Maintaining Optimism in the Face of Reality. Occasional observations on the state of the world, society, business and politics. Usually anchored by facts, always augmented by opinion.

New Catch-and-Release Hostage Program In Effect  | e-mail post

It seems the stance of the Western democracies in not negotiating with kidnappers seems to be paying some dividends and undoing some of the damage Spanish voters may have done in their seeming capitulation to terror. Today two Italian women were released along with four Egyptians, following yesterday's release of an Iranian diplomat, and it looks like two French journalists will be set free (if we throw in a Priest and a Rabbi, we'd have the start of a joke). And of course the Druse Israeli who worked for CNN was released within a day of being abducted. Not sure if that was a mistake on the kidnappers' part or not ("Ooops, we got one of our own"). [Reuters via Yahoo]

Sadly, no word yet on Britain's Ken Bigley. Although the U.S. and U.K. stance on not negotiating with hostage takers seems to mean either Bigley will get released or get killed. The latter would clearly be unfortunate, but a firm stance seems to be working better than capitulation, even though it seems dispassionate to many.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (0) comments |  | Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Kerry Enjoys Healthy Lead Among Naked College Students  | e-mail post

She wants Kerry, just not for President, it appears.
I was looking around for some offbeat polls or election predictors which I hope to share over the next few weeks before the election, and I cam across College Humor's Election Erection 2004. People are encouraged to send in nude pictures of bodies decorated to indicate their partisan leanings. Possibly not surprising, as of this time, Kerry is winning in terms of total pictures, 82 to 47. Nader has a few votes as well. (I noticed at least one Candian voting for Kerry, and I'm not sure if they included this in their tally.) In any event, this sample of naked people looks a lot like Massachusetts in terms of expected voting.

Some may be surprised to see that Bush supporters are generally no more inhibited than Kerry supporters.

Hopefully no one will be surprised that many took advantage of the obvious "no Bush" visual gag.

And I'm just going to stay out of which candidate has, on average, better looking supporters. Suffice it to say that there are a lot of Kerry supporters that would not be helping their cause by working for FtheVote.com.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (0) comments |  | Monday, September 27, 2004

Public School Teachers and Private School Kids  | e-mail post

Earlier this month, the Fordham Institute released a study [study in PDF only] by Denis Doyle, Brian Diepold and David DeSchryver comparing the rates of enrollment in private schools by the children of public school teachers as compared to the general population. Fordham is a a non-profit organization focused on the reform of primary and secondary education, and has a great deal of information and commentary for people interested in education policy.

The study presented some very interesting statistics, the primary one being that among urban American families, 21.5% of public school teachers send their kids to private schools as compared to 17.5% of the all urban families. (For those interested, their data is based on the U.S. Census Public Use Microdata Sample from the U.S. Census "long form," and is discussed at the end of the research note.)

While that 4% difference may not seem large, think about it this way: a family with a public school teacher in it is 23% more likely to send their child to a private school than the average family. (And thus even more likely compared to families without public school teachers, if they were broken out as a separate class.)

The differential is particularly stark in some cities:
It's not bad everywhere, however: Minneapolis-area public school teachers are slightly less likely to send their kids to private schools. This is also true in Cleveland, St. Louis, Salt Lake City and a number of other cities. Regardless of these cases, there is a story in numbers like this.

I'm not going to rehash the whole report in this note. The key thing to pull out of the document is the authors' point that these numbers are important because we should presume that teachers are connoisseurs of education, so to speak. That is, in the same way you assume that the lawyer other lawyers use for certain litigation is probably the best at it, you should likewise assume that public school teachers have well-informed opinions about where children should be educated.

As any economist will tell you, the only real way to know what someone thinks is revealed preference: don't ask them, watch them. If public school teachers send their kids to private schools, that is some compelling evidence of a public school system in need of serious repair, especially when you are talking about cities like Chicago or Nashville where the differential is so dramatic.

The authors point out that one thing this research doesn't account for with respect to school selection for public school teachers is the teachers who choose to move to specific suburbs in a community because of higher-quality schools, moving to Northbrook from Chicago or to Edina from Minneapolis, for example. I think this would be difficult information to discern, as schools are presumably not the sole critieria for a move.

An additional interesting line of inquiry the authors don't mention is the number of private school teachers who elected to teach at a private school instead of a public school purely, or primarily, to have free or deeply-discounted tuition for their children. Ideally, this sample would address only secular or nominally religious private schools, to avoid possible bias due to faith-based considerations. As private schools tend to pay less than public schools, this is one of the primary reasons I have heard given for teaching at them; I certainly knew several teachers at my parochial high school for whom this was the reason.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (0) comments |  | Monday, September 27, 2004

Maybe Heinz Could Buy It  | e-mail post

Just a quick update from my post of a few days ago, "Kerry's Halliburton Attacks: He Doesn't Get It."

The New York Times reported on Friday about Halliburton's plans to divest it's KBR division, the unit who got the no-bid Iraqi contract. The quick synoposis is:
When Halliburton was awarded contracts worth more than $12 billion for work in Iraq, critics said that the company was using its political connections to reap big profits. But now, in a sign that those contracts are not providing the boon executives had expected from a subsidiary weighed down by other problems, Halliburton said Thursday that it was considering a sale of the business.

The unit, KBR, which provides military and oil field services, has been plagued by losses, by investigations into its activities in Nigeria and Iran and by sizable asbestos claims. Making matters worse, KBR's work in Iraq has not been as profitable as other activities and has contributed to a public relations nightmare for its parent. All of this has happened while KBR is seeking to emerge from bankruptcy protection.
Looking at the Heinz financial highlights shows they have about $1.2 billion in cash. They could probably pick up KBR using some additional leverage. Could be interesting.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (0) comments |  | Saturday, September 25, 2004

I'd Expect Better from the WSJ  | e-mail post

Normally when I read the Wall Street Journal's Opinion Journal e-mail I am at least moderately entertained. Few legitimate newspapers would go so far in wearing their political leanings on their sleeves. In fact, it could be argued that the Opinion Journal update reads among the most partisan of any weblog, with headlines like "Dems Get Dumber Still" in their e-mail from yesterday.

Now, as most readers have probably surmised from my writing, I am right of center on the vast majority of political issues although I'm certainly left of the core Republican platform on a number of social issues. In any event, I think both the Journal and I have a largely economic basis for our political leanings, so I was really somewhat disappointed to read the following in the Opinion Journal e-mail from yesterday (on the web here):
Edwards: Kerry Isn't French Enough!
The other day John Edwards showed up in his native South Carolina, a state Kedwards have zero probability of carrying in November. There, according to the Columbia State, he decried "outsourcing" and said, "Here's what would be good for the American economy--to outsource George W. Bush."

Huh? As we understand it, to "outsource" someone means to give his job to a foreigner. Edwards is a lawyer; doesn't he realize it would be unconstitutional to "outsource George W. Bush"?

Set aside for a moment the fact that it only lowers the debate to take issue with a rhetorical flourish; I'll throw in my own "huh?" on other grounds. As I understand it, the WSJ is supposed to be (or fancies itself?) the premier business newspaper in the U.S., if not the world. Also, as I understand it "outsource" is different from "offshore" (and since I've run an IT services company for 14 years, I think I know what I'm talking about on this one), although the WSJ writer seemed to have collapsed those definitions, thus ruining their joke for anyone who actually knows the difference. Outsourcing has been in vogue long before it was even practical to send so much non-manufacturing work overseas. I know the Journal mocks Kerry supporters for defending his ambivalence as "nuance," but this is a case where nuance might matter.

The WSJ missed an obvious possibility as well: Edwards may have simply been suggesting that the Presidency be outsourced to Halliburton in a no-bid contract. This might not be too bad, Cheney could return to the CEO spot at Halliburton and possibly bring in GWB as a consultant.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (0) comments |  | Saturday, September 25, 2004

A Real "Joint" Session of Congress  | e-mail post

Or, as Afroman might have sung a few years ago: "I Was Gonna Write a Complete Platform, but Then I Got High."

Although there is no argument that we are very much a two-party nation in terms of control, one wonderful thing about our democracy is that really almost anyone can run. And honestly, I don't always mean "wonderful" as in "good for our democracy" sometimes I just mean "wonderful" as in "you just can't make up stuff this funny."

I stumbled across the site for Ed Forchion, the New Jersey Weedman, who is running for congress in the third congressional district of New Jersey. He's running as a member of the Legalize Marijuana Party. I'm hoping he hasn't spent too much time looking for an apartment in D.C. yet.

Although I like independent political parties in general, running on a single issue is one of the few things that irritates me more than people who vote on a single issue. Forchion's campaign is, unsurprisingly, pretty much just about Marijuana legalization. Actually, in this case, maybe that's a good thing.

I certainly support legalization, or at least tacit decriminalization, of marijuana, so I can get behind Forchion on that. But some of Ed's views are a little over the top. Some people complain that smoking marijuana gives them a slight sense of paranoia; clearly Ed is a victim of that as well. Here's how he starts out his "Kiss My Ass" commercial:
In the 1930's and 40's the Nazi party marched millions into gas chamber. With today's DNA technology, there is no need to march people into ovens.Using the Democrat and Republican parties' DNA database numerous vaccines can be developed to eliminate those unwanted by the majority.
Ah, OK. Ed, step away from the bong.

Forchion conveniently has all his commercials available online, because he still needs to raise money to help run them on television. He encourages people to send in any amount to help, even $4.20.
e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (0) comments |  | Thursday, September 23, 2004

Not Just for Aryan Babies, I Hope  | e-mail post

A new store opens tomorrow in Minneapolis: Über Baby. I actually don't know if they have the umlaut in the store name, as it isn't used in the Business Journal article that discusses the opening (just plain "Uber Baby"), but that could just be the fact that many people don't know how to get an umlaut in their word processor.

I am honestly a little surprised by the choice of names for the store. The founders appear to be of German descent, given their last name (Gonsior), so I can see how "Über" would spring to mind. I often use it myself. But I'm not sure if it is a great name for a store.

It was Nietzsche who first introduced the idea of the Übermensch, literally "overman" or superman, to the world, and it was a noble concept in Nietzsche's mind. Although the concept is debated among scholars, a reasonable interpretation of Nietzsche's idea is that the Übermensch was one who would risk all for the sake of humanity's enhancement. A noble ideal, indeed.

However, it was Hitler's Nazi party that really twisted the idea of the Übermensch into something aligned with their concept of racial superiority, particularly based on a very loose interpretation of Nietzsche's last book "The Will to Power." In any event, given that the word has a somewhat checkered meaning, I'm not sure I would name a store with it.

One irony is that the original name for the store was "Urban Baby," a name that is the diametric opposite of "Über Baby" in racial terms. It does seem to indicate that not too much deep thought went into the store name.

It actually sounds like it will be a nice store, so I don't want to give the Gonsior's too hard a time about it. I really do hope they do well. It's down around 60th & Lyndale, if you live in the Twin Cities and want to check it out.

However, if you are looking to produce a real Über Baby, however, you might want to read about this herculean child in Germany.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (0) comments |  | Thursday, September 23, 2004

Just Your Average Gay Black Republican Minister  | e-mail post

The Star-Tribune yesterday ran an article on Dennis Sanders, a minister at Lake Harriet Christian Church. When you think about it, Dennis may truly be in a class by himself. And certainly he has a sense of humor about his sui generis state "I'm more of a moderate, old-style Rockefeller Republican, which makes me even more of an oddity." Hear, hear!

Sanders is also part of the Log Cabin Republicans, the gay arm of the Republican party, which was very well-profiled by Ira Glass' "This American Life," as I mentioned in a recent post. As a Republican who occasionally feels like my party is a little too homogenous, I like the fact that guys like Sanders are out there in the public eye. I guess the only unfortunate thing is that it is fundamentally notable that a gay, black man would be a Republican.

I would encourage gays to read the article on Sanders and definitely listen to the This American Life piece from a couple weeks back. As one black Republican quoted in the Star-Tribune piece mentioned: "Joining a political party is not about being accepted, it's about trying to make changes. Being accepted is essentially determined by what you do." The Log Cabin Republicans on TAL said a similar thing: they feel there is a better chance to get what they want in terms of gay rights inside the party.

The Republican party is subject to change, and the socially conservative wing is really only 25 years old, having been ushered into the mainline Republican platform through Reagan's coalition-building. When you look at the up-and-comers in the party, they are not that reactionary about social issues. Consider that the Massachusetts Supreme Court, the one that opened the door to gay marriage in that state, was headed by an appointee of William Weld a Republican. Weld actually went back to Massachusetts to perform a wedding for one of his former staffers and his partner. Look at guys like George Pataki or Mike Bloomberg or even Ah-nold. Or consider Norm Coleman, Minnesota's Democrat-turned-Republican Senator who took his transexual deputy mayor with him to Washington when he was elected to the Senate [story]. These are not people whose blood runs cold at the thought of people with different sexual preferences. In fact, if you listen to what guys like Weld and Arlen Specter said when speaking to the Log Cabin Republicans at the convention, you would be shocked. Certainly some of the Log Cabin Republicans Ira Glass spoke with were surprised.

Coalition-building with the Christian right is simply a tactical necessity for the Republican party to win in most elections. The only way to change that is for people from traditionally non-Republican groups to take another look at the Republican party and maybe come on over if the genuine core beliefs of traditional Republicanism make sense to them. If enough people like Dennis Sanders, people who "shouldn't" be Republicans, come to the party, the tactical depdendence on the Christian right diminishes, and the party can begin to move back to the center. And that's an outcome I would certainly like to see.

UPDATE: America's Smallest Constituency flexes its muscle: "Black Gay Republicans Break with Log Cabin Republicans, Endorse Bush." Hey, if the election is going to be a squeaker, these guys could make the difference.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (0) comments |  | Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Reading Kafka? Here's the Perfect Bookmark  | e-mail post

I feel so much safer knowing the TSA is on the job. Screeners at Tampa International Airport arrested a 52 year old special ed teacher from Maryland while travelling with her college-age sons, according to this story in the St Petersburg Times. Why was she arrested: packing lead, well a lead-weighted bookmark that is. To the left is a picture of the Bookmark of Terror, below it is a picture of that would-be terrorist.

I own a very similar bookmark, I bought it a few years back from Levenger. Honestly, it's OK, but doesn't have nearly the heft necessary to hold the pages down for many books. It is useful enough, however. I use it for cookbooks and magazines for the most part. This story has raised it to "travel essential" in my book, though. Rather than sending you to Levenger, I would suggest you buy one from Amazon. And I really suggest you buy one, and fly with it, often.

This just in...maybe this is why the TSA is so worried...

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (0) comments |  | Monday, September 20, 2004

Even Dan Rather Would Blush  | e-mail post

With all the brouhaha continuing (although seemingly dying down) surrounding the whole Dan Rather affair, some readers might enjoy a look at a writer that went far beyond playing fast and loose with the facts and became a veritable Joe Isuzu of the liberal media establishment. Stephen Glass wrote for the New Republic in the late 90's until he was fired after Forbes Digital's Adam Penenberg actually vetted one of Glass's stories, on computer hackers.

"Shattered Glass" is the film reenactment of the rise and fall of Stephen Glass, and the film is outstanding. Hayden Christensen is almost more annoying than he is in the recent Star Wars franchises, but in this case his character is supposed to be pathetic and snivelling, which appears to be Christensen's stock in trade, so it works. Peter Sarsgaard turns in an outstanding performance as Chuck Lane, and the numerous award nominations and wins he garnered from the role were very well-deserved. And, unlike about half of Glass' oeuvre, the story is both incredible and true.

The film is wonderful because it helps to call into question how Glass got away with it. He did it both under Chuck Lane, who ultimately fired him, as well as under the late Mike Kelly, his first editor at the New Republic who died last year covering the Iraq. The fundamental flaw is the use of reporters notes as fact-checking resources. Glass didn't write policy analysis pieces that are easy to verify by checking the Congressional Record or calling the GAO. Instead, he wrote human interest stories about 15 year-old hackers extorting money from non-existent software companies or young Republicans getting high and hiring hookers; stories for which the only meaningful source was the reporter himself. The surprising thing to me is that I am certain both of these fabricated stories are likely to be mirrored by actual events, but would require some actual reporting to discover. Stephen Glass qua Walter Mitty found it easier to go inside his head to create these stories than to hit the road actually digging them up.

Many have wondered how he got away with it; Jack Shafer at Slate writes a nice essay on the question, and there are many others who pondered it as well.

Glass when on to spend 5 years in therapy trying to understand why he became a pathological liar. I must admit, I would love to read those notes, but you can get a sense of the high-level reasons from the "60 Minutes" interview with Glass (not by Dan Rather) included as an extra on the DVD.

Proving that he still doesn't quite seem to have a handle on the fact/fiction divide, Glass last year published The Fabulist, a fictional account of a young journalist named Stephen Glass who is ultimately fired for fabricating stories. Apparently Glass is too far gone to even write a straight-up autobiography. Or maybe as the film suggests, he is far happier in his little fantasy world, and writing the honest account of the real Stephen Glass would be far too painful an exercise in self-reflection for him.

Oh, and just because this happened at The New Republic certainly doesn't mean that I'm beating on the "liberal media" for factual errors. I'd rather have Glass in print than Bill O'Reilly on the airwaves, at least Glass was intentionally entertaining, not simply a parody of himself. Although, even the NY Times this week is giving a tip of the hat to Bill O'Reilly.

Oh, and this just in, apparently CBS is confessing that they were "misled" and Dan Rather made a "mistake in judgement." I love how they decided to use very passive terms to describe the problem. CBS didn't neglect its journalistic duties, they were mislaid; Dan Rather didn't play fast and loose with the facts, he made a mistake. Let's see if they have a real confession at some point. So far, though, they haven't thrown Rather under the bus.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (0) comments |  | Monday, September 20, 2004

The CTX 7300: Common Sense about Oil  | e-mail post

A new book on oil dependence by Paul Roberts, The End of Oil : On the Edge of a Perilous New World prompted Jim Haskett to ask "How do we prepare for a world without cheap oil?" at HBS Working Knowledge this month. You can read some of the comments readers had on the subject as well.
Perfect for city-dwellers. A city in Hell, hopefully.Two groups that didn't weigh in were International Truck and Navistar, who both clearly missed the memo about the price of oil. They've released the 7300 CXT "Possibly Too Much Truck. Like That's a Problem," according to their sales materials. The CXT (for Commercial Extreme Truck) will be selling for north of $100,000 with options. It is slated to be the "next Hummer," meaning, I presume that it will be purchased by people with too much money and too little brains (and probably too little in their pants as well).

Don't get me wrong; I have no objection to spending that kind of money on a vehicle. Many fine European automakers have some outstanding machines that are practically-sized for driving and put the money in the engine and handling, not simply in sheer mass. And even though fast cars can drain a gas tank, even the M5 driven hard gets more than the 6-10 MPG the CTX delivers. And I would even say the CTX might make sense if you live in big sky country, or if you had a business transporting trailer homes. I just don't want to see a bunch of suburb & exurb-dwellers buying these and then taking them downtown one night a month.

Thankfully, since it's a diesel, I probably won't see too many of these up here in Minnesota, as the winters aren't exactly diesel-friendly. The monstrosity is 258 inches long (21 1/2 feet); that's 4.5 feet longer than the Hummer H2 pickup. Given that I see people trying to drive and park Hummers around the city, I'm sure I will encounter at least one person in it. Since the CXT has a DVD player as an option, hopefully it won't be this guy driving it.

I think my favorite part is the tagline, used without irony, I believe "The Brilliance of Common Sense."

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (0) comments |  | Sunday, September 19, 2004

Kerry's Halliburton Attacks: He Doesn't Get It  | e-mail post

Yesterday John Kerry came out again complaining about the no-bid contract Halliburton was awarded as part of the Iraq reconstruction. And we're going to see some commercials about it fairly soon as well.

But here's the news flash (from over a week ago): despite claims of overcharging (which have been amended), Halliburton, discussing the issue in an analyst conference call, doesn't seem to think that they are making insane money on the deal [Allentown Morning Call]:
"I'm not sure that we're going to rebid if it's packaged into too many pieces in Iraq," Halliburton Chief Executive Officer David Lesar told investors at an energy conference in New York sponsored by Lehman Brothers Inc. "If we do choose to rebid, we're going to jack the margins up significantly."

If Halliburton loses some work, the company will reduce its working capital tied up in Iraq, Lesar said in remarks broadcast on Halliburton's Web site. "I don't see that we can lose, whatever the outcome," he said.

Halliburton would be in a good position to take part in the bidding because of its experience in Iraq, said James Halloran, who helps manage $33 billion, including about $1 million in Halliburton shares, at National City Private Client Group in Cleveland.

"I don't think Halliburton will go back and be in a rush to bid these contracts just to get them back in a hurry," Halloran said in an interview. "They can have the opportunity to improve the standards of the payout of these things over what they had."

You can find more from The Street here as well. I would really enjoy seeing someone else get this bid and having the costs associated with the new contract turn out to be even higher.

I'm not going to go off on a rant about the fact that a no-bid contract probably makes sense, versus a typically protracted government procurement process. It's not as if many companies can actually even perform the work that Hallburton is doing over there, and sometimes governments need to move fast.

Right now, it seems all the Kerry campaign has to run on is some cronyism claims and now some fear-mongering about what Bush has planned for his second term.

I do think there is a legitimate question as to how much the US relies on contractors as part of its military operations, however this Cheney/Halliburton conspiracy cronyism story just obscures a legitimate policy debate, but that's politics for you.

More on this if the dead horse continues to be kicked by the Kerry campaign.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (0) comments |  | Saturday, September 18, 2004

North Korea Blast Updates: Look, it's a Nuke; it's a Cloud; it's a Construction Site; it's nothing at all!  | e-mail post

Unfortunately, Blogger just ate my post on a 500 error, and I hadn't saved it beforehand. That will teach me. Here's a quick recap:

Yahoo has satellite photos that explain little.

The International Herald Tribune says the blast was a 2.6 on the richter scale, but Express India discusses a nuke test in 1998 that had confusing richter readings. In

The Chosun Ilbo tells the story of the statellite pictures in headlines:
The Korea Times reports that some think the blast will turn out to be "a happening" (translated as: no big deal), and in another report discusses the possible breakdown in intelligence sharing with the U.S. due to the warming of relations between the two Koreas.

CNN reports the German Ambassador says it looks like a construction site, but the Polish ambassador says the group has rendered no opinion yet. This is consistent with the word from the UK as well.

UPDATE (Friday AM): AFP via Yahoo now reports that a:) there may have been no blast at all, according to South Korea, and b) the North Koreans took the diplomats to a site 60 kilometers from the suspected blast site. A similar report from the Chosun Ilbo.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (0) comments |  | Thursday, September 16, 2004

Did you know...  | e-mail post

...I'm a little burnt out today on current events: North Korea, CBS, polls, all of it. It's true, so here's some interesting factoids, and then it's "Calgon, take me away..."

...you're entitled to a a jury of your beers, I mean peers? Apparently insobriety of any sort in jurors does not diminish the authority of the verdict they reefer, I mean render. [Yahoo]

...you can get an old-style telephone handset for your cell phone? The seems kindof nuts until you think about how small cell phones are and how often you use them in settings that mobility isn't important. [www.pokia.com]

...China is home to one-third of the world's smokers? [AFP via Yahoo]

...Stanford did a pretty serious simulation to determine the the psychological effects of imprisonment in 1971? Interesting stuff... [www.prisonexp.org]

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (0) comments |  | Thursday, September 16, 2004

miscellanea: a collection of miscellaneous writings or notes  | e-mail post

Sometimes in the course of human events (OK browsing), I stumble across things that are amusing, entertaining or that seem just unique enough to want to call out.

Here's a use of the defense budget everyone can enjoy: The Naval Safety Center's collection of confusing signs. You'll need Powerpoint to see all of them, but they have some samples on their web site. (The best ones are in the preso, though).

Laurence Simon's laid the groundwork for a prank several millenia in the making with his twist on the Rosetta stone. I would love to see what future linguists, human or otherwise, may make of the result.

It would appear Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson's character in The Shining) has got a web log under the name of Johny[sic] Bravo. Heeeeere's Johny.

"Some people build model airplanes, some craft model trains and some... well, they invent model languages." So says the introduction page at LangMaker.com. In addition to new languages (which have an admittedly geeky aspect to them), they've also got a great list of neologisms (new words). Include the list in your next Scrabble game. He shoots, he scores...a bingo with "yavizian" on a triple-word; the crowd goes wild!

Antone Roundy posts these bits of wisdom on "How to have a protracted discussion without accomplishing anything" based on his observed participation in a standards working group. The list could be a SOP document for many organizations I've seen in action.

UW Madison student Anthony Gallagher found an interesting way to "earn" extra beer money: fake parking tickets. How do I know Gallagher wasn't using the money for his studies? All of his fake citations used the real citation number police had issued to him, making him easier to track down.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (0) comments |  | Thursday, September 16, 2004

Dan Rather's Jedi Mind Trick  | e-mail post

I just finished watching the 60 Minutes segment this evening. Basicaly, the tack CBS is taking is that "CBS experts" still believe the documents are authentic, while "others" do not, but the "thrust of the story" is in dispute by no one. It seemed about 90% of the interview with Killian's secretary was focused on whether or not Bush was or was not a good Guardsman.

The thing is: that's not a story anymore. It really hasn't been for years. Did anybody think that Bush was in the Guard for any reason other than being from a family of influence? Is anybody saying Bush was an exceptional Guardsman? Has Bush used any aspect of his military service as part of his pedigree or qualifications for the Presidency? No. No. No.

Rather's report this evening simply ignores the fact that Rather and CBS have become the story. Rasmussen is reporting that only 27% of Americans think the documents are authentic, and that 38% think Rather is trying to help John Kerry. Rather's credibility is sinking fast. At this rate, CBS will soon be faced with a decision of whether or not (or how to) throw Rather under the bus to preserve any shred of integrity in their broader news operation. If any remains, that is, given the fact that CBS has shown an unwillingness to even investigate the authenticity of the documents, not just the veracity of the claims in the documents.

I'll be curious to see what happens if USA Today further investigation leads them to renounce the memos, leaving CBS standing alone, twisting in the wind.

And Anne Morse has an article about another time Dan Rather played fast and loose with the facts, back in 1988.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (0) comments |  | Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Minnesota Not-So-Nice  | e-mail post

The Christian Science Monitor ran a story today on the rise of anti-Semitism in the U.S. (although it's a global problem, to be sure).

I was disappointed and then disgusted as I read the third paragraph of the article:
Panzerfaust Records, a Minnesota-based music label specializing in "radical pro-White rock music" and Nazi paraphernalia, just announced that it will sponsor "Project Schoolyard" - the distribution of 100,000 sample CDs featuring such bands as "Skrewdriver," "Bound for Glory," and "Max Resist," on school campuses, in malls, and at mainstream concerts.
I went to the Panzerfaust website, although I'm not providing a link. I was truly appalled that this organization is doing "outreach" on that kind of scale. Their home page greets the visitor with an opportunity to purchase any number of pro-Hitler items, and provides links to jokes aimed at non-Aryans of any stripe, although blacks take the brunt of the abuse.

I wish I could bankroll 100,000 copies of American History X to bundle with each of the CDs they plan to distribute. Or maybe Schindler's List, as American History X might present a confusing message to a hate-prone mind,

Now I really hate the fact that these guys are here in Minnesota, but I will also acknowledge that despite Minnesota's liberal attitudes and racial and cultural acceptance, the fact is this is a very lily white state, and I can't deny occasionally seeing latent bigotry, so I am not shocked it is a Minnesota organization. But while this sort of hate group is disturbing, it is the more subtle kinds of anti-semitism that are far more disconcerting to me. And they are certainly present in the midwest, as I think they are in much of the country, if not the world.

When I was growing up down in Iowa during a time when the family farm was in crisis (and when isn't it, really?) I saw a rise in anti-Semitism in rural areas largely promoted by groups linking bank foreclosures on farms to some vast Jewish financial conspiracy. In more recent years, the rumors circulated of Israel's involvement with the WTC attacks. Can you imagine if the same sorts of rumors were circulated with Irish as their subject, or even Japan, a nation that has attacked us? They could never get started, anyone who heard such a thing would be incredulous. It is only in soil polluted by prejudice and suspicion that the seeds of such rumors can be started.

And even the apathy with which most respond to displays of anti-Semitism reveals the a latent acceptance of the fundamental prejudice as acceptable. I was shocked that there was no outrage when Iran's Judo champion, Arash Miresmaeili, refused to fight his Israeli opponent, and then being rewarded $125,000 by Tehran for his adherance to the Muslim theocracy's overt racism.

It seems a real irony that anti-Semitism is on the rise at a time when the world at large is being subjected to attacks by the same sort of fanatical religious elements that have been a thorn in Israel's side for years. Rather than fostering solidarity, it seems to be encouraging enmity.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, I'm not Jewish, more Irish than anything else, I believe.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (0) comments |  | Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Target Playing Scrooge This Year  | e-mail post

The Star-Tribune reports that Minneapolis-based Target is banning Salvation Army bellringers from their storefronts this year.

Now, I am usually a big fan of Target as a mass merchandiser. When your other national choices are Wal-Mart or Kmart, this should be an easy race to win, especially as I really, really hate Wal-Mart both as a shopping experience and as a corporate entity. The fact that Target is a local company is just a bonus.

But I am a little disgusted at Target's move, given how much they like to play up their community support (in fairness, they give over $100 million away annually). Target says that they are just extending their historical non-solicitation policy to the Salvation Army, which had previously been exempted from the restriction.

What kills me is the Target decision to do this when charities nationwide are already struggling. Kicking the Salvation Army when they're down is just a bad deal.

Admittedly, Target would probably need to do something far more dastardly to get me into a Wal-Mart, and Kmart would have to clean up their stores to get me there, neither of which will likely happen. So I'll probably be shopping at Target still, but my loyalty just went way down.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (0) comments |  | Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Martha's Christmas Special: Carving Ornaments from Soap  | e-mail post

While I personally think that Martha Stewart got far more than what was coming to her with her conviction, I think it is impressive that she has decided to skip the appeal process and simply do her time. [Yahoo] [Washington Post] It's only 5 months on the inside, and she will be able to get back to her garden by springtime, as she observed.

And if anyone wants to take issue with my claim that she was treated harshly, I would only point out that she sold ImClone stock in such a way that would have enriched her, at most, say $125,000 (the official number is that she saved about $51,000, so I am being generous to her critics). I am certainly not saying this is insignificant, and I would welcome any gifts from individuals who do find it so. However, it represents a miniscule fraction of her net worth.

I find it unlikely that she would jeopardize her business reputation, personal wealth and career to hedge what amounted to one-fiftieth of one percent of her net worth (and I based this on just her Omnimedia holdings at the time). This would be the net financial equivalent of an individual with a million-dollar net worth trying to steal $150 item. This seems unlikely. And certainly, as a former stockbroker herself in the 1970’s (let alone her obvious business savvy), she would be clear the potential risk. Further, she willingly paid back any ill-gotten gains promptly.

Ultimately, I think she got the short end of the stick because politically-motivated prosecutors viewed her case as an opportunity to get out of the business pages and tap into all the voters who get most of their news from People, Us or "Entertainment Tonight."

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (0) comments |  | Wednesday, September 15, 2004

P.I.M.P. Scholars Gonna Get Their Learn On   | e-mail post

I learned of a new scholarship program sponsored by multi-platinum rapper Nelly and his Fillmore Street Brewing, makers of the Pimpjuice energy drink (which I must confess I had never seen, although it is apparently better for you than Red Bull and other energy drinks). The program will be awarding P.I.M.P. Scholarships to "Positive Intellectual Motivated People"

Certainly, some credit is deserved for both awarding the money, and arguably making scholarship "hip" among an audience that may get a lot of messages pointing them in different directions (from Nelly's music, for example). I still can't get over the name. I just want to hear someone say: "Rhodes Scholar my ass, I got a PIMP Scholarship"

(Credit to Chris Rock for the headline; it is from his truly brilliant 1996 HBO Special, Bring The Pain [VHS]. It is worth owning for repeated viewing, and I can't say that about a lot of comedy.)

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (0) comments |  | Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Is China Worried about Three Gorges Dam Holding?  | e-mail post

In a post yesterday I mentioned the heavy flooding in China and the strain it is putting on the Three Gorges Dam. It looks like China might be worried about the upcoming heavy rains mentioned at the very end of this article I referenced. The Scotsman reports today that China has stationed anti-terror troops at the dam. The Chinese apparently cite "a 'clearly rising threat from the United States' and a military buildup in Japan," according to the story. [Reuters] [VoA] The most "legitimate" threat (at least in the minds of Beijing) might be "Taiwanese independence terrorists," as General Liu referred to them in June, according to this story from the China Daily.

Of course, Taiwan already is independent, even if the Chinese aren't so good at acknowledging it, so I'm not sure if Taiwanese terroris is very likely. The General's remark was actually made in reference to a U.S. statement that mentioned that the dam would be a good defensive target for Taiwan if the Chinese tried anything like invading Taiwan.

In fact, the first-ever ant-terror training exercise conducted in China happened just a couple days ago on Sunday, as the Hindustan Times reports. This was presumably for purposes of intimidating Tibet in advance of the visit this week by the Dalai Lama's envoys. As a pratical matter, it appears the only terrorist groups that China acknowledges are typically not terrorists, as this case highlights. China has used terrorist labels to legitimize many of its continuing human rights abuses, and I imagine with Putin cracking down now, they will see it as offering an even freer reign to legitimize further actions, especially given the amount of dissent in the country (USA Today cites 58,000 "mass incidents" across China last year).

But getting back to the dam, I don't want to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but I really haven't heard or read anything meaningful about terrorism in China and I can't help but think the Chinese are deploying troops there (and publicizing it) because they might have some fear that the Three Gorges Dam could have some problems as the next waves of rain roll through China. At this point, if the dam did fail catastrophically, they could point to a terrorist plot to explain it away, to their own people, if not the world. What would be amazing is if they felt they needed to back it up by acting against Taiwan, but that seems rather far-fetched. We'll have to wait and see. Whatever China's motivations, hopefully the dam will hold; the potential devastation and loss of life in the event of a failure would be enormous. Of course, it would probably take care of the trade imbalance John Snow is worried about.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (0) comments |  | Tuesday, September 14, 2004

That Explains It  | e-mail post

As a follow-up to my previous posts on the North Korean explosion and the possiblity that it was related to a hydroeclectric project, it appears Andy Borowitz has the real answer: it was the fireworks at a Cher concert.
Communicating to the world via his widely read weblog, www.kimjongilspeaks.com, the North Korean strongman said that the massive explosion was a pyrotechnic display timed to punctuate Cher’s grand finale, a performance of her smash hit "Believe."

"Anyone who has seen Cher in concert knows that she puts on an awesome show," Kim writes in his blog. "A two-mile-wide mushroom cloud is totally consistent with that."
Well, I certainly feel better about the whole thing now.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (0) comments |  | Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Strange, Given Freddie Mercurcy is their most Famous Native Son  | e-mail post

Reading Alexa's weblog, "A New York Escorts [sic] Confessions," I stumbled across her post citing this Guardian article Zanzibar banning gay sex.

I was in Zanzibar for about a week in late 2000. The scuba diving was pretty good but visibility was much lower than I in the Carribbean or Pacific. We stayed at the Ras Nungwi, I recommend it. Zanzibar was certainly the most pleasant leg of my trip in Africa. Given that a good chunk of it was spent on or around Kiliminjaro, this shouldn't be a surprise.

In any event, I would not have guessed that homosexuality was even prevalent in Zanzibar. It was certainly no Provincetown or Key West. It seemed like a fairly traditional Islamic area, not so much as in the mideast, but close, especially as it is a little less developed. Apparently there was a high-profile gay wedding performed there last year. [A little background]

The Guardian report is pretty interesting:
A law banning gay sex has come into effect in Zanzibar, with homosexual men threatened with 25-year jail terms and lesbians facing seven-year sentences.

[First, I found it odd that girl-on-girl action carries a much lighter sentence. I guess even Islamic men are more accepting of lesbianism than male homosexuality.]

"This is what we have been aspiring for. If the government takes such steps, the country will really move ahead," said Sheikh Muhammed Said, a local Islamic leader...The islands, a semi-autonomous part of Tanzania, are largely Muslim.

Travel agencies that specialise in trips for gays and lesbians have threatened to boycott Zanzibar.

[I am guessing that this will probably not be a huge economic impact, although I certainly agree with the sentiments, I think much less of Zanzibar now.]

Local supporters of gay rights have condemned the law, passed after bomb and grenade attacks on a restaurant and the homes of political and religious leaders, which police initially blamed on Muslim militants.
The last paragraph I found odd. As it reads, I thought, "so did they later find gays were responsible for the bombings?" Of course, as expected, they bombings and arson are just "unsolved" because the local prosecutor felt there was flimsy evidence against an Islamic leader. In any event, it seems to be capitulation, not retaliation.

This tendency of fundamentalist Muslims to use terror at every turn to get their way is quite appalling: Madrid bombings before the Spanish election; taking French hostages in Iraq to demand repealing a French law; intimidating politicians into supporting a fundamentalist agenda. (And don't forget Russia's problems.)

Of course, I think the Spanish are most blameworthy in sending the messages that "terror works," by responding to the terror blast by voting in a candidate who would pull Spanish troops from Iraq; and I laud the French (and the vast majority of French muslims!) for telling the kidnappers "no." But that is an entirely different subject, and I don't want to go off on a rant now, but's it is something that has been bugging me since the French kidnapping.

And, yes, the irony is that Freddie Mercury, front-man for the band Queen, is the most famous native Zanzibari. I doubt they'll be erecting a statue for him anytime soon.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (0) comments |  | Monday, September 13, 2004

Those Dam Communists - Hydroelectric problems in Asia  | e-mail post

North Korea is saying the explosion from a few days ago was related to a hydroelectric project. [Yahoo] According to an NK official: "It was a deliberate controlled detonation to demolish a mountain in the far north of the country." This seems to be the story that most major governments are accepting, and the consensus seems to be that it was either that, or possibly and accidental explosion.

When I first read it, it seemed odd. Popping the top off of a mountain for a hydro project? I am not a civil engineer, nor even an engineering dilatante, but it seemed odd.

Apparently some South Koreans have doubts as well as reported by JoongAng Daily. Some quick highlights:

The explosion took place in the middle of the night, but "North Korea suffers from power shortages," a South Korean official said. "It doesn't have an ability to power lighting equipment for a night construction project."

So they blew up a mountain? Seems excessive: "It doesn't make sense to set up blasts strong enough to blow up an entire mountain just to build a dam," Shim Myung-pil, civil engineering professor at Inha University, said. Massive blasts scatter rocks and soil too far away, thus engineers prefer using small-scale blasts when building dams, he said.

That big an explosion must mean a big hydro project. You'd think that would mean a big river, too, however, Ko Deok-gu, senior researcher at the Korea Water Resources Corp., which manages water resources in the South, said there is no large river near the blast site. The area is near the Huchang River, a tributary stream from Yalu River, Mr. Ko said, adding that other rivers east of the Huchang are better suited for building dams. "Even if a dam is built at Huchang, it will only be a small reservoir," he said.

I guess we'll need to wait a few more days to get some definitive answers, but given that it seems unlikely to have been nuclear, that's something.

Of course, if the North Korean's follow China's hydroelectric example of the Three Gorges project, the nuke would probably be the better environmental choice. Also, wasn't one of the goals of the Three Gorges project, environmental destruction, involuntary relocation and all, supposed to be stopping the Yangtze from flooding? Looks like even downstream from the dam it could get nasty. Of course, Chinese officials are saying the heavy rains are a once-in a century occurence. Funny coincidence that this once-per-century thing just happens to occur within the first year of Three Gorges' operation. The flood crest has passed the damn now, but there is apparentl a lot of heavy rain in the region's forecast over the next month.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (0) comments |  | Monday, September 13, 2004

Monday Morning Humor  | e-mail post

Almost better than the proverbial "Man Bites Dog" headline: Dog shoots man

Nah, he's not a tree-hugger, that's just grandma: transgenic tombstones embed your DNA in a tree

I'm no theologian, but I'm not sure Jesus would approve: Ultimate Christian Wrestling

No matter how you plan to vote, if you haven't seen Will Ferrell doing his Bush bit in this commercial for ACT, you really should; he does a great job.

And a little parody at CBS's expense regarding some newly-discovered e-mail from 1972.

A wonderful essay by Jay Tea at Wizbang pulling together Bush's malapropisms and Kerry's hair.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (0) comments |  | Monday, September 13, 2004

Minnesota Polling Bias from the Strib?  | e-mail post

On a more local political note, I am a little disappointed to see our Republican leader calling for the resignation of the Star-Tribune pollster for chronically underestimating (misunderestimating?) Republican turnout. I can see publicizing the inaccuracy, but I think taking Rob Daves to task personally was intemperate. On the other hand, it probably makes for better copy, and thus gets better coverage. Unfortunate rabble-rousing for the sake of publicity.

We should all appreciate the importance of accurate polling in a swing state like Minnesota, given that it can influence the mood and momentum of each national campaign, as well as where advertising dollars will be spent and candidates will visit through the election. I can also appreciate that the Strib does seem to have a bias against Republicans. The Pioneer-Press account of the story helpfully mentions:
"An April poll by the Star Tribune showed Kerry with a 12-point lead in Minnesota. But a May poll by the Pioneer Press and Minnesota Public Radio gave Kerry a 3-point lead, and a poll in June and July for the 2004 Elections Project at the University of Minnesota showed Kerry with a 2-point lead."
Even the Star Tribune acknowledges:
"In [2002 in] Minnesota, the [Star-Tribune] Minnesota Poll had an average error rate of 3 percentage points on where a candidate would finish. Zogby International, which also did polling in Minnesota, had an average error rate of 4 percentage points [also seeming to skew Democratic this year]. Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc., which did polling for the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Minnesota Public Radio, had an average error rate of 2 percentage points. Only Mason-Dixon's final poll correctly foreshadowed Norm Coleman's victory over Walter Mondale in an abbreviated race that remained fluid in its final days.

The final Minnesota Poll, conducted on the Sunday and Monday before the election and published with the election results on Wednesday, showed a 45-45 percent tie.

Fifty-four percent of the other states' polls had an error rate of 2 percentage points or less, putting Zogby and the Minnesota Poll below the national median in accuracy, according to the council."
I am guessing they may do results weighting based on an outdated weighting, or possibly ignoring the apparent Republican bias among independents. See comprehensive Minnesota polling results at RealClearPolitics.com (RCP is a great source if you want to do your own handicapping of the electoral college race.). Another interesting read is this analysis of consistent biases in national polls. The author demonstrates that Time, and unsurprisingly, Fox, have a systemic pro-Bush bias while Zogby and the Economist have an even larger systemic pro-Kerry bias.

I'm just looking forward to the next Mason-Dixon poll of Minnesota, as they really do seem to deliver the goods here in Minnesota, and seem to be the most accurate of any national firm.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (0) comments |  | Sunday, September 12, 2004

Public Radio on Republicans  | e-mail post

Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine writes about this week's installment of "This American Life" on public radio. It was about Republicans being an inclusve party. Although he was surprised by the coverage, I have written before about just how balanced public radio really is, despite its liberal bias in terms of commentators. Looking at the clock, I see it's actually on in about 10 minutes, so I'm going to go flip on 91.1.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (0) comments |  | Sunday, September 12, 2004

North Korea, Mushroom Clouds and "Divided Opinions" about Intelligence  | e-mail post

The second paragraph of Sunday's New York Times story on new intelligence about North Korea's possible nuclear testing reads:
While the indications were viewed as serious enough to warrant a warning to the White House, American intelligence agencies appear divided about the significance of the new North Korean actions, much as they were about the evidence concerning Iraq's alleged weapons stockpiles.
Now, as I am writing this, the news wires are abuzz with the report of a 2.5 mile wide mushroom cloud that appeared over North Korea a few days ago. (Question 1: why is this only making it into the news 3 days later?) South Korea's Yonhap news agency is the most up-to-date right now, but I imagine all the major sources will have better info within the next few hours.

Divided opinions, just like with the Iraqi WMDs, huh? It just goes to show you that sometimes you don't know until you know, y'know?

For a more detailed examination of North Korea's nuclear developments, visit Global Security.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (0) comments |  | Saturday, September 11, 2004

See B.S. news, I mean CBS News  | e-mail post

I hadn't been paying a ton of attention to the whole story about Bush's service record. I mean, yes, he spent his Vietnam days in the National Guard, and his service was probably lackluster. A lot of people in his position did. Most people didn't want to go over there and fight, and most people did what they could to avoid it.

However, in the course of ignorning the story, I hadn't even bothered to take a look at the documents produced by CBS as part of their story on Bush's military service. Just a quick glance and my initial reaction was "people are actually debating that this is a forgery?" The first thing that struck me was the presence of the superscripted "th"s as well as the fairly tight type. Typewriters are normally monospaced, that is the, 10th character (or space) in one line will usually line up with the 10th character or space in the line above or below it. To me, anyway, the documents hardly look as if they came from a typewriter. See the documents from CBS as PDFs: [1] [2] [3] [4].

If you're curious, I would suggest going to check out AWOLBush.com's service records for both candidates. Check out the typewritten work in all of the documents there. They look like they were produced on a typewriter. They are monospaced fonts, more like a Courier than a Times Roman, the font of choice on CBS's documents.

Some links of interest:
It is also worth noting that a $10,000 reward is being offered by DefeatJohnJohn.com for anyone who can produce a typewriter than can reproduce the CBS memos. Actually, the reward is now closer to $20,000 from other people putting up money on it as well. You might want to check before you put that IBM typewriter out in the garage sale tomorrow.

My favorite part is that CBS doesn't even seem willing to acknowledge that the memos may be fabricated.

When I was listening to the news around the Republican convention, it felt like the media had more "fact checkers" working on the various speeches than they did during the Democratic convention, but I largely attributed this to the relative lack of actual content of many speakers at the Dem's convention. This sort of thing though really does call into question the issue of balanced reporting.

As an aside: there is no question in my mind that John Kerry is more of a war hero than most people reading this are, or will ever have the chance to be, even if, as some claim, he may have been "overdecorated." However, that really isn't a fundamental qualification for the Presidency. Kerry's mistake was making his war record the cornerstone of his campaign. I personally feel the whole Swift Boat Veterans for Truth thing was probably a little unnecessary, as I don't see any need to smear the guy's military record. But, again, if that's the only thing you're running on, you do leave yourself open to that.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (0) comments |  | Saturday, September 11, 2004

Underground Cinema & Urban Exploration  | e-mail post

This is one of the more interesting stories I've read recently. It's about a fairly complete movie theater, bar and restaurant discovered in the caverns beneath Paris. [Guardian UK] What I found really most intriguing was the speed with which it was dismantled after being discovered. Give the story a read.

If you want to go deeper (sorry) into this subject, Infilitration has assembled some good French "urban exploration" links. I thought explographies.com was visually interesting, but doesn't seem to like Firefox (boo), so you should probably use IE if you can. Also, load times were slow when I visited, but your mileage may vary. This site is a little less avant garde, but is a much quicker way to see the content (and works fine in Firefox).

You can also read Murray Battle's experiences in the Paris Underground at the Infilitration site. The whole thing is pretty cool. If the whole urban exploration thing intrigues you, there are a number of sites that discuss it, in both above-ground and subterranean ways. Infiltration's global links section will point you to sites for exploration near you. If you're in the Twin Cities, you should check out the Action Squad.

Also, if you're looking for some good fiction set underground, Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere [softcover] is a great read set among the invisible people who live beneath London.

UPDATE 21-Sept-2004: If you're in the Twin Cities, you might also be interested to know St Paul is surveying it's tunnel system, from the Star-Tribune.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (0) comments |  | Friday, September 10, 2004

China: Land of Happy Browsers & Sad Pornographers  | e-mail post

When I saw the item on my SofoTex RSS feed that said "Happy Browser" the first thing that popped into my head was, "It must be a Chinese browser." I mean, "happy" seems to be among the favorite English words for the Chinese, it seems. While I was chastising myself for the massive cultural generalization, I clicked to go to the main website. Sure enough, it is a Chinese web browser. (screenshot)

I wonder if it can "filtrate" porn as well as advertisements, given the recently hardened stance the Chinese government is taking against online pornography; pornographers now face a very stiff sentence of life in prison. This actually doesn't seem all that severe a sentence for a country that seems to have a fairly liberal application of the dealth penalty.

My favorite story on the subject had to be an Indian news story that, I believe quite innocently, begins, "China is getting hard on porn."

Well, I'd hope so. I thought that was the point of it!

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (0) comments |  | Friday, September 10, 2004

Cheney Realizing His Lifelong Dream to be a Lightning Rod  | e-mail post

A friend of mine from some years ago used to say that he became a Democrat because "Ketchup is not a vegetable." For those of you too young to remember, or just a little foggy on your early-80's political brouhahas, this was a reference to the Reagan administration counting ketchup as a vegetable in federal school lunch programs. Obviously when that kind of rationalization is attempted to take nutrition away from impoverished children, it is pretty easy to think that the Republican party isn't the place for you. But, we haven't seen that kind of thing for quite a while. Until yesterday.

Dick Cheney, who has apparently been tasked with making the most outrageous claims possible on the campaign trail, yesterday told a crowd in Cincinatti that all of the economic doom and gloomers are forgetting that new bedrock foundation of American enterprise: eBay. Federal unemployment stats don't account for the 400,000 people who make selling on eBay a full or part-time job. [Cincinatti Enquirer]

Now, there is no denying that federal unemployment statistics don't do a very good job of tracking the broadening base of self-employment in the U.S., and this was ostensibly Cheney's point, as he was responding to a question from an audience member who said that as a self-employed individual he would be counted as unemployed in most statistics. Indeed, several of my friends and colleagues are nominally unemployed by these criteria, despite having enviable incomes. We should all be so lucky.

The White House actually prefers using what is called the Household Survey rather than the Payroll Survey to really judge employment. The reason being that there is no mechanism for counting the self-employed in the payroll survey, and it also lags at recognizing job creation in smaller and new businesses, while the Household survey asks people if they're working, not companies who they're employing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics outlines some of the differences between these two surveys in this PDF.

However, let's set aside the reality of the situation, since in politics we all know that the perception is the reality. Too few people are going to appreciate the subtle differences between different ways of assessing employment. Talking about eBay as offsetting the unemployment numbers many people are reading just opens you up to a lot of mocking. John Edwards even took the easy bait, pointing out that if we include bake sales and lemonade stands, the economy is probably doing great.

The only explanation I can think of is that this is at least a little bit funny and should distract people from his claims of a Kerry victory encouraging attacks on a weaker America, which really didn't play very well.

In possibly related news, I wonder where some of these eBay sellers get their merchandise.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (0) comments |  | Friday, September 10, 2004

C'mon Boss, It's Not Like Anyone Got Killed  | e-mail post

Yesterday, Northwest Airlines fired the two pilots who earlier in the summer incorrectly landed an Airbus at Ellsworth AFB instead of Rapid City Airport. [Pioneer Press] [Star-Tribune] A tape provided by the Air Force to the Pioneer Press had one woman saying that because the airports are near one another, "when they pop out of the clouds, they see the (Air Force base) runway, they don't trust their instruments [which are locked onto the right airport] and all of a sudden make a dive."

Admittedly, the two airfields are near one another, as you can see on this TerraServer view. However, what might not be immediately obvious is that the runway at Ellsworth is nearly twice as long as the one at the Rapid City airport. Ellsworth is a B-1 bomber base and an emergency landing site for the space shuttle, so you know they've got a serious runway. The other thing you'll notice if you drill down into the image is that the Ellsworth runway is surrounded by a small city, you know, an Air Force base. I'm not sure if these pilots might have thought Rapid City just had a hell of a terminal, but I would think that if you're going to rely on your eyesight over your instruments, you should at least wear your glasses.

Now, the pilot's union is contesting the firings. The union representative called the firing excessive. He cited previous confusion by other pilots between the two locations, but did acknowledge no other Northwest pilot had made such a mistake.

Personally, I think the firing is pretty reasonable. Especially in this age of heightened sensitivity to the risk of terror attacks, especially using commercial airliners, there is a legitimate question of endangering passenger lives with this kind of recklessness.

Not to mention, I cannot even imagine how pissed off the 122 passengers must have been sitting on the tarmac for 3 hours at Ellsworth. They probably didn't even let the smokers out.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (0) comments |  | Thursday, September 09, 2004

So I Guess the "F" Is for Fickle, Then?  | e-mail post

I thought it was funny that on Labor Day, John F. Kerry was out saying that the "W" in George W Bush's name stands for "wrong." [Boston Herald] Wrong war, wrong time, et cetera, ad nauseum. Of course, most recently, he had just said he would have gone to war. Then before that... Well, we all know the story.

While I really think much of the criticism that Kerry is facing for being a "flip-flopper" is a little unfair, to the extent that any legislator's record will likely contain inconsistencies because of omnibus legislation, various committee votes, political logrolling and the like, this sort of back-and-forth that Kerry is doing on the campaign trail makes it too easy for all the other claims to stick. Up until this change-up, I really hadn't bought into Kerry being fundamentally unable to make up his mind, although I have been frustrated by his ability (or willingness) to articulate a position that is more than simply the negation of the current administration's policy.

Of course, Kerry's in a tough spot on this. Because Kerry has not been able to articulate any clear policy directions, or at least not any consistent policy themes, it's boiling down to the Iraq situation. If Kerry's for it, he doesn't offer a clear contrast with Bush. When he's against it, he's at risk of being called weak in a world that most seem to agree needs strong leadership. He is probably going to be forced into more "flip-flops" on this before it's all done and said.

Right now, Bush & Co are forcing Kerry into batting his own positions around like a shuttlecock. I think they're waiting for Kerry to get himself so worked up that he loses his self-composure. If Kerry loses his cool in anyway close to the way Dean did in Iowa, that's going to send a message to a lot of people that having him in the White House might be a little disconcerting.

Question to Democrats: we get it; you don't like the war and you're pro-choice. Is there anything else, or should John Kerry just change his name to "Not Bush." There's got to be more to it than that.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (0) comments |  | Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Republican Lesbian Erotica  | e-mail post

While admittedly the three words of this post's title sound like "one of these things is not like the others," our Second Lady Lynne Cheney actually brings them together. Many people know Dick and Lynne Cheney have a lesbian daughter. It doesn't come up too often, and she has unfortunately not started a broader interest group supporting her father's run (my suggestion for a name has always been "Lesbians Who Want Dick"). What most people don't know, however, is that Lynne Cheney is actually a published author of lesbian fiction. Her 1981 book, Sisters, is unfortunately out-of-print. Today Amazon has a used copy for sale for $1,500, and it is one of the few used copies I have seen recently. If you'd just like to get some highlights for the book, along with some accompanying photography (with some minor above-the-waist nudity), Nerve has commissioned a photo shoot with quotes from Lynne's book as captions. Entertaining, but really not prurient.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (0) comments |  | Friday, September 03, 2004

Who's (really) Calling?  | e-mail post

Ken Belson of The New York Times today reports on a new service from startup Star38. Star38 provides a service, aimed primarily at collections agents, that allows a collector to spoof a customer's caller ID service, allowing them to show their calls as coming from a different person or telephone number.

Personally, I can't get too upset up about the idea of collectors being able to mask their numbers. Consumer debt runs rampant in this country, and a delinquent debtor is probably not going to answer a call from "Legbreaker Collections" or even an unknown caller, so there is legitimate value for those firms. What is troubling, however, is that while Star38 has aimed their service at collectors, it is presumably only a matter of time before the technology falls into other hands. It would certainly allow for some fun practical jokes.

Now, given that phone companies derive substantial revenue (and margin) from ancillary services like Caller ID, they are worried that if the integrity of Caller ID data is broadly compromised (and I imagine it will take more than just collection agents spoofing Caller ID) then consumers may not elect to pay for that service. BellSouth is saying they are looking into the practice.

They're probably just upset they didn't think of selling the service first.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (0) comments |  | Thursday, September 02, 2004

John Kerry: I'm "not political"...Huh?  | e-mail post

I was on Orkut today when I stumbled across John Kerry's Orkut profile (he showed up as a friend of a friend). What I loved was his profile response to the "political view" question: "not political." Huh? Is this guy unable to take a position on anything? I can appreciate wanting to make a nuanced response, but Orkut does give you 11 other choices for the answer other than "not political." Personally, I chose centrist, which while not perfect, is better than the other choices. But seriously, selecting "not political" when you are running for President of the United States is just completely absurd.

I also got a kick out of a posting in Kerry's testimonials. Christine from California [her site] felt it was important to let John Kerry know that she "had this dream the other night that I was working for your campaign and you, like me, were a poet. You were worried about whether your poetry was going to reach a larger audience or not. Then you turned into an elderly woman. What was that all about?" What indeed?

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (0) comments |  | Wednesday, September 01, 2004

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