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Generic Confusion

When you leave, my blog just fades to grey
Nu ma nu ma iei, nu ma nu ma nu ma iei

News? Check. Politics? Check. Music? Check. Random thoughts about life? Check. Readership? Ummm.... let me get back to you on that. Updated when I feel like I have something to say, and remember to post it.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Oh, Megan, why must you tease so?

Using AOL, I get a lot of instant messages from "women" advertising "their" webcams. A quick click of "block screen name," and they're gone. But who is it that decided that they would all be named Meg or Megan? Who decided that's the sexiest name in the universe?

There's gotta be a reason. Unless it's all the work of one 13 year old who just likes that name.

Store hours

Picked up a USB cable for a new printer today, after making dinner and visiting the bookstore. That led to a late shopping expedition, at 9:30. The nearby strip mall had two places where I would have looked for this item. One was open until 10:00. One closed at 9:00. The store with shorter hours lost sales for that reason.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Singles: the music industry's business model

When I started heavily purchasing music in the early 1990's, most songs on the radio (and plenty that weren't in favor with the Top 40 radio programmers) had singles available. If I liked a song on the radio, I could buy it in the record store. By the early 90's, the old-fashioned 7" single (the single on one side, the B-side on the other) was essentially dead in America. The most common singles available were cassette singles (two songs, just like the 7" single) and CD maxi-singles (which normally included multiple remixes of the single, plus a B-side or two). CD maxi-singles were fairly expensive, typically running about $6 then. Cassingles were cheaper, but then, they were cassettes. I bought quite a few of both.

Later, in the mid-90's, CD singles became more prominent, with two or three songs, and about half the price of the CD maxi-single. A promo CD single might run $1.99 or even less, clearly as a loss leader for the record company.

In the late 90's, singles began to fall out of favor with the record companies. A number of hit songs did not have singles available, which distorted the Billboard Hot 100, which had a policy that a song must have a commercial single release to be eligible to chart. For example, No Doubt's Don't Speak didn't chart at all, even though it likely would have been a #1 song. The Rembrandts' I'll Be There For You, another should-have-been-#1, had a lower chart position than it should have, due to it being released as a "B-side" of a single off the album LP as the song's airplay was declining. Another common tactic was for a very limited single release to be done, less than 200,000 copies, just to secure chart eligibility. This tactic was used with Chumbawamba's Tubthumping and Aqua's Barbie Girl. It got so bad that a particularly evil corporation, Under the Covers (Jerry Salerno), began releasing K-Tel-esque soundalikes with similar band names (all performed by Adam Marano), to IMO cheat consumers who only wanted to buy a single or two.

Eventually, so few singles had single releases, Billboard changed their policies. And now, in the 2000's, very few singles not tied to the American Idol franchise sell. Those limited single releases I mentioned before? Selling half that amount would make it one of the best-selling singles of the year.

What was the rationale for the change? In addition to record companies not wanting to lose money on the average single, they feared cannibalizing album sales. What happened? The music industry entered a downturn. (Of course, the bigger problem was KaZaA and similar P2P programs exchanging .mp3s.)

One song I liked on the radio recently was No Doubt's It's My Life. This fine cover of a Talk Talk track I have on several 80's compilations was a new single from their greatest hits album, and the main reason for someone who already has No Doubt's albums to buy the greatest hits album. Had the song been available as a single, I would have bought it. Instead, I bought... nothing. It happens all the time. Without a single, I'm inclined to eventually forget about a song I like on the radio, not having bought anything from the artist.

And now, what do I get for Christmas, but a NOW compilation with that song included? So, instead of the record company getting money from me for the single, they get... well, not nothing, but whatever flat per-sale arrangement they have for the compilation.

Don't get me wrong. I love the NOW compilations. I owned several before the series came out in America, buying some of the British year-end compilations. I get a handful of songs I like, and a lot that I didn't know about, but end up liking. The American releases are not as good, in my opinion, probably because of the heavy focus on R&B that is not to my tastes.

I'm sure with multiplatinum sales, the record labels like the NOW compilations. But consider this: the argument against releasing singles could also be used to argue against contributing songs to these compilations. Why should I pay $16 for an album, to get one song, multiple times, when I can wait a few months, and buy a $16 album with five or six songs I like?

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Standardized exams: a simple question

"If you are able to accurately state that standardized exams have differing results by race due to bias in the exams, why can't you isolate the bias, and create an exam without this bias?"

Many years ago, I was able to see noted sociologist William Julius Wilson when he spoke at my university. The topic of his speech ventured into the subject of standardized exams, and I asked this question. I don't remember the exact details, but I remember that even he didn't have an answer to this question.

He did it!

I did need to drive home today, and wanted to leave before it got too late, in case the lower temperatures played havoc with the freeways. It turns out the roads were pretty clear, with the only problem some fresh snow in northwest Indiana. So, I didn't get to watch the whole of the Colts-Chargers game.

It was the third quarter, with the score 24-9 San Diego, when I left, and it looked like the Colts were going to lose, and Peyton Manning wasn't going to break the touchdown record. A bad game? I wasn't going to be missing anything by leaving.


It turns out that a pair of Peyton Manning touchdowns capped a comeback, with a two-point conversion tying the game, and a Mike Vanderjagt field goal winning the game in overtime.

At least the game wasn't interrupted to show Heidi.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Pointless loss of life

A fugitive fleeing police in a high-speed chase ends by slamming into a car and killing an innocent man.

And from what serious crime was the criminal fleeing from justice? Murder? Kidnapping?

No, it was passing bad checks.

According to the criminal's ex-husband, she said she would kill herself before going to jail.

Gee, lady, if it was so important to you, why did you do the crime in the first place?


I got out of town Wednesday afternoon, and avoided the unusually large snowstorm. I drove north, where strangely, there was no snow. In recent years, snow hitting us but missing Milwaukee has been unusually common. It must be a plot.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Fake but Accurate!

First, some background.

Chely Wright is a country musician, with some past success, but struggling to keep the attention of the Nashville music scene. She was recently without a label. With her brother in the Marine Corps, she one day put a bumper sticker on her vehicle. One day, a friendly liberal driver showed some of that trademark liberal kindness, by honking at her, giving her the finger, pulling up alongside her, yelling at her, calling her a baby-killer, and so forth, all because of that bumper sticker. It inspired her to write a song, Bumper of my S.U.V., about the experience. After sitting on the song for some time, she played it while entertaining troops in Iraq. Their reaction encouraged her to record the song, which the Armed Forces Network played, working its way back Stateside, and gave her career a much needed bump. So being anti-war is profitable... for someone else. Ahhh, justice.

(The above is a slightly editorialized summary of a profile in Nashville Scene, Billboard magazine, December 18th... unfortunately, not available online unless you're a subscriber.)

Unfortunately, there's a negative continuation to the story. Without her knowledge, her fan club president encouraged promoters to write e-mails to radio stations, pretending to be members of their military or their families, encouraging play of the single because it touched them. To her credit, Ms. Wright has acted strongly to quash this, by dismissing the people involved.

But this gets me to thinking: There were quite a few members of the military touched by her song. Chely Wright heard them tell her personally. So even if these e-mails were fake, they accurately reflected the feelings of many people. Fake but accurate? That's good enough for CBS!

Ms. Wright's statement:

As a long time supporter of the US troops, Chely first performed “The Bumper of My S.U.V.” in front of the military men and woman overseas in late September. Responding to an overwhelming response and demand Chely recorded the single and sent it back to the Armed Forces Network. The single made its way back to the states without an incorporated plan, label support, or a promotion team behind it. Airplay in the U.S. was totally unexpected, unanticipated and unplanned—but it’s made its way up the industry charts. Country radio and its fans have made her current single, “The Bumper of My S.U.V.,”—The Year 2004 Phenomenon.

Expressing her gratitude in the unexpected reaction, Wright shares: “I really cannot describe the overwhelming response that I personally have received from radio, Country radio listeners and my fans. My management and publicity team can barely keep up with the number of e-mails and responses that they receive. All, in all, this is a clear demonstration that first and foremost Country music fans are the best ever and that this is a subject that we all have deep rooted feelings about. We don’t all understand the war and the reason for it, but we, as Americans, stand behind our fellow Americans—those individuals, whom we have never met that have made the decision to fight for us.”

“I wish to apologize on behalf of my organization and any representative of my organization that may have engaged in any activity that could be construed as unethical,” says Wright.

The success of “The Bumper of My S.U.V.” demonstrates the passion of the Country music fan. Chely continues, “The Country music fan is like no other. The Country music fan is passionate and Country music is an integral part of their lives. I’m proud to be in a music genre that has such personal and passionate support.”

Monday, December 20, 2004

A dark side to charity

The Weekly Standard discusses Live Aid, and the cruel dictator who twisted the world's generosity to aid his own evil plans.

There is one truth about famine in the world today: Famine only exists because humans allow it to exist. No longer are we at the mercy of nature; we are only at the mercy of world leaders. There is enough food to feed the entire world, but some leaders use starvation as a political tool.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Call me skeptical

In light of the recent healdline-grabbing Laci Peterson murder case, someone did some further investigation. Using admittedly incomplete data, journalists for the Washington Post uncover an unexpectedly high number of homicide deaths among pregnant and post-partum women. One statistic: 50 of 247 deaths in Maryland over six years were due to homicide. The conclusions drawn aren't surprising: men, who don't want to become fathers (and who, of course, have no choice on whether their child is brought into the world) , are desperately looking for a way out.

Some thoughts:
  • Every death is a tragedy.
  • However, these incidents are few and far between.
  • The kind of person who would kill his wife or girlfriend is the kind of person who would kill in other circumstances.
  • Some people will misuse this study to criticize men in general, despite the infinitesimally small number of despicable murdering men out there. And that's not good for society.
  • Some people will become afraid based on this report, well above normal levels of fear for a small risk like this. And that's not good for society.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Alternate History Challenge!

There's at least one thing I have in common with Instapundit Glenn Reynolds, and it's definitely not blog visitors per day. It's a like of alternate history. He's put a number of reviews and recommendations of alternate history novels and compilations on his site recently, helping me round out my Christmas list.

In thinking about the various alternate-history stories I've read, one thing stands out: they all show worlds that are significantly worse than our own. Granted, that makes for a more interesting read. Reading about papers and paychecks in a world like ours would be rather blah. The Nazi Germany triumphant scenario is done a lot, but it is certainly not boring. Yet, with all these historical examples of terrible regimes, some people see the United States as the world's greatest evil.

This line of thought brings me to an Alternate History Challenge, mainly directed to all those who hate and fear America's dominance in the world today. Your mission: Create a plausible scenario of alternate history, where the United States is not a dominant world power, yet the world as a whole is significantly better than our own.

Comments are open.

Kudos when deserved

Kudos to Robert S. Boyd of Knight-Ridder newspapers. In an article about impending disasters for the planet, he highlighted one of the largest failures (and I believe still not disavowed by the author) in the history of prognostication, Paul Ehrlich's predictions of mass famine in America twenty years ago. Instead, Americans got fatter.

A tragic story

Prisons in Indianapolis are overcrowded. There is a desperate need for more space and more beds. Right now, due to court orders, the government can't hold everyone charged. So, some people need to be let out before their court date. "Some" means more than 9,000.

Shockingly, over less than four years, five men have been charged or convicted of murder after being released in this way.

I have no desire to see prisoners kept in inhumane conditions. But these conditions aren't likely to kill them. In our quest to be humane, five people are dead. More than one per year.

Let's analyze this risk and compare it to other risks. By forcing the people of New Mexico to pay a lot more for water filtration, we lower arsenic in the water by a few parts per million, which might save five cancer deaths over decades. No, we can't keep the allowable arsenic levels higher, because of those five people. Yet we can afford not to address our prison problem, with this huge identifiable impact. Actual deaths, not estimated deaths. A clear link, not an assumed link.

It's time for more prison space.

Today in Alternate History

An interesting site, which I learned about courtesy of Instapundit. The blogger presents news articles, some linked to real-world events that occurred that day, some not, as seen through a variety of alternate universes. One thing missing: a brief summary of each of the worlds, and how it diverged from this timeline. But an interesting read, regardless.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Practicing actuarial analysis without a license

Neal Boortz comments on Social Security, making a common error by using the life expectancy at birth to estimate how many years of Social Security someone will receive.

Explanation: Divide the people who have been paying Social Security taxes for the past 40 years into four basic groups. White Males, black males, white females, black females. Statistics will show that of these four demographic groups white females have the longest life expectancy; black males the shortest. In 2002 the life expectancy for a newborn white female was 79.9 years. The life expectancy of a newborn black male was 68.8 years. If you were born after 1960 your Social Security full retirement age is 67. This means that a black male can expect to get Social Security benefits for about two years, while a white female can expect to receive those benefits for almost 13 years. You do the math. even if you went to a government school you can figure out that the average white female will receive Social Security benefits 11 years longer than the average black male. It has been estimated that during his lifetime the average black male will lose about $10,000 in income that will be forcibly transferred to a white woman.

I can't comment on how much money on average is transferred from one group to another, but the average black man does not get 1.8 years of Social Security benefits just because the average life expectancy at birth is 68.8 years.

Consider two groups of people: In the first, all live to age 70. In the second, half live to age 100, half to age 40. Both have an average life expectancy at birth of 70. However, in the first, all receive 3 years of Social Security benefits. In the second, half receive 33 years of benefits, half receive none. The second group receives a lot more Social Security benefits.

The proper analysis is to take the group of people who enter the workforce, take the percentage of that group that lives to retirement age, then calculate the life expectancy from retirement age. The multiplication of the two is the average number of years of retirement benefits received.

But at least Neal is in good company. William F. Buckley, Jr. made the same mistake in a December 2, 1988 op-ed piece, according to an old article by former Social Security actuary Robert Myers.

Hypocrisy (sigh....)

Erwin Chemerinsky, Dook law professor, changed his mind on whether filibusters are good or bad. Why? Because it's a Republican president, not a Democrat president, whose will is being thwarted by filibusters. Patterico has the details.

People need to realize that nowadays, if you are blatantly obvious in your hypocrisy, you will be called on the subject. I respect someone who changes their mind based on evidence, but to simply speak out of both sides of your mouth is low.

My thoughts? Use filibusters when you think you can change people's minds, if you just had a little time. Don't use them to stop votes forever. Especially in the case of judicial nominations, consider this: if you are so confident that the nominee is so bad that you don't want him or her to be approved, let the vote come, and proudly vote nay. Then, when all those bad opinions come down from the court, throw those in the face of the opposition party. "I told you this was a bad judge, and you didn't listen!"

(No need for comments. I know politicians won't do this because they know these judges aren't going to be bad enough to make an effective political issue.)

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Great humor at Bussorah

Bussorah at Wicked Thoughts has a lot of humorous posts. The link above takes you to a list of "You know you're a Democrat when...."