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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.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Deep Throat revealed

I always thought Deep Throat would be revealed to be an amalgamation of sources. However, it was actually one person: W. Mark Felt.

Shields down!

BANG! The spaceship shook!

"Red alert!" announced the Captain. "Status?"

"We're under attack from random surfers," replied the First Officer. "It's hard to place the transmissions, but it sounds like 'Numa Numa' or 'Ma Ya Hi.'"

"Shields?" asked the Captain.

"Obscurity shields are holding," replied the Tactical Officer. "The surfers are skipping on by the ship."

The crew withstood the barrage for what seemed like months. Then, the attacks slowed. Just when things seemed okay, another alarm blared.

"Captain, while under attack, a single gecko managed to slip in under our shields," the first officer concluded.

"Is he trying to sell us on GEICO insurance?" asked the captain.

"No, he bears a chain survey, asking for your top three answers to each question."

"We're all DOOMED!"

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Your favorite band/artist:
Bands you've probably heard of - Erasure, Pet Shop Boys, Depeche Mode
Though not in my Top Three, here are three unknown bands I enjoy - Cosmicity, Cr├╝xshadows, Freezepop

Your hobbies/interests:
Games (board games, card games, RPGs, video and computer games), anime, politics and debate

Things that scare you:
Cold calling, strange noises/vibrations on an aircraft, that brief moment of disorientation when waking up in a hotel room and only knowing you're not home

Your favorite fiction writers:
Harry Turtledove, Clive Cussler, Michael Crichton

Your three celebrity crushes:
Well... there are lots of attractive women in Hollywood and music, but I suspect I couldn't stand being around that culture for long!

What you are wearing right now:
Shorts, print T-Shirt, socks (appropriate for the high temperature inside)

What you want in a relationship:
An intelligent and aware person to talk to, someone to laugh with, someone to share new experiences

Your everyday essentials:
Caffeine, news, e-mail

Your drugs of choice:
Caffeine from soda, caffeine from coffee, caffeine from chocolate

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Since I don't pass on chain communications of any kind, I won't tag anyone, but post a comment if you're willing to continue the chain.

Why wasn't he still in prison?

A teen who was given a second chance after he beat and stomped a little girl to death when he was 12 has been accused of holding up a pizza deliveryman at gunpoint and was ordered held without bond Wednesday.

Lionel Tate, now 18, touched off a debate over Florida's practice of prosecuting juveniles as adults when he became the youngest person in modern U.S. history to be sentenced to life in prison for the 1999 killing of 6-year-old Tiffany Eunick. He initially blamed her death on wrestling moves he said he copied from television.

This evil person (who was totally aware that what he was doing was wrong) was given a second chance, by people who thought that he deserved leniency due to his age. Now, it looks like his original sentence should have been upheld. Were he still in prison, he wouldn't have (allegedly) committed this crime.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Star Wars allegories

I haven't had time to see Episode III yet, surprisingly enough. Not surprising is the attention the movie gets through the blogosphere. There's a certain crossover between those who embrace computer-based communities like this and those who favor movies like Star Wars.

Mickey Kaus clues us in as to what Episode III is an allegory for. Hint: it's not the Bush administration!

And we shouldn't forget this gem from the time of Episode II's release, where Jonathan Last made the case for the Empire.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

More millionaires!

Instapundit points out that the number of American millionaires is at an all-time high, even more than in the Internet bubble-fueled days of 1999.

He claims not to be among the millionaires himself. This, despite the fact that he had enough money to convert his greenhouse into an aviary.

The most educated city is....

BizzyBlog mentions a simple study that uses census data on educational levels achieved. The study identifies college town Boulder, Colorado as #1, with three other college towns in the top 10.

I would venture that a study like that is biased against states with older populations. The people retired in Florida now got the same education with a high school diploma that kids today go to college to receive. True or not, it was a lot easier to prosper without a college education back then.

Another good place for steaks

I've enjoyed both downtown institution St. Elmo's and Northside star Sullivan's, mentioned in the article. Now, an upscale steakhouse chain is moving into the Clay Terrace shopping center. Kincaid's will provide another option for people who enjoy good steaks.

So why am I mentioning such an unblogworthy story here?

There's a throwaway comment late in the article:

High-end steakhouse chains like Kincaid's have been expanding since the
economy turned around, Delaney said.

"Americans have always loved a good steak, and as the economy becomes more robust steakhouses are seeing a great increase in sales," he said.

"Since the economy turned around."

Delaney, in the article, is a former restaurant owner and partner in a commercial real estate firm.

So there you have the opinion on the state of the economy of a person who sees restaurants opening in the commercial real estate world he monitors, restaurants whose success or failure depends on judging the state of the economy correctly.

Listen, and you might hear reporters comment on the state of the economy, journalists whose job does not depend on describing the state of the economy accurately.

You might also hear politicians comment on the state of the economy, politicians whose job depends on getting people to believe the economy is worse than it actually is.

Whose description is more likely to be accurate?

An old way of doing business

A local business organization is organizing small businesses who would like to do part of their business through bartering!

A new barter exchange recently opened here, and two existing ones lately have jump-started their marketing efforts. Businesses pay a one-time membership fee, a small monthly fee and a percentage of each transaction. They exchange goods and services, which can be converted to credits and used throughout an exchange's membership. The more members, the broader the options for barter.

Without an exchange, John Wiley would not have done his deal with Tony Sandlin. Sandlin has a hot air balloon ride business and needed promotional signage for his van. Wiley has a custom decal business that makes signage for vehicles. Wiley had no time for riding around in a hot air balloon -- he was busy building his business. He took the trade credits he got from Sandlin and used them to pay for something he wanted: a business consultant. Sandlin's account was debited.

I'd like to offer some suggestions on improving the usefulness of this exchange.

First, it needs to be expanded. All businesses, not just those that are part of the exchange, should be encouraged to accept the exchange's credits.

Second, it should be easier to signify one's credits. Paper scrip and metal tokens, each with a value, could be used to represent credits in the barter exchange.

We need a name for this improved system. Let's call it... oh, I don't know... cash.

The article includes a reason why these types of bartering exchanges exist:

Dave Sweet, who owns 10 Chem-Dry carpet cleaning franchises in Central Indiana, has traded for computer printer cartridges, printing and mechanical work on the company's vans, among other things. "Whenever I need something, I look to barter," Sweet says. By bartering, instead of paying cash, Sweet gets the benefit of his profit margins: $100 in cash is worth a flat $100; but $100 worth of carpet cleaning, to a carpet cleaner, is worth less than that.

I don't see it that way. A carpet cleaner decides to charge $100 cash because that covers the cost of the chemicals used to clean, maintenance on equipment, overhead for the business, his time and effort, and a profit. Certainly, his direct costs are less. However, exchange this same $100 service for $100 of other goods, and there's still an opportunity cost. That same time could have been used to receive $100 in cash from another paying customer. Barter or not, it's still worth $100 cash. (Unless it's off the books, and the IRS doesn't get its cut. But this exchange is on the up and up.)

There are probably other advantages to barter exchanges, including cash flow and old fashioned networking. But I don't think it's worth paying for the privilege of bartering.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Who's the next wizardly victim?

It's time for more speculation! In the next Harry Potter novel, a major character dies. Blogger Chris Lynch posts the odds. The comments, spurred by an Instapundit link, are also an amusing read.

And in between his post and this post, someone found the likely answer. Not that anyone should be surprised, given how Dumbledore's death would create the perfect setup for the climactic battle in Book Seven: Harry, on his own, realizing that only he can save himself from Voldemort. Professor Bainbridge puts some reasoning behind this assertion, citing Joseph Campbell's Hero Myth, the apparent model for the Harry Potter novels (and a whole lot more).

Now, if the publisher and author had felt particularly evil, they would have given the printer a fake book! (Logistically, that's probably impossible, but it would be great fun!)

Update: Tom Maguire suggests what was seen here supports the maligned idea of a futures market on terror. I would doubt that authorities would monitor such a thing, but alert readers could hopefully alert those in charge in time.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

A greater Newsweek controversy

It's bad enough that Newsweek ran with a poorly sourced article on a particularly inflammatory issue. But months before the false Koran-flushing story, Newsweek's Japanese and international editions ran a particularly anti-American article, one that didn't appear in the magazine's American edition. Riding Sun rightly condemns Newsweek for not being willing to run these same articles locally.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Carnival of the Vanities

The 139th edition of the Carnival of the Vanities is up at Commonwealth Conservative. Check it out!

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Music Profile: Status Quo

British band Status Quo started out in the late 60's as a psychedelic rock band, scoring an early hit on both sides of the Atlantic with Pictures of Matchstick Men. Future psychedelic rock releases failed to make an impact, so the band switched to boogie rock. They never again charted a single in the U.S., but remained big in the U.K. through the 70's and 80's.

Why bring up this band today? Status Quo's song Burning Bridges was remade into Come On You Reds in 1994, in a performance by the Manchester United Football Squad, creating a huge #1 hit in the U.K. And this soccer club is in the news in America today, thanks to the controversy over the club's purchase by Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer.

English Premiereship League soccer in the American sports news? Who knew?

Check out ESPN Page 2's handy comparison between the U.S. and the U.K., and American football and the sport we call soccer.

Huffington's Toast!

There's a new humor site well worthy of a visit, one that skewers Arriana Huffington's new blog.

There's even a Numa Numa link! One of the fake bloggers on the site is Glenn Reynolds, and for his picture, there's a screen shot of Gary Brolsma instead!

Cutting back

Jack Bernier couldn't believe his luck! The scratch-off lottery ticket he purchased on a whim was a $500 winner! Since his family was caught up on their bills and they weren't saving up for an immediate purchase, he decided to treat his family to a wonderful dinner.

Normally, the Bernier family was frugal with eating out. In a typical month, Jack, his wife, and their two kids would eat out once at one of the many moderately-priced chain restaurants. There would be a couple of trips for fast food, a pizza, and maybe a trip out at lunch with the guys from work. The Berniers were proud to spend about $100 a month eating out.

This month, however, they all went to that nice restaurant downtown. They had steak, shrimp cocktails, a good bottle of wine, and dessert. It was pricey, but this was a rare treat. And with that bill, Jack realized his family had spent $500 eating out that month.

Next month was back to normal. He met with his financial advisor one afternoon.

"Jack, you are doing well, but you should consider saving a little more each month towards your retirement." The financial advisor pointed to some figures. "You probably want more savings, to provide for some emergency funds as well as supporting your basic needs in retirement. Save now. Cut back on expenses, if you need to."

"Don't worry," Jack replied. "Why, just this month, I've cut back on our family's restaurant bills by 80 percent!"

Who would believe Jack had cut back? Sure, he did spend less, but it's clear he couldn't sustain that level of luxury in the long term.

Remember that next time someone refers to a Social Security benefit cut. Just like Jack's expensive restaurant visit, the current levels of spending on Social Security aren't sustainable, so a "cut" that doesn't place benefits lower than a sustainable level really isn't a cut.

However, in recognizing that Social Security benefits under President Bush's plans are less than originally planned, I will let you call them benefit cuts. All you have to do is refer at the same time to the massive payroll tax cuts. After all, a plan that doesn't change payroll taxes from their current levels will have much lower taxes than a plan that keeps current benefit levels and funds them with the needed taxes.

Update: Welcome, Carnival of the Vanities readers! Some of my favorite posts are here.

10,000 hits!

Today, I passed 10,000 page hits. Wow, in 9 1/2 months, I've reached about 7.5% of Glenn Reynold's daily visits. (Meanwhile, in about six weeks, Instapundit will reach the square of my milestone, 100 million hits. Wonder what he's going to do to celebrate?)

How did I do it? Here's a brief illustrated history:

There was a gap between wanting to say something on a blog and actually starting it. So ignore the backdated posts; the real first post (not substantive at all!) was July 29.

First real traffic came at the end of September (A), with a link from Joanne Jacobs on a post sharing one ex-education student's experience with the collision between truth and the latest education fad. I found something from an obscure part of the Internet and shared it with the community... much to the surprise of the original poster! That was most of my September and October traffic.

Then an Instalanche! I made observations (B) on why only certain states with narrow margins of victory were left "uncalled" after Election Night. Does it still count as an Instalanche if guest blogger Ann Althouse posted the link?

It was then back to obscurity (C), though I managed to link up to some smaller blogs and get sporadic visits.

Then, a fateful post at the end of February (D) on the Numa Numa phenomenon. I included lyrics and translation to the song Dragostea Din Tei.

The results are seen in (E). The vast majority of these hits came from people looking for information on the song: from search engines with keywords like "Ma Ya Hi" or "Numa Numa" or "Dragostea Din Tei." And since it's not heavily covered elsewhere, this site is high on the Google returns. Who needs Google ads?

So, there's your recipe for success in the blogosphere. Do one of two things:
1. Post substantive opinions on news topics of general interest.
2. Blog about a song that thousands of people want to know about but which isn't heavily covered elsewhere.

(Just try to guess which one of these choices was my original goal!)

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Politics as usual?

One of the interesting things about the recently passed Daylight Savings Time bill is how it passed. A freshman Republican representative who campaigned opposing the DST bill ended up casting the 51st vote. And he did it without being offered anything.

What was the reason for the vote? He observed a couple of Democrats who had voted in favor of DST each time, but switched in an attempt to deny a big political victory for the governor.

(And it's a big political victory only in that no one had managed to do it before. It's an issue that doesn't resonate with the core issues of either party.)

"I'm not a blogger, but I play one on TV"

"I'm not a doctor, but I play one on TV."

That has to be one of the most maligned statements in the English language. To be fair, though, a good actor who plays a role will research it, and knows more than the laypeople to whom the commercial spot is addressed.

It's a shame that the cult of celebrity is so strong that a celebrity is deemed to be a better spokesperson than someone with expertise in the field.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Best graduation prank ever!

A group of accounting students at Washington State University decided to promote their major by spelling "Accounting" on their mortarboards, one letter per mortarboard. (Nothing unusual so far, right?)

Then, one "c" was changed to an "a," and the mortarboards were rearranged. Can you guess what they spelled?

Hint: Christine Gregoire, (allegedly fraudulently elected) governor of Washington, was speaking.

Check out Why Did This Happen? for pictures. It's well worth a click.

(Via Dave Justus)

I gave up!

Done in by the humidity, not the heat. I turned on my car's air conditioner for the first time this year.

Adding to the Social Security debate

Since most people don't read the magazine Contingencies, released by the American Academy of Actuaries, most people will miss a good article on Social Security by James B. Lockhart III, the deputy commissioner of the Social Security Administration. There are several facts and analyses that belong in the forefront of the Social Security debate.

First of all is a very large number: $11.1 trillion. That is the amount of money that would have to be set aside, earning interest at Treasury rates, in order to keep Social Security solvent for the entire future, without any benefit cuts or tax increases. Granted, projecting until the end of time is an uncertain thing. While this figure could be too high, it could also be too low. And every year without Social Security reform, it increases. (I'm inclined to think the greater risk is it's too low. Just think what a genetically engineered retrovirus that destroys cancer cells, curing all cancer, would do to life expectancy.)

Second is a year: 2064. If Social Security develops in a much more favorable manner, it will still exhaust the trust fund. Based on stochastic modeling, in the 97.5% scenario (where 97.5% of modeled scenarios are worse, in terms of insolvency), the "trust fund" is still exhausted by 2064. It's not like slightly better experience will mean that Social Security will be solvent without changes needed. It's a matter of when, not if.

Third is a graph:

click here for full size
The graph compares the current Social Security program to one that stays functionally the same but raises taxes and the retirement age, and one that implements personal retirement accounts and indexing benefits to the Consumer Price Index. Starting with an initial general revenue transfer of $500 billion, the personal accounts and price indexing option achieves sustainable solvency, while keeping the same structure just reduces the extent of the program's insolvency.

To President Bush's credit, he has risked his party's position in Congress to champion these two Social Security reforms. This graph all but settles the debate, in my opinion. Anyone who opposes personal retirement accounts and price indexing should be able to demonstrate his or her proposed changes should similarly establish the program as solvent in the long term.

Music Profile: 2 Unlimited

2 Unlimited was the brainchild of Dutch producers Phil Wilde and Jean-Paul De Coster, but the faces (and voices) of the band were Ray Slinjngaard and Anita Dels. This band is the definition of 90's pop-dance: a male rapper, a female singer, producers behind the scenes, catchy tunes driven by dominant synthesizer line, eminently danceable. Several tracks by the band are unavoidable at professional sporting events.

After Ray and Anita left, the band was reformed with two different female singers:

Yes, a very different look! The new lineup wasn't successful. The album II was released in 1998, but 2001 in America.

And now, in 2005, the song No Limit (a #1 hit in the UK) appears in a commercial for Mentos, performed by a variety of birds. I personally find this commercial to be a lot better than the deliberately cheesy "Fresh and Full of Life" commercials.

Their lone US Top 40 hit, Get Ready For This, is also currently used in a commercial, for the movie Kicking and Screaming.

Say hi!

A brown squirrel downtown, enjoying a fine Mother's Day.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Maine: The new Indiana

Just days after Indiana finally approved Daylight Savings Time for all counties, Maine has proposed to create the same screwy system that Indiana abandoned.

Members of the State and Local Government Committee unanimously endorsed a bill that, if approved by voters, would put Maine on Atlantic time along with Canada's Maritime Provinces.

The proposal would eliminate daylight-saving time, so the change would be noticeable for just five months of the year - from the end of October to the beginning of April. During that period, Maine would be an hour ahead of Boston, New York and Washington, D.C., for example. In the summer, Maine would be on the same schedule as its U.S. neighbors.

Yes, they will be on New York time in the summer, and New Brunswick time in the winter. That will confuse people, and mess with people who work in Boston or New Hampshire.

I don't support the change. But hey, do it if you want... it's not my problem!

Did you know?

Why are SUVs so popular? And what happened to station wagons?

Every large family needs a large vehicle to transport themselves. But station wagons are treated the same as cars, while SUVs are called light trucks.

CAFE, the fuel efficiency standard, is more lenient for light trucks.

So, if you hate SUVs, blame environmentalists. Ah, the law of unintended consequences.

The article by Michael Lynch further describes the history.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Music Profile: Bree Sharp

Bree Sharp... now there's a name you probably haven't heard in five years.

The singer/songwriter is probably best known for her minor hit David Duchovny. Now, millions of kids are hearing her again, but they don't know it. She's performing the theme song and other music for Mew Mew Power, the horrible hack dub* of the anime Tokyo Mew Mew. (She previously co-wrote a song on a dub of a Pokemon movie, also for 4Kids Entertainment.)

There's an interesting juxtaposition if you look at David Duchovny and the theme song to Mew Mew Power... she answers her original question!
"David Duchovny, why won't you love me?"
"But it's hard to save the world when you're falling in love."

*I admit to not having seen the original series, but the English version has two strikes against it: they changed the series name, and they changed the characters' names. As a result, I'm pretty confident my assessment is accurate.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The good side of video games

I'm of the video game generation, spending my formative years with video games spreading to hotels, roller skating rinks, and convenience stores, and home video game systems in every kid's house.

Back then, there were people who didn't like video games. "Kids are spending too much time playing video games. They should go outside and play. These games are too violent. We need more wholesome entertainment."

Of course, we now know that video games are here to stay. The generation that grew up with an Atari 2600 attached to a TV in the basement is now raising a family, with a PlayStation 2, XBox, or Nintendo 64 for their own kids. And plenty of young adults still find time to play video games. We hear statistics on how video games eclipse movies in terms of revenues (not that anyone considers video games to be more influential than Hollywood). Popular musicians have a PlayStation on their tour bus, and sports stars relax after practice with virtual sports.

But how do people defend video games? For the longest time, all you would hear is the lame comment that video games help hand-eye coordination. (True, but not that big of a deal. Do consider how intuitive things like the mouse interface or thumb keyboards on cellular phones are to people who grew up with a one-button joystick in their hands.)

The main benefit of video games was obvious to me growing up, and I'm surprised more people didn't talk about it. Here is an activity, a socially acceptable activity, that anyone can excel at, regardless of size or strength. The smaller or slower kids who can't compete on the football field in real life can compete on the virtual field and bring their virtual team a NCAA title. These same kids are probably artists, or top academic achievers, or stars of the forensics team. But these activities don't engender a lot of respect from the majority of students, and may in fact lead to the students being targeted. On the other hand, skill with video games is something that is generally accepted among kids.

Only "nerds" are good in school, but everyone, from Poindexter to the newest NBA star, plays video games. And the smart kids, who can remember where the secret room is or recall the twelve-key secret code for extra lives, might just have an advantage in this social competition.


A headline flashed on AOL says the Today contraceptive sponge is coming back on the market.

My first thought: are they going to refer to that Seinfeld episode?

Second paragraph of the article:

The sponge gained pop culture status when the TV show character Elaine of "Seinfeld" hoarded sponges after they went off the market, devoting them only to men she deemed "spongeworthy."


Tuesday, May 03, 2005

What would you like for dessert?

Waiter: And what would you like for dessert?
Diner 1: Nothing for me, thanks.
Diner 2: I'm stuffed.
Diner 3: I couldn't eat another bite.
Waiter: But it's included with dinner.
Diner 1: Carrot cake.
Diner 2: Apple pie.
Diner 3: A hot fudge sundae.

It's an old joke, but true. Who's going to turn down something free? (Technically, the dessert is not free, but it is already paid for, so there's no additional cost.)

Always think about that when creating something that is (perceived as) free. The restaurant manager would be a fool to predict a 50% dessert acceptance ratio with this offer.

Now, think about what other situations this rule applies to. Think trips to the doctor will be the same when there's no incremental cost to paying a visit?

Let me turn the discussion to the concept of a "living wage." First, let's state the obvious: the living wage is a wage higher than the minimum wage, but the minimum wage is earned by some people who manage to live, so the name is a misnomer.

But what goes into a living wage? Whose standard of living are we talking about? Must forty hours a week fund a one bedroom apartment, meat with every meal, a television with cable, a car, Internet access?

Let's make some arguments. Good shelter and privacy are clearly required. Obviously, we can't deny the poor meat, the easiest way to a balanced diet for someone with little culinary experience. The Internet provides access to tools useful in studying and for job searches, so a computer with Internet access is essential. And we can't have someone be a social outcast; keeping up on popular music and TV series are key to friendly conversation with neighbors and coworkers.

If you were stating what you needed for a basic life, and someone else were paying, wouldn't you make arguments like that? However, if you were paying your own way on whatever wage you could earn in the marketplace, wouldn't you find a way to make do with less? You would share an apartment, eat foods like lentils and beans, drop the cable TV, and use the Internet at the library when needed.

There's a free market solution to the living wage issue. Allow certain businesses to offer a living wage to employees. Advertise that fact. Let people who support the living wage patronize the business. Certainly, these businesses would succeed and prosper, right?


Where'd all the living wage advocates go?

Why does the economy sound bad, on paper?

BizzyBlog chronicles something that's blisteringly obvious, the bias seen in journalists reporting on the economy. He posts an article he wrote in 2000, chronicling the evolution of business journalism from businessmen reporting on business to liberal journalists without business backgrounds doing the reporting.

I wasn't paying any attention to the news back in the early 80's, but his analysis is solid. I'd like to throw out one opposing point for consideration: economic news is reported like all news, when it is news.

While the economy is remarkably better than it was in 1979, the news is how it has changed recently. Tell someone in 1989 that the Dow Jones Industrial Average will be hovering around 10,000 today, and they would consider that incredible news! However, it's reported as a sign of a struggling economy, since it's worse than in recent years. Consumer confidence is down, compared to people spending according to their inflated stock market holdings. The unemployment rating, though improved, is still higher than that at the peak of the bubble economy.

Now, the next Democrat president will be the test. We probably won't see the highs of a bubble economy nor the lows of Carter-esque malaise, so let's see if the economy is reported on in a consistent manner.

Some good advice for bloggers

Looking to join the blogosphere? Wondering where to go now that you're here? Greyhawk at the Mudville Gazette has some good advice.

He didn't explicitly mention the most important thing... write something! But that should go without saying.