the scream really; the primary losses) there's been speculation about whether the blogs did him in. A recent New York Times article warns:
Online political discussion has become so fragmented so quickly that some public policy scolds warn that the Internet is in danger of narrowing the spectrum of debate even as it attracts more participants to it. The same medium that allows people to peruse a near- infinite number of news sources also lets them pinpoint the ones they want and filter out the rest.
Kaye Trammell at so this is mass communication? disagrees:
If you start to read the blog on a daily basis, you start to form a relationship with it ... for the non-believers this can lead to persuasion.
What's more, she's attempting to empirically test this proposition! (She's a mass communication doctoral candidate so stop snickering.)

If she's right, then it seems to me non-campaign blogs are more likely to exert influence on unpersuaded visitors than campaign blogs. A campaign blog has an institutional voice; the non-campaign blogs are run by one or a few individuals and, over time, we get to know them and their quirks as we know the quirks of our friends and family. More conducive to a relationship than the group-run blogs, I'd guess. Although I'm not sure that finding out that the 13-year-old Atomizer (of Fraters Libertas) threatened a fellow Boy Scouts with a tent spike (immediately after having persuaded the scout to drop said spike and "fight fair") inclines me to get all lathered up about the Vikings.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

REPLACING JOE-MENTUM: JOE-NIAL 

The Washington Post reports Democratic candidate Joseph Lieberman described his fifth place finish in New Hampshire last night as a "three-way split decision for third place." (via Wonkette)

THE TERMS OF THEIR AGREEMENT WILL NOT BE PUBLICLY DISCLOSED 

Tom, the Functional Ambivalent, watched last night's coverage of the New Hampshire primary and came up with a brainstorm:
Pair Wolf Blitzer with Dennis Miller. Wolf says the kind of things he says anyway, and Dennis makes snide remarks about how incredibly obvious everything Wolf says is. It would get both of them into the roles they were born to play. Wolf would be the vacuous, insecure, self-absorbed television host/idiot. Dennis would be the toublemaker one step ahead of getting knocked on the head by the captain of the football team.

Then we spice up the show by taping backstage scenes of Wolf taking out a contract on Dennis, and of Dennis replacing Wolf's can of hairspray with day-glow green spray paint.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

FREE SPEECH SMACKDOWN! 

Budding radio talk show host Al Franken practiced his own brand of "non-guested confrontation" yesterday by body slamming a heckler who had tried to shout down Governor Howard Dean:
The tussle left Franken's trademark thick-rim glasses broken, but he said he was not injured.

Franken - who seemed in a state of shock and out of breath after the incident - was helped back to his feet by several people who watched the tussle. Police arrived soon after.
(via I Want Media)

Al Franken later explained that he was merely trying to protect the right of people to speak freely by exercising his constitutional right to assault.

UPDATE: The Manchester Union Leader now reports Al Franken was elbowed by the protester first, knocking his glasses off. The article quotes the manager of the Palace Theatre (who was also elbowed by the protester): "I never met Al Franken before. He is now my new hero."

But who cares who really started it? Fight! Fight! Fight!

Monday, January 26, 2004

MY BIG FAT GREEK DIET 

Spitbull missed the annual New Year's resolution posting bandwagon (instead, we banged on a pot, pathetically). But we're sure as hell not going to miss this end of January finger waggling opportunity to scold all of the resolution-breakers and otherwise demonstrate our moral superiority.

Let's see: failure to get organized, failure to spend more time with the family, failure to lose weight, failure to drink/smoke less, failure to run 50,000 miles. There are so many guilt opportunities to choose from we're dazzled frankly. But since I believe in short posts we'll choose only one failure (for now). Eeny meeny miny FAT.

Here goes.

So you didn't lose that 5, 10, 50 pounds you had unreasonably hoped would disappear in the new year? Are you getting humiliating invitations by mail from Rosie O'Donnell's Chub Club? Have you tried all the au courant fad diets: Atkins, Beverly Hills, Cabbage Soup, Herbalife, Jenny Craig, South Beach (James Lileks predicts his North Shore diet--hot dish and walleye intestines--will be all the rage next year), Subway, Weight Watchers, Zone, even desperately dabblied in some of those discredited weight loss plans? Still suffering fat trauma?

Well we're prententious enough here at Spitbull to bring a *literary* solution to your overwrought, overweight, attention:
When I have a longing for something myself, do you know what I do? I cram myself chockful of it, and so I get rid of it and don't think about it any longer. Or, if I do, it makes me retch.
Advises Zorba The Greek as penned by Cretan (truly) Nikos Kazantzakis. Think Zorba's full of shit? Put off by his carpe diem philosophy? You misguided puritan you! The interestingly named Morgan Spurlock took the bullet for you and forced himself to eat three meals a day for 30 days at McDonalds for his documentary "Super Size Me." (hat tip: GeekPress). Within a few days of beginning his diet, he was "vomiting out the window of his car" in true Zorba fashion. Not surprisingly, he's steered clear of the food since.
The fat hogs! grumbled Zorba. "They're even going to make something out of this!"

Sunday, January 25, 2004

GET THEE TO AN INTRO TO ECON CLASS 

Further evidence (as if any were really needed) that Lou Dobbs is a foolish prating knave. Old blubber puss is such a reflexive protectionist that he can't refer to free trade without scare quotes and gets his undoubtedly capacious undies into a ferocious bundle over how "our market is flooded with cheap foreign imports" without even trying to explain why we should consider this to be a bad thing. At least Schumer and Roberts trotted out some bad arguments to support their wrongheadedness; Dobbs evidently thinks it's enough just to point his perpetually furrowed brow at free trade (whoops, "free" trade) while leaving whatever brain cells that might exist behind it in their usual idle state. Is it too much to ask that a major media figure who purports to be an expert on business issues actually know something about economics?

Saturday, January 24, 2004

LUCKILY, AHNOLD DOESN'T LIVE IN THE TWIN CITIES 

Last November the host of the excrutiatingly boring Twin Cities cable-access TV show "Spotlight on Conspiracy" petitioned to recall Minnesota Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer. His theory: the failure to file oaths of state officials with the secretary of state invalidated her election, as well as most actions of the governor, Legislature and other officials over the past 60 years. Guess what? His petition was dismissed one week after it was filed.

Undaunted, last week he added Governor Tim Pawlenty to the petition, refiled, and was redismissed. But this time the decision took only 2 days.

Friday, January 23, 2004

TWISTED TITLE #8 

This week's demented children's book title is:
Ten Running Games to Play While Carrying Scissors
To see last week's title, click here.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

SEE ALSO 

Some State of the Union analysis from Functional Ambivalent, the newest star to shine in my firmament:
No mention of Mars in the SOU. I figured as I was a watching that he was saving it up for a soaring "vision thing" at the end of the speech. Instead, he talked about steroids in professional sports. I'm having a hard time figuring out where that came from, unless President Bush is positioning himself for a subsequent job as Commissioner of Baseball.

The Mars trip...well, it was just so three-days-ago.
If you're the type that thinks that President Bush can do no wrong, it's probably not the blog for you. (Then again, neither is this one.) But if you like (say) baseball, alcohol, old-school local-TV personalities, and the capture of Saddam Hussein, or if you just enjoy damn good writing, it's well worth a bookmark.

NEWS FLASH: "ELOISE" IS NOT MY REAL NAME 

Mitch Berg explains he was recently rejected by a potential date after she Googled him and found the results distasteful. She was no doubt heeding the New York Observer's thoughtful dating advice. And, after all, all the kids are doing it. Invisible Adjunct (currently on a 2 week hiatus) declared Everybody Googles Everybody, causing some bloggers to fret about the harmful effect on academic freedom (those of us with no academic hopes presumably need not worry).

Too bad Mitch couldn't rely on a identically-named doppelganger with a drool inducing online vita. And that made me think: if a geekgirl named Codemuffin can game her way to the top spot on the Ecosystem (nudging out the Instapundit!), why oh why can't one elude the Google grasp? Just reverse-Google bomb your way to a better you. Or at least fill a Google search with so much dross that your e-stalker loses interest.

But who am I kidding? It's probably possible, but far too much effort when one can simply throw off the hounds with a pseudonym. And I have! What a clever lazybones am I, hounds or no hounds.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

DRECK IN THE PERSONALS 

Years ago when I lived in New York City and needed some free entertainment I would leaf through the back of the Village Voice and try to find amusing personal ads. Mostly I found Jerry Springer guests. Now I learn the London Review of Books is the place to go for what some claim is a new art form:
Tap-dancing Classics lecturer. Chilling isn't it? (M, 38).

Some chances are once in a lifetime. Not this one, I've been in the last 12 issues. Either I strike gold this time or I become a lesbian. Man, 43.

So I said, 'maybe just the one' and before I knew it my head had swelled to the size of a water melon. Woman of a certain age, and more certain allergies, seeks Pirotin-carrying, lanolin-free man unlikely to send her into anaphylactic shock.

Ordinary woman seeks ordinary man for the usual
.
Enchanted, I decided to check out our local offerings and found:
I would like someone who's generally interested in the world around them and likes to try new things, be it something I'm familiar with or something we'll both dive into. Political/social awareness a plus, but not required... though she must put up with some of my idealistic mumbo-jumbo. :o)
Yep. Not only is it freezing in Minneapolis, it's dreary too.

OF FEES AND PORK, PART I 

It's been a while since I threw any bones to the blawggers in the audience, so I thought I'd share a couple of judicial opinions that caught my attention recently. Let the gnawing commence.

The first concerns a suit by Verizon Wireless against a small suburban city named Mequon. The city denied Verizon a permit to construct a cellphone antenna, and Verizon challenged the denial under a provision of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 requiring that local zoning decisions of such ilk be "in writing and supported by substantial evidence contained in a written record." After concluding that the city did indeed lack such evidence, the court turned its attention to Verizon's request for attorney fees:
The general rule in America (the "American" rule, as it is known) is that the prevailing party, whether plaintiff or defendant, is not entitled to an award of attorneys' fees. Verizon wants us to hold that any time Congress creates a right that is enforceable against state or local officials or agencies, section 1983, and its companion, section 1988, come in the door and the American rule goes out the window. No such purpose can be attributed to Congress. Section 1988 codifies the Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Awards Act of 1976, enacted in recognition that civil rights suits normally pit individuals, often socially marginal, unpopular, and impecunious, against well-funded public officers in cases whose social and political significance may dwarf the monetary stakes, which may be meager. These circumstances argue for awarding attorneys' fees in such cases, especially to prevailing plaintiffs, and that tilt has been ratified in the judicial interpretation of section 1983. The Telecommunications Act, in contrast to the federal civil rights statutes, creates rights in telecommunications enterprises, which are usually substantial corporations, such as Verizon. They have the wherewithal to finance their own litigation without the boost given by fee-shifting statutes, and it would make no sense to carve an exception for cases in which they find themselves opposed not by other large corporations but by small towns, such as Mequon, population 21,000, with a planning commission some of whose members double as aldermen.
So who is this noble champion of the little guy against the big bad corporations? One of the many liberal judges on the oft-overturned Ninth Circuit? Or a judicial activist from a state high court--Massachusetts, perhaps, or Vermont, or Florida? Nope. It's Richard Posner.

Damn! He's really putting the crypto back in cryptofascism. Of course, I'm sure he's just trying to keep us off balance. Sneaky bastard.

OF FEES AND PORK, PART II 

Opinion number two comes from (I'll lay my cards on the table at the outset this time) the Iowa Supreme Court. An employee of a Dubuque meatpacking plant--a plant known to native Dubuquers like my parents as "The Pack," though not identified as such in the opinion--brought a race discrimination suit, and the court characterized the nature of the work at The Pack as follows:
The plant slaughtered hogs and processed pork. The working conditions were noisy and cold, and many jobs were gruesome and bloody. The work was fast-paced, repetitious, generally stressful, and sometimes unstimulating.
This is a marvelous little bit of writing. As befits the subject matter, the sentences are short, direct, and filled with simple but evocative words. The first two sentences are perfectly balanced, each built on a parallelism. And final one deploys the time-honored rhetorical device of the list in expert fashion, culminating in a hilarious morsel of understatement.

I don't know whether the author (Justice Mark S. Cady) always writes like this, or whether he just got lucky. Alas, the latter is more likely, since most judges seem compelled to adopt a sort of (court)house style: competent but mechanical and dull, leached of any hint of wit or grace. Frequently unstimulating, one might say. Posner is one of the very few reliable exceptions; perhaps Cady is headed that way too. We can only hope.

Monday, January 19, 2004

POE TOASTER DISSES FRANCE 

Macabre writer Edgar Allen Poe always gets a bottle of French Cognac for his birthday (which is today). Every year since about 1949 (a century after he died) some guy dressed in black comes leaves the libation at his Baltimore gravestone in the middle of the night. Better late than never, eh? But last night's offering came with an appropriately mysterious note:
The sacred memory of Poe and his final resting place is no place for French cognac. With great reluctance but for respect for family tradition the cognac is place. The memory of Poe shall live evermore!
The Poe Museum curator who picked up the note was reportedly "nervous about making the note public because of its political tone," assuming the gifter's reluctance stemmed from displeasure with French opposition to the war in Iraq. The can of Franco American Spaghetti-Os that started accompanying the cognac in 1965 was missing altogether, further fueling suspicion.

This is not the Poe Toaster's first brush with controversy. Two years ago he left a note backing the New York Giants against the Baltimore team named for Poe's horror tale "The Raven." Quel horror!

LEFT MEETS RIGHT 

Michael of the CultureBlog 2 Blowhards comes out today as a rightie admirer. He finally spends some time exploring rightwing political philosophy and comes to this conclusion:
I discovered that, without knowing it, I'd been spending all my time inside a church -- the Church of Lefty Artiness. How lovely to get up off very sore knees and move in the larger world instead. It's a little sad the way a few of my lefty friends make the sign of the cross whenever I get near these days. But, you know, they're the wild-eyed fanatics, not me.
As a coming out party, 2 Blowhards will be presenting a three-part q&a about conservatism with Jim Kalb beginning tomorrow. We're definitely going to check it out, will you?

(Incidentally, M. Blowhard also adds anecdotal evidence to December's Gallup poll happiness finding with his observation that "many lefties -- so pleased with themselves for being so liberated -- turn out to struggle with bad, long-term depression.")

Saturday, January 17, 2004

HOW ABOUT A LIPSTICKLIFT 

Big Arm Woman at Tightly Wound gives us Reason 1,437 why she isn't planning on undergoing plastic surgery: you can die (best-selling author Olivia Goldsmith died two days ago after a facelift gone wrong). This is clearly a reasonable objection to the procedure.

Then why do I admire my great aunt Margit for having her second facelift in her mid-eighties? It's not simply because she didn't die (although she didn't and she's still kicking ten years later). It's because I greatly admire women who take the time and make the effort to gussy up. I know it takes a lot of time and effort and I don't do it myself because I'm very lazy.

I come from a family that believes in "bella figura" (gussying up). They all look great. I'm sort of a black sheep on this point. But what's funny is I believe in "bella figura" too. I love that once when I arrived at my great aunt's apartment in Rome a day earlier than planned (a mixup involving ferry boats overcrowding and a telephone system I couldn't figure out) I found her dressed in high heeled shoes, a gabardine skirt and cashmere sweater. Oh yeah, and an apron. My aunt lives alone and this visit postdated her second facelift. I'm awed by the fact that she put more effort into getting dressed to see no one (or so she thought) than I usually put into preparing to go out for dinner.

I guess, despite the dying aspect, I kind of wish I were the type of person who would get a facelift. Maybe someday I'll get wrinkly enough to overcome my extreme laziness. I should should just learn how to put on lipstick. Baby steps, you know...

UPDATE: corvidae at A Little Sarcasm posts that anti-surgery opinions are motivated by Darwinian competition with the surged, or soon-to-be surged.

Friday, January 16, 2004

TWISTED TITLE #7 

This week's demented children's book title is:
There's No One Under Your Bed (It's Hiding Under Your Covers)
To see last week's title, click here.

NEWCASTLE FACES UNPRECEDENTED COALS SHORTAGE 

Brad DeLong lists all the moves Paul O'Neill should have made if he had really wanted to be an effective Treasury Secretary. (Hat tip to Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution.) It's an excellent primer for those seeking Cabinet-level positions--and our readership here at Spitbull positively teems with such folk, so we're just glad we could help out--but I was puzzled by two passages (the post is organized by days relative to Inauguration Day):
Day -7: Host a meeting of the Republican economic policy Great and Good--Shultz, Baker, Brady, Boskin, Feldstein, Sprinkel, Darman, et cetera--and set out the five principles for Bush II administration economic policy: (i) fulfill the President-Elect's promise of tax cuts; (ii) run a Republican government--a small government, a prudent government, an effective government, an efficient government--(iii) maintain budget surpluses; (iv) reform entitlement spending to deal with the long-run problems of the retirement of the baby-boom generation and the growing cost and power of medical technology; (v) pursue free trade.

* * *

Day +4: Ask the president what advice he has as you attempt to put into practice the five priorities of Bush administration economic policy: (i) fulfill the President-Elect's promise of tax cuts; (ii) run a Republican government--a small government, a prudent government, an effective government, an efficient government--(iii) maintain budget surpluses; (iv) reform entitlement spending to deal with the long-run problems of the retirement of the baby-boom generation and the growing cost and power of medical technology; (v) pursue free trade.
Seems like overkill to me. I mean, low taxes coupled with spending restraint, a streamlined government, a focus on long-term economic health, a deep aversion to protectionism--supporting these policies is what it means to be a Republican, right?

Thursday, January 15, 2004

THEN DO I GET A PRESENT? 

Ten of our state caucuses are being held on holidays.

"MR. FRESH MEAT FOR THE WARBLOGGERS TO CHEW ON" 

So maybe you've heard about that guy from one of the Twin Cities' local thick-with-ads giveaway papers (not The Rake, which is a good giveaway paper) writing a boring anti-Lileks piece (the only things interesting about it were the Lileks bits) to drum up some attention. Well, he's succeeded in getting a lot of blogs to take notice. We at Spitbull, on the other hand, are cribbing a page from Lileks' latest Bleat:
do you think the guy who wrote that article called up this site today, hoping he’d find a foamy-mouthed point-by-point reply?

Maybe. Who cares? Let’s talk about the stars.
and refuse to shout out any links or seed this post with any search engine tidbits to reward the guy for his so-called effort. As the Phrasesmith himself has patiently explained, what we've got here is a case of non-contiguous information streams.

But if you think we've been too mysterious about the whole affair, you can visit some of the Northern Alliance members (Hugh Hewitt, Fraters Libertas, Captain's Quarters, Mitch Berg and SCSU Scholars) who will lift the veil for you. Or just cut to the chase at Infinite Monkeys, where they've wisely attempted to deflect attention toward the much more troubling Lileks-related issue, namely, the disturbing secret behind his prodigious output.

Speaking of deflecting attention, take no notice of how well our above-the-fray pose shifts the focus away from our slow uptake on this, and most others for that matter, news story.

RANKULARITY 

I've been thinking about what factors make a particular blog important. We bloggers tend to think about these types of things, in our free moments between reloading site statistics "like the proverbial rat getting his cocaine pellet." So I've come up with these:
1. Referrers (the sites that link to the blog). Yeah, everyone seems to agrees that a blog with more referrers is a bigger deal than one nobody links to but this approach is simplistic and encourages link-whoring. Obviously, the "quality" of the referrers matters. A site that is linked to by the InstaKahuna is likely to be more authoritative than one served by the long-since abandoned blog of an anti-social diarist. The way to tell whether you've got yerself a quality referrer site is to take a peek at its traffic meter.

2. Link click throughs. If vistors actually click on a blog's links this means they find the posts worth delving into. If they explore the blogroll they're probably interested in the blog's opinions of which sites are valuable. (Or it could mean they're lazy and see an easy way to get to a blog they meant to visit anyway...)

3. SpitbullPedigree (what can I say, there's a rule that lists like this always come in threes). Whether the blog links to or is linked from Spitbull. Over the top compliments get extra point here. Self-explanatory.
It seems to me that it wouldn't be too hard to use these factors in a ranking system: give a blog "credits" equal to a portion (10%?) of the traffic of each of its referrers. (Both Google and Daypop sort of do this now, but they share "PageRank" and "Daypop scores" downstream rather than just traffic. Google needs to buy Sitemeter!). Add to that "credits" for each blog link a visitor clicks through. Then give the site credits for its own traffic. I'm open to suggestions on how to figure in the Spitbull connection. Hey Google! Truth Laid Bear! I'm talking to you!

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

ELOISE CAN ADD! 

My local paper, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, today reprinted Paul Krugman's editorial from yesterday's New York Times (originally headlined "The Awful Truth," now re-titled "The credentials of Bush critics keep getting better and better"). Krugman seems to get lots of blog attention (he's even got his own BlogStalker and line of hatewear) so I actually decided to read the editorial section, for a change.

I learned that Paul Krugman has apparently changed his original opinion of former Bush Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neil as an unprincipled man now that O'Neil's new book promises some rough stuff on Bush The Younger (looks to me like Krugman's opinions on whether someone is principled or not is heavily influenced by their politics). But what caught my eye was this quote:
Even in the short run, however, these successes [Saddam in custody and a growing economy] may not be all they're cracked up to be. More Americans were killed and wounded in the four weeks after Saddam's capture than in the four weeks before.
You see, I can add (but I'm only really accurate with single digits so I used a calculator). Although I don't think the effect of Saddam's capture on U.S. casualty counts have much of an effect on whether the capture can be called a "success" (he is an Evil Person, how could it not be a success to have him in custody?), I was curious whether Krugman was right about the number having increased. Well, it looks like he wasn't (would I be writing this post if he was?). Iraq casualty tracking site Lunaville (hat tip: Oxblog) shows there were 248 hostile casualties in the 4 weeks before Saddam's capture and 233 in the next 4 week period. Kids, that means the casualties decreased.

If you include "non-hostile" casualties (accidents, I presume) the number does indeed track with Krugman's assertion. I can see why some people would think a change in hostile casualties might impact whether an event can be called a "success" but I can't imagine how non-hostile casualties should have any impact on this assessment.

Is there a growing economy? I leave that calculation to others. I've done my bit.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

DON'T WORRY, BE HAPPY 

Tyler Cowan at Marginal Revolution (yes, I'm a fan) has a summary of some recent work in the field of "happiness studies." A few of the findings are:
Americans as a whole have not become happier over the last several decades.

American blacks have become happier over the last several decades.

American women have been the biggest happiness losers since the 1970s. (Hey! I resent being called a "happiness loser")

Happiness is U-shaped with age, with the minimum coming at about 40
No word on the effect of political affiliation on the happiness quotient.

Monday, January 12, 2004

SHHHH! 

The New York Times reports on a recent European Union directive telling orchestras to pipe down; it allows no more than 85 decibels to assault the ears of the musicians and their audience (hat tip: Marginal Revolution). It's possible the regulation wouldn't actually ban pieces that spike higher than 85 decibels, but would simply control the average sonic output over some extended period, allowing orchestras to play a certain number of subdued pieces to balance out the excitable ones. Or maybe, following the environmental law lead on pollution credits, we'll see a segregation of the classical music "industry" into orchestras specializing in quiet pieces for stressed-out concertgoers and trading their noise "credits" with over-the-top Wagner and Mahler-playing venues.

NYAH NYAH NYAH 

I acknowledge unreservedly that Brett Favre is a great quarterback--fierce competitor, Super Bowl winner, certain first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. Yadda, yadda, yadda. As a long-suffering Vikings fan, I gladly ignored all that to wallow in a delicious moment of schadenfreude during sudden-death overtime in yesterday's Eagles-Packers NFL playoff tilt when Favre threw a bone-headed interception that led, six inexorable plays later, to David Akers' game-winning field goal for the Eagles. I couldn't quite hear the moans of agony from across the eastern border, but I could imagine them, and they made sweet, sweet music.

What was Favre thinking? Either the receiver ran the wrong route, in which case Favre threw ill-advisedly into double coverage, or the receiver ran the correct route, in which case Favre missed him by at least ten yards. (It looks like Favre won't be saying, as he declined to talk to reporters after the game. Classy--in a Denny Green sort of way.) Favre's early years were plagued by this sort of reckless awfulness, but in his maturity he had eradicated such gaffes almost entirely from his game.

Almost. Heh heh heh.

So much for the "team of destiny" hoopla that has surrounded the Packers in general since their midseason turnaround (which would have been for naught absent the Vikings' midseason turnaround in the other direction, mind you) and Favre in particular given his stellar (until now) play following the untimely death of his father. Destiny has its own inscrutable ways; just ask Gary Anderson.

BUT I THOUGHT THOSE INDIANS RAN GAS STATIONS IN ST. LOUIS . . . . 

Strange bedfellows Charles Schumer and Paul Craig Roberts wrote a remarkably obtuse editorial in the New York Times last week throwing over free trade in the face of the supposed threat posed to the U.S. economy by the exporting of jobs to India and China. Their argument rests on the notion that the principle of comparative advantage—first formulated by David Ricardo to combat the protectionist policies of mercantilist Britain in the 19th century, and the theoretical underpinning of the case for free trade ever since—ceases to hold in a world like ours where the factors of production are highly mobile.

Noam Scheiber ably refutes this in the New Republic Online:
[S]o-called factor immobility is NOT, in fact, one of the assumptions underlying the theoretical case for trade—at least not the way Schumer and Roberts seem to think it is. To see this, let's back up for a second. At its broadest level, the point of free trade is to expand the size of the global economic pie by eliminating production inefficiencies, which arise when one country tries to produce everything itself using only the "endowments" of capital and labor (i.e., machines and workers) it has within its borders. Now, there are two ways you can eliminate these inefficiencies: When it's not so easy to move machines and workers across borders, countries can specialize in the goods they produce most efficiently, which they then trade with one another. . . . When it is easy to move machines and workers across borders, you don't have to specialize (at least not by country) and trade, because every country already has access to the most efficient machines and workers.

Put differently, you can either trade machines and workers (which is basically what you're doing when you're outsourcing), or you can trade the goods these machines and workers make. But, as a theoretical proposition, the two scenarios are EXACTLY THE SAME: They both maximize productive efficiency. Indeed, one of the great accomplishments of international trade theory, post David Ricardo, was to prove mathematically that trade in goods accomplishes the exact same thing, efficiency-wise, as trade in machines and workers.
Schumer and Roberts seem completely blind to the positive dynamic effects of a global shift toward low-cost but highly skilled Indian and Chinese labor. If (to use their example) American firms can replace American software engineers making $150,000 per year with equally competent Indians making only $20,000, then—news flash!—software will become much cheaper to produce, and software prices will go down. Indian software engineers will benefit from this, but so will software consumers (many of whom are American) and shareholders in software companies (ditto). And don't forget that software is itself an input into countless other goods and services, so if software prices go down, so too will the costs of those other goods and services, including ones that don't yet exist because the costs of innovating them have been too high until now. You're going to have to try a lot harder than Schumer and Roberts did—and use much sounder logic—to convince me that this won't make us, on net, better off.

"On net," mind you; obviously there are losers here, chiefly the $150,000 American software engineers (in the short-term, at least). But Michael Kinsley makes a very good point about this in his skewering of Schumer and Roberts (the refs are going to throw a flag for piling on soon):
Traditionally, the most troublesome thing about free trade—apart from the difficulty of persuading people that it works—is the unequal distribution of its benefits. The whole country is better off, but there are winners and losers. Generally, the losers are lower-income workers, whose jobs are the easiest to duplicate in less-developed countries. It seems misguided to me to avoid a policy that makes the whole nation richer because it makes some individuals poorer. With more to play with, it ought to be easy to ease the burden on free trade's losers. Of course, under a Republican administration, we don't do nearly enough of that. So, a respectable case can be made that some trade restrictions are justified, even though they leave all of us a little worse off, if they prevent some of us from being a lot worse off.

But the real difference between traditional trade in heavy earth-bound objects and 21st-century trade in weightless electronic blips, or in sheer brainpower, is that the losers in new-style trade are more likely to be people that U.S. senators and fancy economic consultants actually know. These are people with advanced degrees and high incomes. Their incomes will likely be above average for our economy even if they are driven down by competition from poorer economies. Under these circumstances, denying the benefits of free trade to the whole nation—and denying opportunity to the rising middle class in developing countries—in order to protect the incomes of a relative few seems harder to justify, not easier, than it was back in the days when our biggest fear was Japanese cars.
Schumer and Roberts form their mouths around the conclusion that "[o]ld-fashioned protectionist measures are not the answer" and call instead for "new thinking and new solutions." Meaning new-fashioned protectionist measures, I'm guessing. And just to make sure that we didn't misunderstand their misunderstanding of free trade, they close with this: "one thing is certain: real and effective solutions will emerge only when economists and policymakers end the confusion between the free flow of goods and the free flow of factors of production." Well, we know at least one economist and one policymaker who are hopelessly confused about this, so it's good they got something right.

Saturday, January 10, 2004

YOU'VE GOT A LONG WAY TO GO, BABY 

In this month's issue of The Computer & Internet Lawyer (haven't had a chance to peruse your copy yet? I didn't think so) there's an article entitled "The Internet as a Forum for Political Participation" written by a woman who has taught at the University of Denver for the past seven years. Admittedly, the article is short (1 1/2 pages) but even so I was surprised to see there was no mention of blogs whatsoever. I think BlogAficionados often forget that we're still invisible to most of the world. Or at least Denver.

THE FICTIONAL MIDDLE CLASS 

Joe Carter of the evangelical outpost (I finally noticed it's a lowercase site) wants candidates for president explain what income boundaries define the "middle class" 'cuz that's who the politicians claim to love and that's who'll get the breaks if they get elected. So, he wonders, who are these mysterious folks?
Ask the janitor sweeping your company’s floors and he’ll likely tell you he’s “middle class." Query the vice-president of marketing and he will give you the same answer. The single girls down in accounts payable and the married attorneys in the legal department will give the same response. In the land of equal opportunity, it appears, we’re all “middle class.”
Well OK, we at Spitbull must also be members of this favored class and so entitled to some of the promised political booty. But since we're not very good at sharing, we decided to let our formidable research skills loose on the Internet and see what we could discover about these other middle class imposters.

Joe! It's even worse than you could have imagined! Right away we found a dishwasher named "Dave Rudner" crowing:
When people hear I make $11,000 a year, they're usually pretty surprised. And I can't say I blame them. It's a handsome salary to command. But sometimes I think they have the wrong impression, imagining me living some sort of extravagant lifestyle. Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but $11,000 a year simply doesn't go as far as you probably think.
All right, so Mr. Rudner "writes" in the Onion. We don't care. We're entitled to our piece of the pie, unreduced by chunks devoted to literally fictional "middle class" pretenders! And don't think we won't notice if you slice it smaller! If we "donate" twenty bucks to our favorite candidate he owes us dammit. Just give us some time to figure out what we get for it ... it must be written down somewhere ...

THEY WERE CHUMS, YOU KNOW 

I completely forgot about this until now, but better late than never. We just enjoyed the annual near-confluence of two hugely influential Americans' birthdays: Elvis Presley's on Thursday and Richard Nixon's yesterday. Commemoration is in order. So give The Sun Sessions a spin and, oh, I don't know, erase some tape or sweat profusely on national TV or something.

Friday, January 09, 2004

TWISTED TITLE #6 

This week's children's book title is:
The Babysitter's Boyfriend: Boxers or Briefs?
To see last week's title, click here.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

GOOBER, GOMER . . . GANDHI? 

I've read this through a couple of times and I'm still scratching my head:
ST. LOUIS, Missouri (AP) -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton apologized for joking that Mahatma Gandhi used to run a gas station in St. Louis, saying it was "a lame attempt at humor."

The New York Democrat made the remark at a fund-raiser Saturday. During an event here for Senate candidate Nancy Farmer, Clinton introduced a quote from Gandhi by saying, "He ran a gas station down in St. Louis."

After laughter from many in the crowd of at least 200 subsided, the former first lady continued, "No, Mahatma Gandhi was a great leader of the 20th century." In a nod to Farmer's underdog status against Republican Sen. Kit Bond, Clinton quoted the Indian independence leader as saying: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."

* * *

After being approached by The Associated Press to clarify the remarks, Clinton suggested in a statement sent late Monday that she never meant to fuel any stereotype -- often used as a comedic punch line -- that certain ethnic groups were synonymous with operating America's gas stations.
I don't get it. Any of it. To begin with, I don't get the joke. What exactly is funny about saying that Gandhi ran a gas station in St. Louis? Mind you, I'm the kind of guy who thinks that essentially no topic is off limits for humor, so I'm asking an entirely non-normative question here. I don't mean that it shouldn't be funny; I mean that it isn't funny. Notwithstanding that 200 Democrats laughed at it (now that's funny).

Plus, I didn't even know there was a stereotype that certain ethnic groups operate gas stations, let alone that it's "often used as a comedic punch line." There's Apu Nahasapeemapetilon and his Kwik-E-Mart, of course, but that's a convenience store, not a gas station, and anyway, everybody loves Apu.

So where's this rich vein of ethno-petroleum humor that I've been missing all these years?

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

INQUIRING MINDS WANT TO KNOW 

Brendan Huhn of Ask Brendan asks why "only Anglo-Saxons can make good rock and roll." He helpfully lists countries that do and don't put out but leaves the question itself unanswered.

Usually Brendan doesn't ask questions; he answers them. For example, why does listening to NPR help men get laid and how to "make radical subsidiarity more appealing to the ladies."

Here's your chance to enlighten him for a change--I sure as hell don't know the answer.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

THEM'S FIGHTING WORDS 

The Fraters boys are cussin'.

JB says "GD!" but his mom says "Lord love a duck!" The Elder says "F-dash-dash-dash" (isn't that a bit of a mouthful?). Atomizer takes pride in using the f-bomb, but claims to on occasion candy coat it down to "flip." No word yet on his mother's expletive of choice.

I refuse to confess to using any contraband language at all for fear of getting kicked out of here but I can reveal the Warrior Monk's language has been known to get a bit salty (come and get him! come and get him!).

My mother uses "Managia la miseria!" for really special occasions, like getting stuck in traffic. You might think it's a nice beefy curse if you hear it executed with the right amount of fury. But you'd be wrong. According to my mom, it translates to "fie on misery!" Lest you think my mother is merely sparing me the direct translation, I know a lot more curses in Italian, courtesy of my cousins, who have no such interest in sheltering my precious ears. They're all wimpy: "Deficiente!," (you're deficient) "Imbecile!," "Cretino!" (no translation needed).

But maybe my accent's to blame.

FOX SAID, CNN SAID ... 

Bill Herbert at CoIntelProTool has problems with the media's current approach to the concept of objectivity:
Too often, it is formulated simply by providing "both sides" of the story, and refraining from any adjudication between the two -- lest the reporter be accused of "bias."
Sometimes, he says, just one of the sides is right.

REACTION FACTION ACTION 

Aaron Haspel's God of the Machine has been one of my favorite hangouts for a while, and he's had a number of first-rate offerings lately (though he appears to disagree). But he was only half right when, in briefly commenting on what other bloggers had been saying on the topic of great cover songs, he weighed in on "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." It's true that the Rolling Stones' version isn't the best one, but neither is Devo's. They're the first runner-up. The winner--and I can't believe nobody got this one right! It's so easy!--is Otis Redding.

"Satisfaction" is all about frustration, and (as Aaron noted) the Stones just don't do frustration very well. I doubt whether Sir Mick has endured a single unfulfilled desire since roughly 1963, and Keith gives his almost moronically simple riff such a languid and leering performance that you wonder at several points if he's going to make it all the way through. They don't sound like they can't get what they want. They sound like they can't be bothered to try. (A few years later they found that if they tried sometime they'd get what they needed, but that's beside the point.)

Otis, on the other hand, doesn't just sound frustrated. He sounds pissed off. Otis was a genius at melding toughness and vulnerability, but his "Satisfaction" is unalloyed aggression. The band is with him all the way, too. In the incomparable hands of Steve Cropper, the riff flips open and glints like a switchblade. When he's not playing the riff, Cropper smacks out clipped chords, beat by beat, and the horns, drums, and bass follow suit. It's a minimalist version, spare, taut, and lean--all muscle and no fat, in the typical Stax/MGs fashion. What makes this version truly great, however, is the way Otis explodes at the end. He has spent the first two minutes straining against the lyrics, trying to shake them off and just get into the groove of the thing, and in the final verse he succeeds. He starts free-associating on snippets of stock soul phrases. The effect should be banal; instead it's invigorating. It's as if he's punching you out with his voice.

Devo's "Satisfaction" ably mines another vein of frustration, namely anxiety. It's all twitchy clankiness, and it's brilliant in its way, especially the "baby" times 34 (if I've counted right). But Otis nailed this song so thoroughly that he can't be topped. My last bit of evidence, from Peter Guralnick's book Sweet Soul Music:
One time Cropper played him the Rolling Stones' record of "Satisfaction"; Otis didn't know the group, and he didn't know the song, but he wanted to record it, so he did a new version, and when his "Satisfaction" came out in 1966, it was so convincingly his own many people thought that the Rolling Stones had gotten the song from him. His music had its own structure, defined by the beat, transformed by the sense that Otis was zeroing in on something with the full force of his personality, set off by the lean muscularity of the Stax sound.
By the way, you can actually vote on this issue. (I'm generally opposed to voting, of course, but vital matters invite desperate measures.)

Monday, January 05, 2004

ECHO 

VodkaPundit bristles at the Bush Administration's free-spending ways and suggests divided government as a solution. That's a really neat idea!

HAPPY HOLIDAYS INDEED! 

A Gallup poll conducted just a few weeks ago shows that we are a pretty damn happy nation. Especially the Republicans among us, "who are significantly more likely than Democrats and independents to be very happy." Interestingly, the poll was conducted during a four day period ending on the day the capture of Saddam became public.

EDUCATE THIS! 

(Warning: possibly boring post about attorney education ahead--but at least it's a fairly short one...)

I rarely take stands on anything because I'm a wimp (I'm not a litigator--surprise!) and have few strongly-held convictions. So why did I come out against mandatory CLE's for attorneys? (Besides plumping up our paltry e-mail correspondence and setting off critics on on other blogs). Well, because it seems to me that the requirement is based on a mere assumption that it will promote the goal of creating better lawyers. Since I'm not aware of any empirical research that supports the requirement, one more anecdotal opinion (mine) has just as much stature as the pro-CLE opinions. They're all just opinions.

Common ground: There are lots of qualities that are necessary to be a good lawyer and I agree that one of the most important is the possession of current legal knowledge.

But it's not obvious to me that mandatory CLE's are a good way to accomplish this. First of all, they're often expensive (typical cost is $200 to $300 each, with a 2 to 3 class per year pace required), both in terms of out of pocket costs and time taken away from one's practice and other legal obligations. There are good legal newsletters that cost this much for an entire year. But most important, there's no guarantee that attorneys actually learn anything. We aren't required to attend classes in our field nor are we tested on the concepts we are exposed to in the classes we do attend. Visit a CLE and check out how many attorneys are reading a newspaper or looking over a brief ... and then skipping out early.

On top of the question of how effective mandatory CLE's are at improving the quality of lawyering, there's a possibility that our energy and will to punish bad lawyers is sapped by the very existence of the huge CLE system. Ferreting out bad apples is always a wrenching process and I worry about the temptation to simply rely on "re-education" of the wayward as a cure.

But that's just an opinion...

Friday, January 02, 2004

TWISTED TITLE #5 

I almost forgot! (I keep thinking today is Monday, not Friday). This week's selection is:
Darting Out From Behind Parked Cars Keeps Drivers Alert

ELIMINATION OF CLE'S 

Minnesotan attorneys are required to take courses on "Elimination of Bias" to maintain their license to practice law. As reported recently by Overlawyered and in today's Power Line post (which contains the full text of today's Minneapolis Star Tribune article), a local attorney named Elliott Rothenberg has challenged the requirement on constitutional grounds.

When I took my last Elimination of Bias CLE (I guess I'm outing myself as a lawyer here--big surprise), the audience got in a fight with the panel. This made for a far more exciting seminar than the usual snooze-fest. The panelists had asked how an attorney should respond if a client demanded to be assigned a female (or African-American or white or male) attorney. The correct answer, apparently, was to lecture the client about bias and assign them whoever was available, regardless of the client's request. The lawyers in the audience thought this was unrealistic and the discussion got pretty rancorous.

But I come from an unusual position on this one: I don't understand why we need to take "continuing legal education" classes (aka "CLE's") in the first place.

Once you've been practicing a few years you already know enough in your field of practice to teach the classes yourself (I co-taught my first class in my first year of practice) and you shouldn't be practicing outside of your field anyway (a few measly CLE's don't suddenly make you a good lawyer in a new area of law). Improving the process of removing (or punishing) lawyers who practice in areas they aren't competent seems a much more effective method of protecting the public than simply requiring them to take classes (there's no requirement of which legal areas the classes must pertain to). Non-lawyers complain about things like greed, boorish behavior and obtuse writing, not lack of legal knowledge. Continuing legal education isn't going to stop lawyers from being greedy and acting badly, and will do little to make them write more clearly (losing a case because your brief was incoherent might at least start the ball rolling...). So the Elimination of Bias CLE requirement seems to me just a new species of stupidity, not a whole new outrage.

But if you assume that requiring continuing education of practicing lawyers makes for better lawyers (are there any empirical studies on this?), then I'm afraid it's not hard to also assume that educating lawyers to be unbigoted also makes for better lawyers. From the Star Tribune article (I haven't read the brief), Rothenberg is apparently just questioning the existence of the bias and attacking the ability of the classes to remedy the alleged situation. Given the assumptions made for the benefits of general CLE's, I don't see why the court is going to look more closely at the cause-and-effect features of elimination of bias CLE's, even if it had the power. Previous courts haven't.