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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, September 29, 2005

Serenity: The Blog Experience

If you read any blogs, chances are you have seen discussion of the unusual marketing ploy for Serenity, the movie continuation of Joss Whedon's Firefly series. (The link above is for Daniel Drezner, but you can also check out Jacob Levy, Matthew Yglesias, or a bunch of links assembled by Glenn Reynolds.) Basically, a bunch of big bloggers (not including lowly bloggers like me) were invited to watch an early screening, as long as they agreed to write about it. No quid pro quo was present; writers were free to trash the film.

I love this idea, and think it could work for any film that's not a typical Hollywood blockbuster. Any film without a big initial profile could greatly benefit from this type of attention (as long as the film is good enough to not be universally reviled). 163,000 page hits a day for the Instapundit? That's pretty far-reaching free advertising!

Hurricane Etiquette

Hrairoo at Silflay Hraka has a hilarious post on Hurricane Etiquette. Read and enjoy!

I'll add one suggestion: Hurricanes are the fault of global warming, even though there have been 10 years, where they have been warning us about global warming, with an abnormally low number of hurricanes.

First cold day

I thought I'd be able to get away with keeping my jacket in the closet until October. Unfortunately, temperatured dropped today, with a low in the single digits (Celsius). It's going to be a temporary thing, with temperatures picking up in the next week.

That doesn't change the temperature inside my home, which has stuck at my summer thermostat setting of 78°F. Around this time of year, I end up dressing lighter for staying inside than for going outside.

Monday, September 26, 2005

A step backwards for diversity

Jillian Bandes will apparently be replaced by Sara Boatright, a militant femininst woman who's into feminist-friendly pornography, obscene poetry, and obscure British indie rock. It's something I discovered a day in advance thanks to following links off of SiteMeter. (I found her journal at the *ahem* very interesting Suicide Girls site via a link for the Technorati search for "Daily Tar Heel.")

It's sad to see that the Daily Tar Heel ignored Chancellor James Moeser's call for intellectual diversity. However, I am not surprised. On the bright side, I can approve of the likely unique and non-mainstream viewpoints she will bring to her column. If her Suicide Girls site is any indication, the readers of the DTH will see a side of culture most people never see.


Every time I blog about a commercial with a song in it, I get a bump in my SiteMeter counter. It seems a lot of people want to know what that song is.

My question: why do they have to come here? Why don't companies include information about their latest ad campaign on their own Web pages? In fact, put some streaming video with the commercial. You'd have people actively seeking out the ads that companies pay good money to air, and watching them at no additional expense.

A simple idea; who will do it?

Friday, September 23, 2005

Katrina: the Gathering

"Ubiq and I are going straight to hell," they proudly exclaim. But they'll be laughing all the way!

Check out the latest expansion to Magic: the Gathering!

(Via Silflay Hraka)

Thursday, September 22, 2005

A worthy endeavor to cut the fat

Truth Laid Bear, home of the Ecosystem, is coordinating efforts from the blogosphere to highlight government programs that could be cut, in order to help finance the rebuilding of New Orleans.

Hurricane Katrina is just the catalyst fiscally conservative Congressmen could use to restore financial sanity to Congress. I can see where the fear would originate in cutting a pork program that benefits one's district; it would seem to guarantee a vote against you from each affected person come the next election. (As an aside, with gerrymandered districts, is this a significant enough issue to matter?) Tell someone "We're cutting the funding for your boll weevil research," and you'll anger the 12 people employed by the venture. Tell someone "We're cutting the funding for your boll weevil research so that we can help the victims of Hurricane Katrina," and it's hard to imagine many people being angry.

State of the University

From the State of the University address by UNC Chancellor James Moeser:

However, the essence of the diversity we seek is not something that can be captured in data. It is intangible; it deals with the spirit, with the culture of the campus.

I want to extend this idea to every dimension of human interaction, including race, religion, politics and sexuality. Some of these categories are the very fault lines in the culture wars in America today. This is our raison d’etre. This University was created at the beginning of the American republic to be a laboratory for democracy. We can show America how to have civil discourse about difficult topics.

We can have a campus culture where gays and lesbians feel welcome, where faith-based groups and political conservatives, as well as liberals, feel that their voice can be heard and respected, and we can do this without adopting speech codes or infringing upon the First Amendment or academic freedom. We can do this.

It's nice to see him pay lip service to the concept of ideological diversity. Let's see if the University follows through.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Single-subject, descriptive-title

Instapundit highlights the kind of amendment to the Constitution I'd like to see:

“Congress shall pass no bill, and no bill shall become law, which embraces more than one subject, that subject being clearly expressed in the title.”

Simple, effective, and already the law in 40 states.

President Bush is rightly criticized for vetoing nothing. Something tells me, though, that he'd veto several odious pork programs if they were isolated from the overall bills that he favors.

Profiling at UNC

It's unusual that a political controversy escapes the blogs I normally read. It took the Actuarial Outpost to reveal the brouhaha about a pro-profiling column by Daily Tar Heel columnist Jillian Bandes. So I read the column, and the followup articles, and decided I don't accept the conclusions reached by the leadership of the Daily Tar Heel in her dismissal.

The rationale was that 1) comments by interviewed people on racial profiling in security screening followed a hyperbolic description of the screening process ("sexed up") and 2) the comments were solicited during a general discussion on being Muslim in America in the post-9/11 world.

Now, I'm sure the editors didn't check with any screeners with the Transportation Security Administration as to whether they viewed the screening process as intimate or sexual in any way. They didn't, and were right not to, because both Ann Coulter's paraphrased comment and Ms. Bandes' comment in the column were clearly hyperbole.

The column is about racial profiling in airport security, and that's not misrepresented in any way. It's in the title of the column. And it was very clear to me Ms. Bandes' sources were commenting on racial profiling in airport security, and not on the need for overly enthusiastic searches. It's very hard to misunderstand, when the next two words after the controversial sentence couplet are RACIAL PROFILING.

Here's my take: the editors have set a very high standard for their opinion columnists in the future, as well as any reporters who like to spice up their writing with flavorful words. Each writer must make sure any quotations or paraphrases from interviewed subjects follow only the question as specifically worded, and they will have no margin of error. If anyone else is unhappy with the placement of their quotation in an article or column, then the editors should expect to hear calls for the reporter or opinion columnist to be fired, for the exact same reason you have given for Ms. Bandes' dismissal.

Then the Muslim students responded with a letter to the editor. They complain that Ms. Bandes expressed that they believed racial profiling isn't a big deal. What are we to take from their complaint that she didn't state "I'm going to write an opinion column endorsing thorough screening for Arabs at American airports, and I want your opinion on racial profiling?" Would they have lied had the question been phrased in that manner? The students then classlessly responded with a comment about Abu Ghraib, assigning a possibly slanderous description of the author's motives.

As you might expect, the columnist was fired. I hope we can find another reporter or columnist that makes the same mistake, so that we can see if the editors are consistent in their interpretation of journalistic ethics. If a reporter in a similar situation is not fired, then we know politics played a role in Ms. Bandes' dismissal.

Disclosure: I was once on the editorial staff of the Daily Tar Heel. Even though I wasn't a reporter, I had to place some calls to gather information for writing editorials. I would identify myself as with the Daily Tar Heel. I didn't say "I'm writing an editorial reflecting the conclusion of the editorial board, which is X. Now can I get some comments?" I never was a journalism major, so was I violating journalistic ethics? I doubt it, since undercover investigations are common, and reporters wouldn't hesitate to report on something picked up over an open mike (Clymer) or an enhanced photo (bathroom break).

Sunday, September 18, 2005

30 Days I'd like to see

Morgan Spurlock followed up Super-Size Me with a series called 30 Days. Debbie Schlussel, writing in OpinionJournal, was none to happy with one episode, based on the show's goals being outlined in advance.

"This process aims to deconstruct common misconceptions and stereotypes. . . . Our character will learn firsthand about Islam and the daily issues that . . . Muslims in America face today. The viewers will witness our character emerge from the immersion situation with a deeper understanding and appreciation for the Muslim-American experience. . . . The potential is great for this program to enlighten a national television audience about the Muslim American experience and increase their compassion, understanding and support."

I'd like to suggest a couple of other 30 Days ideas.

The obvious: take a smart Palestinian Muslim and make him live with an American Reform Jewish family, attend synagogue services, etc. It'd be revealing to watch this person as realization dawns that his whole life has been a lie, fed by his leaders.

But here's a better one:

Take a typical 9-5 factory worker, who thinks the executives of his company have it easy. Make him or her live the life of the CEO for 30 days. Let's see what he or she learns from a life of 6:00 AM board meetings, 100 hour work weeks, never being off call, and being held responsible for conditions far beyond his or her control.

Most blue-collar workers are woefully ignorant of the work top executives do, and the stress that comes from being responsible for thousands of people. They are called on to make decisions with limited information, and get held responsible for anything that goes wrong.

The McDonald's Diet

In the "Of Human Interest" section of the paper, which contains interesting stories that aren't particularly important newswise, a woman was profiled who ate only McDonald's for a month, just like pseudo-documentarian Morgan Spurlock. She lost 37 pounds. She designed a diet of 1400 Calories, unlike Spurlock, who overate and didn't exercise in response to his higher caloric intake. (In a way, he planned the outcome of his documentary ahead of time.)

This story illustrates the obvious. The food served by a restaurant isn't bad, in and of itself. Even one of Hardee's huge burgers is fine as an occasional indulgence, or as an everyday meal for a construction worker burning an extra 1,000 Calories during his eight-hour shift.

Television stereotypes

Tom Ehrich quoted a study of stereotypes in television in a column last month. When hearing him describe television stereotypes of whites as "intelligent, egotistical, and pleasant," I wondered just what kind of television he was watching. Think: Al Bundy, Homer Simpson, Tim Taylor, Joey Tribbiani, etc.

With some searching, I was able to find the study, by Moon J. Lee, and I've linked to it above. Ehrich makes a serious error in his article. Compare this from the article:

By the time they reach adulthood, the typical TV-watching child will have seen 1 million advertisements, 200,000 violent acts and been fed the following stereotypes: African-Americans portrayed as ''inferior, lazy, dumb, dishonest, comical, unethical and crooked,'' according to a Washington State University study....

to the study:

Existing Stereotypes of Different Ethnicities
Several studies identify existing stereotypes (Dates, 1990; Fisher, 1994; Mendez-Morse, 2000; McAneny, 1993; Niemann, Jennings, Rozelle, Baxter, and Sullivan, 1994; Smith, 1991; Tan, et al., 1997; Taylor & Stern, 1997). The following attributes have been identified regarding different ethic groups. Identified stereotypes of African Americans include, but are not limited to, inferior, lazy, dumb, dishonest, comical, unethical, and crooked (United States Commission for the study of Civil Rights, 1977).

In other words, the study didn't attribute these stereotypes to television; they were previously identified by a study nearly 30 years old.

It's clear, especially from watching sitcoms, that white men are hardly portrayed positively. From what I've seen, people of all races are portrayed very evenly. All the investigators in a CSI-style series are good at their job. All the members of a sitcom family have their foibles (though men get treated worse, in my opinion).

And if you want to find people who aren't represented in television, how about average-looking people? The attractiveness quotient in a television series is magnitudes higher than reality.

Friday, September 16, 2005

W's new rap track

In the comments of this thread, the topic of Kanye West's idiotic comment came up. One poster said:

This is how those rapper feuds get started. I heard that when Dubya releases his next CD around Christmas, he will devote the first track to a severe smackdown of West.

Another poster came up with the rap:

I don't care 'bout black people? You the one spreadin' hate
Bitch, I made a sistah my Sec'atary o' State!
YOU made a video callin' sistahs "gold diggas"
YOU made a video that used the word "n-----s"
Hatin', it just ain't a part of my strategery
But you leave me no choice but to hurt your feelin's, G
Just got a blow job from Katrina, doin' the best I can
So y'all can go to hell, West, young man!

(folds arms, looks defiant)


Thursday, September 15, 2005

Shopping habits

I received a survey in the mail designed to measure shopping habits (and of course send coupons afterwards). One of the many sections discussed pets; you check "We have no pets" if you don't have a pet. The next section discussed purchases of pet food.

I wonder how many people report having no pets but purchasing pet food?

Now, that would have fit my household at times during college. No, not for that reason. Living off campus, the apartment complex where I lived had a couple of "community cats" who roamed the neighborhood. These cats would stop by now and then for food and affection, so my roommates would buy an occasional can of cat food.

New Orleans Rhapsody

In the Right Place has a hilarious parody of Bohemian Rhapsody.

Time for more left wing
Paranoid fantasy,
Caught in the flood tide,
Out of touch with reality,
They spin their lies,
They just criticize and seethe,
"Hicks from those red states, show them no sympathy!"
"Because they're filthy scum, we all know!"
"Hit 'em high, hit 'em low!"
They can't shut their blow-holes,
They've got Bush Derangement you see, you see

Read the rest!

Common sense vs. government programs

One thing I've wondered for most of my life is why government programs designed to help people in need aren't structured to help people leave them.

Take one example: Would a person accept a job that pays $100 more a month if it means their family would no longer receive health benefits worth $200 a month? In all likelihood, the answer is no.

However, that job may very well be a step to an even better job, one that provides better benefits than Medicaid and a chance to advance and leave poverty behind.

Two reasons for the current design are 1) because it treats everyone equally and 2) because it's easier to administer.

But a simple change could end the perverse incentives that keep people in jobs that otherwise wouldn't be dead-end jobs. Instead of cutting off benefits, require a $1 contribution per $2 that income now exceeds the cap for the benefits.

Although I don't like treating people differently, the goal of getting people off welfare is paramount.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Another catchy song in a commercial

A recent Target commercial (the "Design" commercial) featured a catchy song. It's Say Something New by the Concretes.


What a strange thing to say
As you pass me on your way out.
And all the things I had in mind for you and me.
Say something new, something new.
What a strange thing to do
As you passed me
On your way out, on your way out.
And all the things I had in mind for you and me.
Say something new, something new.
About something you do, something you do

In my searching for this tidbit of information, I found AdTunes, devoted to helping people find out about music played on commercials. We're so used to MTV-style information boxes that it's hard to leave watching a commercial and NOT know who sang the song.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The $3000 Plan

After reading the many comments on the Being Poor thread mentioned below, one that stuck out was commenting about how expensive it was to being poor. There are fees to cash checks, monthly fees at the bank because you don't meet the minimum balance, huge charges for bounced checks, late fees on bills when they're late due to unexpected expenses, and so on. One rents furniture because one can't get enough money together to buy. If one has a credit card, there are large interest charges on the balance one is likely carrying.

In short, all it takes is a little bit of bad luck to fall into a hole one can't dig out of. If only one had a bit of extra money, things wouldn't get worse.

A charity called Modest Needs seems to be following this philosophy.

Here's an idea to help the working poor. Take a hard-working family, and give them enough to dig them out of their hole and provide a cushion. Pay off any credit cards; catch them up on utilities and other bills; set aside a sum for first month's rent, last month's rent, and security deposit for a cheap apartment; give enough to buy some secondhand furniture and clothes; and leave enough so that one can have a checking account without fees, and enough to cover an unexpected expense or two. Depending on how big the family, and how big the hole is, that could be a fairly small amount, perhaps $3000.

In three years' time, the family must pay back whatever amount was given.

Barring serious medical expenses or the like, they should be able to pay back the $3000 Plan. That is, of course, if the reason for the original problem was bad luck. If it were bad decisions instead, chances are they will again be in dire straits.

This sounds like a great challenge to test competing viewpoints. Let's find a rich liberal to endorse the bad luck theory, and a rich conservative to endorse the bad decisions theory. The liberal can personally fund the $3000 Plan for 100 families he or she deems worthy and trustworthy. For every family that pays back in full in three years, the conservative makes a donation to the liberal's charity. For every family that can't, the liberal makes a donation to the conservative's charity.

How about it?

Being poor, being rich

I'm not sure if Scalzi came up with this list, or collected it from somewhere, but he provides some pithy quotes on what it is to be poor. Samples:

Being poor is knowing exactly how much everything costs.
Being poor is having to keep buying $800 cars because they're what you can afford, and then having the cars break down on you, because there's not an $800 car in America that's worth a damn.
Being poor is hoping the toothache goes away.
Being poor is knowing your kid goes to friends' houses but never has friends over to
Being poor is going to the restroom before you get in the school lunch line so your friends will be ahead of you and won't hear you say "I get free lunch" when you get to the cashier.

Posted to the Actuarial Outpost, it didn't take long for a poster there to come up with a counterpoint list for the rich. Read the full list linked above, then the list below. There's a good combination of funny "these aren't worries" worries, plus several legitimate worries that the average person probably never thinks about.

Being rich is having a million frequent flier miles, and nobody you really want to see.

Being rich is getting angry with your kids for producing all the crap you end up seeing on TV.

Being rich is having to keep buying $80,000 cars because that's what your neighbors can afford, and then having the cars break down on you, because Jaguars are ####.

Being rich is helping your dentist's kids get hummers while they're at college.

Being rich is knowing your kid only sees his friends at your place, as they toke up.

Being rich is never daring to go to the school restroom.

Being rich is needing to drive for 30 minutes before you can get to the freeway.

Being rich is coming back to the car with your children clutching all the candy they could grab in the checkout line, and thinking how much more money the Dentist is going to make now.

Being rich is having to say you don't mind being asked for help by your sibling all the time.

Being rich is on-brand toys that never get used twice.

Being rich is a theater in only one room of the house.

Being rich is knowing you still can't leave $5 on the coffee table when your friends and maid
come over.

Being rich is hoping your kids have an ethical growth spurt.

Being rich is telling your mom she doesn't have to make dinner tonight -- because she can't cook
worth a ####.

Being rich is knowing that Goodwill underwear is chic.

Being rich is having too much space for everyone who lives with you.

Being rich is feeling your hamstrings tear off when you run around the playground.

Being rich is your kids's school being the one with the upscale drug dealers and teachers who
don't have to be crappy -- but are.

Being rich is thinking $8 an hour is a good deal, but who works for that little?

Being rich is relying on people who would benefit from your death.

Being rich is living behind locked gates and not daring to walk because of all the bums.

Being rich is finding that your parents enjoy making love, but not to each other.

Being rich is a bathroom that you don't dare use.

Being rich is having poor people turn up their noses at your trash.

Being rich is not knowing how to make lunch to your kids.

Being rich is believing a million actually makes a goddamned difference.

Being rich is people angry at you just for bringing your nanny into the mall.

Being rich is not being able to trust someone to watch your kids and not kidnap them.

Being rich is the police shooting you and taking your mansion for a dime bag under the new laws.

Being rich is not talking to that girl because she'll only want your money.

Being rich is having to invite others for dinner.

Being rich is a sidewalk with nobody on it.

Being rich is people wanting to know the dirt about everything you do.

Being rich is needing that 35-hour work week.

Being rich is your kid's teacher resenting you for voting against hiking your taxes.

Being rich is wondering whether to sell the bentley or the Matisse when the t-bills go the wrong way.

Being rich is crying when you didn't make EVP before the age of 40.

Being rich is everyone assuming you don't have to work.

Being rich is people surprised to discover you're actually a person with wants, and needs.

Being rich is people surprised to discover you're not actually a boor.

Being rich is paying your doctor personally because he won't deal with insurance companies.

Being rich is never buying anything unless it's fashionable.

Being rich is not knowing what ramen is.

Being rich is having to toe the line lest your parents disown you.

Being rich is getting tired of people wanting you to die.

Being rich is knowing you're being resented.

Being rich is a gift card from mom.

Being rich is checking your "six" every time you venture out of the high-rent district.

Being rich is deciding that it's all right to base a relationship on bloodlines.

Being rich is knowing that lotto wouldn't change your life anyway.

Being rich is knowing that if you fish out the exact change the register lady will say she already
rang it up.

Being rich is feeling helpless when your child makes the mistakes you avoided.

Being rich is a loneliness that doesn't go away.

Being rich is making sure you don't spill on the couch, because that's one of a thousand things
you have to not do to be rich.

Being rich is a tax hike that takes away $200 from your paycheck -- and you're not supposed to notice.

Being rich is paying someone to take your tests, because anything less than Magna Cum Laude just won't cut it.

Being rich is sleeping in bed alone, or with someone you've paid.

Being rich is being hit up to support the shelter -- and the bums still harass you.

Being rich is people wondering how they can be like you.

Being rich is knowing how little fun it really is.

Being rich is seeing how few realistic options you have.

Being rich is falling behind.

Being rich is people wondering out loud how long you will stay.

(Disclaimer: I obviously think it's a lot easier to be rich than poor, but most people don't realize what those people, who worked to become rich, had and have to do in order to get rich.)

Update: Another response here.

Intelligent Design

I haven't posted much on this subject, since it's such a non-issue. But to paraphrase a friend, Intelligent Design should be taught in science, as an example of what is not science.

I personally think Intelligent Design should be taught, in philosophy. It would make an interesting debate on the interaction of belief and science. Perhaps, though, I am giving too much credit to what high school students can comprehend.

The Swift Report (linked above) has a wonderful report on Deometry, mathematics for believers. (Thanks, Tainted Bill.)

Did you notice this?

The image above is Tuesday's Dilbert, taken from the official Dilbert.com site. I happened to read the strip online before opening the newspaper.

Imagine my surprise when I noticed the strip in the paper wasn't the same. See below (and sorry for the poor quality scan):

Personally, I think the original strip was a lot funnier.

Criminal incompetence

By now, you've probably seen JunkYardBlog's reports on New Orleans' flooded buses, and how they were supposed to be used to evacuate those citizens of New Orleans who didn't have any other way to escape. Just take a look at the above picture.

Bryan Preston does some quick calculations using the 66 per school bus figure you may remember from your school days. (I remember it!) However, if I recall correctly, that was at 3 people per seat, which was reasonable for elementary school kids, but not for adults. (However, something tells me people would have been willing to be squished in for an uncomfortable bus ride to Houston or Baton Rouge, given the alternative.)