Procrastination Nation

Things that Robert is thinking about that keep him from accomplishing anything.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2003
Summer Slant Available
The first summer issue of The Slant is available. Yours truly contributed this month's Fucked Image. This article didn't make the cut, but is only timely now. Enjoy!

Pres OKs Middle Class Welfare Bill

WASHINGTON -- Republicans declared victory today after passing a $350 billion package of tax cuts and tax credits to taxpayers with children. Before going to the president's desk, the bill required a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Dick Cheney in the Senate. President Bush signed the bill into law [today].

"This is a great day for our nation, for our economy, and for our families," said a jubilant President Bush. "This puts money in the hands of the people who deserve it."

In additon to lowering the tax on dividends to 15% and accelerating previous reductions in income taxes from the 2001 tax package, the new legislation raised the deductible for dependent children from $600 to $1000. The irony of the policy of decreasing taxes based on the number of one's offspring, and thereby increasing individuals' net income, was apparently lost on the Republican majority.

For decades, Republican lawmakers and presidents had derided government for issuing welfare checks for each additional child. They argued that this created an economic incentive to have more children, further burdening the nation with providing financial support for these children. The tax credits passed into law yesterday create the same incentives, but for more families.

As a result, economic demographers predict as much as a 20% increase in the birth rate over the next seven years, reversing several years of decline. In addition, the law's changes "could have substantial effects on labor supply as people choose to substitute fucking for working," said labor economist David Card of Princeton University.

Conservatives contend that this will be a positive for the nation. "Welfare payments went predominantly to black families, who would spend the money on crack or a new weave. These tax credits go to white families who will use it for wholesome purposes, like filling the gas tanks in their SUVs or buying a high definition television. You know, things that stimulate the economy," said Republican activist Pat Robertson.

Randall S. Kroszner, a member of the president's Council of Economic Advisers, touted one of the spillover benefits: "This will create a new wave of employees to pay social security taxes to help finance the medical care and retirement of our nation's Baby Boomers."

Asked who would then finance care for this new boomlet when it retires circa 2075, Kroszner mubmled something under his breath and left for Circuit City to buy a Tivo digital video recorder.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003
Back in Black and Gold
I have returned from Birmingham to Vandyland. Although I didn't eat my hot dog quota, I did make it out to the SEC baseball tournament this weekend for Saturday night's LSU-MSU game, a 17-5 blowout. A couple of quick notes on the game:
  • Rain Effects: Being on hand to watch the university that grinds pitchers to dust (LSU/Ben McDonald U), I wondered how this game would be affected by the compressed schedule caused by the Wednesday rainout. LSU didn't suffer too badly, but MSU's staff got lit up early and often. I can't imagine it's a positive thing for these pitchers' development to have to pitch back-to-back doubleheaders on Friday and Saturday, plus the opening round games on Thursday and the eventual championship games on Sunday. For LSU and Alabama, that was six games in four days. We'll see how these teams hold up in the NCAA tournament.

  • Small Ball: With three runs already plated and runners on first and second and nobody out, facing a reliever who I believe had pitched earlier in the day against Mississippi, LSU orders its DH to bunt the runners over. Are you kidding me? MSU has shown no ability to record an out and you give them an easy out? The move "worked" in that the runners advanced and eventually scored, but given the hitting that came to pass, they would've scored anyway. Although, watching this hitter later in the game, he is a free swinger. Maybe the manager simply didn't want to screw up the momentum with a strike out or double-play.

  • LSU Fans: We sat on the LSU side, and though I met some nice folks from Memphis who were big LSU fans, the rest of the LSU contingent certainly attempted to live up to their fabled levels of sportsmanship (though it wasn't nearly as bad as I imagined it would be with no fights in the stands). The MSU fans continued to cheer the very few positive events for their team (first baserunner, first run), so the relatively muted fans (to their credit, the LSU fans had turned down the wattage after getting ahead 14-0) re-energized themselves to chant "LSU! LSU!" after every positive event, as they added another 3 runs. Perhaps they were just too worn out from so many games and such a quick knockout. But, you know the kind of people I'm talking about. The people who chant "USA! USA!" at Olympic men's basketball games against Uruguay and 48 point lead. Basically, it's people who have no diminishing marginal returns to patriotic/fanatic revelry. This wasn't nearly so bad, but it was close to where marginal returns equal zero.

  • Big Field: LSU and MSU have sent more than their share of stars to the majors, and the prime candidate for LSU this year, according to the faithful, is shortstop Aaron Hill. He certainly played well, though he didn't seem so obviously better than everyone. Seems to have a little too much double-pump in his throws to first, like many infielders I watched in pre-majors baseball. So, I'm not holding my breath on him becoming an All-Star.

    What was surprising was that these fellas were playing on a minor league field, the Hoover Metropolitan Stadium, home to your Birmingham Barons (AA-CHW) and managed by former Mets 2B Wally Backman; and, yet, even with aluminum bats, the biggest hitters on both teams had trouble getting the ball out of the park. Several LSU players came real close, bouncing many hits off the fences. It also seemed the larger dimensions affected the fielders. Maybe they were exhausted from so many games, but it seemed like the outfielders on both sides (though mostly for MSU) had a tough time judging flight of the ball and misplayed possible outs into hits. Talking to several fans there, the key difference was in the power alleys: LSU has comparable measures down the line and to straightaway center, but the pro field has a little more curve to it.

Anyhoo, that covers me for now about the SEC tournament. I got through 1 of the NLRH CDs. Mini-capsule review: the most amazing thing about the show is the quality of its broadcast in terms of sound effects and mimicry of styles. But, the only bits that had me laughing out loud were the "Canadian Newsreel," which featured a story about a spelling bee between 25 hockey all-stars and a group of retarded children (obviously, the kids won), and a James Taylor parody called, "Methadone Maintenance Man." It's hard to evaluate innovators in an artform long after the innovation is common knowledge. Sure, Galileo was smart, but who thinks it was that hard to show the effects of gravity or that the world was round? We've been thinking that way for what seems like forever, but, of course, we haven't. As I go through the rest of the discs, I'll give a more complete review.

Friday, May 23, 2003
Memorial Weekend
Hey folks! I'm headed back to Birmingham this weekend. No, I haven't found a goldfish sitter, so Charlie will be joining me for the drive. Also, I bought the National Lampoon Radio Hour box set this week, so I'm hoping to review that next week.

I will try to post, but no promises. I'm hoping to catch at least one session of the SEC baseball tournament and hit my annual quota for hot dogs. Otherwise, I'll be back Tuesday for a job interview and will recommence blogging in earnest.

Thursday, May 22, 2003
Maybe Length Isn't the Only Thing that Matters
Annika Sorenstam seems to be doing well on day 1 of the Colonial. Apparently all the "she doesn't have the length" stuff was just a psych-job by the players that is proving to be ineffective.

Her performance brings to mind an issue about sports performance that I wanted to take a second to vent about. Sports produce many statistics, but most focus on frequencies/percents (batting average, winning percentage) or lengths/distances (average runs which is ERA, average driving distance in golf). Nobody reports statistics on variability in performance, and even when they kind of do (e.g., greens in regulation) even then it's used as a frequency measure not an indicator of variability.

Which brings me back to Ms. Sorenstam. Would you prefer to hit your drives 280 yards in the fareway 90% of the time, or hit it 320 yards but in the fareway only 60% of the time? Lots of things affect the tradeoff (e.g., your ability to hit out of the rough or a bunker), but the opportunity to hit consistently from an advantageous lie would seem to at some point offset the value of extra distance. Perhaps you have to hit the fareway only 50% or 40% of the time for it be worth dialing back power. Or, if you only hit 250 90% of the time, you might prefer the length. But, the tradeoff exists, and the data exists in theory to identify the returns to distance. (I say in theory because they collect the data, but I don't know who stores it and would make it available to study.)

Think about it in a football context: would you rather have a runner who over 4 games rushes for 200 yards one game, but only 50 in the others (350 total), or would you rather have the guy who runs for 87.5 in each of 4 games (350 yards)? Similarly, would you rather have the guy with a 4.0 yard per carry average who 90% of the time rushes for between 3 and 5 yards, or the guy who rushes has 4.0 per carry but who will get anywhere between -2 and 10 on a carry. This seems to be the crux of the Emmitt Smith v. Barry Sanders debate. Different people will value the variability differences (some people are risk averse, some are risk seekers), but it's not unreasonable to prefer the low-variability guy. The truly risk averse would prefer the guy with a lower average (3.8) to a higher average (4.0) if the variability in the higher average guy contains too many possible negative outcomes (e.g., tackles behind the line of scrimmage). (All of this is apart from issues of "does the guy hold onto the football," which is also a tradeoff.)

The same holds for baseball. Over 16 at bats in 4 games, would you prefer to have a hitter who goes 4-for-16 by going 1-4 in each game, or a hitter who goes 0-0 in 3 games and 4-4 in the last (assume all are singles and the person plays for the Tigers so that there are never runners on base ahead of the hitter)? In one sense, it may not matter: if you're not going to score, who cares how you get on base. But, if we relax the assumption about runners being on base, I think it would be better in the long run to have the hitter with minimum variability, all else held equal. Sure, you'd hope that the 4-4 occurred with runners on base but even that has an expectation and is unlikely to coincide with your great hitting.

Now, does this mean that you'd prefer the minimum variance hitter (1-4 every night) if the other guy were hitting homers in each at bat? Of course not. But, if you're evaluating player performance, I would say the streakiness of the hitter matters and that you'd want to minimize variance in hitting (or runs allowed or whatever). Even if you didn't report variances all the time, if you reported medians occasionally, a statistic that is less influenced by the extremes (e.g., a run for 98 yards, giving up 5 runs in 1/3 of an inning), you might have a better sense of performance. Let's see if they talk about that in Moneyball. I'll try to buy it this weekend.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003
A Fish Called Charlie
I got a goldfish over the weekend. I have him sitting on my desk next to my keyboard. Gives me something interesting to look at instead of the Internet. It's feeding time right now, and I've watched Charlie puke twice. Am I the only person to own a bulemic fish? Can anybody recommend a pet psychiatrist who can help him work through his body image issues?

Actually, I got two goldfish over the weekend. Charlie was the only one to survive the night. (Shh...I did not report the icthycide to the authorities.) Perhaps narcissism is the root cause of his problems.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003
Alert Level Sponsorship
The Department of Homeland Security has sold the naming rights and color names for the Terror Alert level to Land's End for an estimated $34.6 million over 5 years. The new terror alert levels will be named, "Terror Alert Level, by Land's End" with the following coding system:
  • Cinnamon: Severe risk of terrorist attacks
  • Terra Cotta: High risk of terrorist attacks
  • Maize: Elevated condition. Significant risk of terrorist attacks
  • Soft Cobalt: Guarded condition. General risk of terrorist attacks
  • South Sea Jade: Low risk of terrorist attacks

Today, the Departement of Homeland Security raised the Terror Alert Level by Land's End to Terra Cotta.

Monday, May 19, 2003
As It Ever Was and Ever Shall Be
Greetings, folks. Another trip to Alabama, so I was unable to blog this weekend. I'll have a lot more to report in the next few days, but I'm tight on time because of a grant deadline.

However, I did want to take a second to note some things on baseball. Over the weekend I caught part of Game 7 of the NY Mets-Oakland A's World Series (1973) on ESPN Classic. It was great to hear Curt Gowdy's voice. In the first half inning I recorded the following observations (I taped the rest of the game and will watch it this week):
  • Graphics Size: One of my pet peeves about broadcasting today is the trend to making graphics as small as possible. The new ticker on ESPN for example is just microscopic, in addition to being obnoxious to read because it alternates between showing info and scrolling it. Not a problem in the 70s. In addition to having bigger hair and brighter colors, the game graphics (stats, lineups, scores) were all in enormous, readable fonts. Broadcasters ought to remember that not everyone is watching a 53" t.v.

  • Player Size: It's scary to see how small the players were. The biggest players looked about the size of today's college players.

  • Oakland Fans: The broadcaster (not Gowdy) mentioned as the A's ran onto the field that the A's were really down on their fans for not being more enthusiastic and coming out to support the team. Sound familiar to anyone?

  • Programming: First, the game was played during the day! A World Series Game 7 day game. Second, the game was opposite a 49ers home game. Can you imagine baseball playing opposite the NFL today? Remember the talk about Joe Buck potentially calling an NFL game in SF last year before as SF baseball playoff game last year? Lou Rawls pulled off the double-play on the national anthem. Btw, guess who threw out the first pitch? Clint Eastwood.

  • Umpires: It was great to see the old external chest protectors. A stark difference between today and yesterday is the umpire's stance. Instead of dry humping the catcher the way he does today, the umpire stood a good stride back from the catcher and barely squatted/leaned over to call balls and strikes. His head was easily at the batter's jaw line.

  • Colorful Commentary: A couple of fun lines came out. Describing Sal Bando before his first at-bat, who was 7-24 for the series, the announcer said he was, "Hotter than a $2 pitcher." I assume he meant beer and not baseball. Seemed striking to me. The other fun one, so clearly of its time, was regarding the Mets starting pitcher (can't recall, but a left-handed fireballer), who was described by another player as, "Quicker than instant coffee."

I'll try to come back to this during the week. Big, big fun.

Friday, May 16, 2003
Private Buses?
Perhaps somebody already does this, but is it not possible to develop a private bus service for adults that adults would use? Typically, it's the poor, young/elderly, minority, and/or extremely urban who use public transportation. Some of those are reasons for the non-poor, middle-aged, white, and suburban folks to avoid the bus. Also, public buses can be notoriously behind schedule making it unreliable for people who can afford other means of transportation.

Yet, we see fairly frequently examples of situations when white folks will ride the bus: shuttle service to/from an airport; shuttle service to/from a hotel; shuttle service between parking garages and other places (e.g., sattellite parking); riding on luxury buses for leisure trips (e.g., junkets to casinos, school/sports trips for themselves or their children).

I wonder if it wouldn't be possible to create a bus service that caters to middle- and upper-income people. The key ingredients seem to be comfort--cushy seats, wide enough that you don't have to touch people next to you--cleanliness, reliability, convenience (minimum waiting time at pickup locations), and possibly entertainment (e.g., t.v. or radio piped in). Imagine a bus service with a hotel shuttle-like vehicle that serviced a downtown building with several companies and specific suburban locations. Pipe in NPR, let them in the HOV lane, drop them off at their neighborhood school, and voila! I think people would be willing to pay for something like this. I need to get cracking.

Truth at 24 Frames per Second
All you red light runners, here's info you can use in your defense: check the duration of the yellow light. A citizen activist (or whacko, depending on your perspective) videotaped the light at the intersection and showed that the yellow light ran for 3.5 seconds, but the camera flashes after 3 seconds. Also, here's a website with defense info:

Thursday, May 15, 2003
Can't Out Irony Government
This article at the NYTimes talks about a homeless shetler that will become homeless if the city of Chicago has its way.

Time Waster
I need to add counter stats to my site (or get data from others'). I'd be curious to see how the number of hits to a blog varies as a function of the length of posts (avg. words per post) and rate of posts (avg. posts per day). Open to your recommendations for free stats counters. I'll wager that shorter posts lead to more hits and increased posts produce decreasing marginal returns (i.e., hits increases at a decreasing rate as the number of posts rises).

Get Me Rex Kramer!
NBC announced plans for a very special November sweeps stunt. Robert Stack will host his greatest episode ever of "Unsolved Mysteries," titled "Is There Life After Death?"

I had planned to post the following joke, too: "Is it me or is Stack's death retribution for the revelations about JFK and his intern?" However, now I can't find a source that links the two. I swear to god I remember a Tonight Show interview with Stack in which he claimed to be roommates or a buddy of Jack or Joe Kennedy, but I can't find a damned thing. I hate the possibility that I could be wrong about something.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003
Justice Is a Dish Best Served with Cash
Greetings! I've completed my civic duty for the week. Our trial is complete, and we have rendered our decisions. I'll fill everyone in on details tomorrow though because I'm just too damned tired from all that waking up to be at jury duty by 8:00 stuff. And all that staying awake and paying attention stuff. And the staying up late to write grant material, too. But, it was definitely a good time.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003
A Dream Come True
Yes, I've been picked for jury duty. I can't tell you details yet,'s probably o.k. to tell my initial reaction. Imagine watching C-SPAN. O.k., imagine that it's not on t.v. and watching it live, only you're compelled to be there by the government. You with me? It's every bit as exciting and fun as I imagined it! This is the one time I am not being ironic or sarcastic. Will fill in the blanks in the coming days. I've been taking notes on the process.

Monday, May 12, 2003
Mountin' Momma
West Virginia's Democratic Gov. Bob Wise, admitted to being "not faithful" to his wife and family. Political insiders say this would propel him to the front of the crowded field of Democratic presidential contenders in 2004 if he chooses to run. (Ed: You may thank me now for bypassing the obligatory incest jokes.)

"Scrub" That
Wow, NBC kept "Scrubs" and gave it the spot after "Friends." The punchline below should be changed to, "as staff writers for 'Good Morning Miami' this fall." Check out NBC's lineup for next year.

Did You See or Touch Any Monkeys?
English researchers tested the hypothesis that if you put a bunch of monkeys in a room with a typewriter, or in this case, a computer and keyboard, they would eventually produce the works of Shakespeare. The results were quite far from Shakespeare. The monkeys apparently were confused by Microsoft's announcement of an Internet-connected toilet. Don't feel sorry for the monkeys though. NBC announced it has hired them as staff writers for the sitcom to follow "Friends" this fall.

Sunday, May 11, 2003
Eve of Instruction
Tomorrow I report for jury duty. Looks like it's state court. I'm looking forward to reporting back to you on the state of the justice system from the inside. I'll probably be a bit sporradic in my entries over the next several days.

Saturday, May 10, 2003
What Does the HR Department Do?
I was reading-up on this article about the NYTimes journalist who is accused of falsifying and plagiarizing many of his articles. Among the notable deceptions is that the New York Times hired him on the assumption that he had graduated from Maryland. Apparently, he never actually graduated.

I'm wondering whether anybody ever reviews resumes. I certainly wonder whether the people to whom I've sent my resume this year ever looked at it. I suppose somebody does because we often learn that so-and-so never graduated or never earned the particular degree listed, usually after the person has been employed there for several years. How hard is it to track this stuff down? Why can't these departments figure it out? What's amazing though is that often these liars are quite successful on the job, which raises the question, what the hell is the value of the degree in the first place?

Friday, May 09, 2003
Moving Up
If you Google "Procrastination Nation," I'm on the first page of hits, and the 2nd page on MSN (#25). It looks like others had the same cute title that I did, but they look like they're out of date or just sections/titles within a broader site. Soon, I will be queen, I mean, king, king of the Google searches. (Email me if you got the reference.)

Shula: Connections to the Past?
O.k., Mike Shula has a nice pedigree. The winningest pro coach is his father. He played QB at Alabama, and he has been NFL assistant for nearly 15 years. On the other hand:
  1. He quarterbacked in the dark days of Ray Perkins. God help those who suffered through those years.
  2. He coached one of the most impotent offenses of the 1990s in Tampa Bay under Tony Dungy. He was so bad that importing the Titans' Les Steckel was considered an improvement, for at least one year before they brought in John Gruden.
  3. Yes, his dad is Don Shula, but his brother is David Shula. He has a pretty darn similar pedigree to Mike, and we saw how effectively he ran the Cincinnati Bengals.

Is this what they mean by winning tradition? It took weeding him out of Tampa for Tampa to win. It took Jay Barker (!!!) and an improved defense to provide the only post-Bear championship. Being the son of a famous coach or athlete does not guarantee success.

Also, I don't buy that he brings great knowledge of the NFL and that will make him better than college coaches. Coach Fran had no pro experience, yet he transformed the DuBose squad from underachievers to achievers. What QB did he develop in the NFL? Do we credit him for Trent Dilfer and Jay Fiedler? Is this how he's going to recruit star, pro-style QB recruits to Tuscaloosa? If they were going for tradition, the better choice was GB running backs coach Sylvester Croom, who worked on Coach Bryant's staff for almost 10 years. And he's got all that NFL experience that's supposedly so important now.

But, I'm not sure tradition is what they need. They need a person who's politically astute enough to deal with the boosters, an organized person who manage an enormous staff of coaches and recruiting duties, and keep the players disciplined on the field, playing together. All else being equal, I'll put my faith in somebody who's head coached before. It's not clear that any of the candidates were cinches to take graduate to coaching status.

What will be interesting to see is how the fans handle the probation and Shula's performance. This is the second year of scholarship restrictions, and I believe they have at least one more, so we'll see steady effects on the talent pool. This is where Shula benefits from his race, reputation, and Alabama history. Because he has those positive things going for him, fans will do their best to make excuses to look past awful losses in the coming year(s). I'm curious how much time it buys him. I think if Croom had come in, on top of not being the prodigal son that Shula is, he would have had to deal with latent (and overt) racism in the alumni association, too. That it would be harder for him off the field doesn't justify passing him over though.

Baby Names
This post at USAToday lists the most common baby names for 2002. You can look at trends over time at this site. What's funny to notice over the past decade is the rise in the number of traditional biblical names. Lots of Daniel, Joshua, and the insurgent Jacob alongside traditional stuff like Matthew. Is this a sign of resurgent religiosity in America? On the girls side, the only few I can see are Hannah, Rachel, and Sarah.

I'm also surprised how few Williams there are. I thought this was an anti-Clinton thing, too, but William hasn't been on the top-10 names list since 1975 (except a tie for 10th in 1991). In fact, several very English names seem to be declining over this time (Christopher, Andrew, James, Elizabeth). Weird. Perhaps people are using the common names (e.g., listing Chris rather than Christopher) when filing.

I'd love for SSA to post a list of the 10 least common names. What are the names that only 1 person in the entire U.S. had? Or, the 10 most common names after adjusting for homonyms (e.g., DeJuan, DaJuan, Dewon, Dwon).

Chickens and Eggs
I was reading this piece by Howard Rosenberg of the L.A. Times. It's about the media's role in feeding the nation's obsession with crap like the Laci Peterson disappearance/murder. His contention is that the reason we care is because it's on t.v. rather than the reverse.

People like to think they have control over their own thoughts and feelings. And perhaps in some (many?) situations they do. But, they don't always. This article has reminded me of some other similar issues in our lives. On the mundane side, the fact that I have a blog compels me to write in it. I may have started it with the intention of writing longer, well-written pieces, but there's something about the immediacy of the medium and the satisfaction of seeing something new up there that compels me to post more often and with less well thought out arguments. (Present entry included.) I had envisioned writing something thoughtful and posting to the site when it was ready, but instead you get my thoughts as I think them and type them. Only later do I come back and clean up an omitted word or stray misspelling. The same works for people reading blogs, too. You have your favorite blog sites, and you go looking to them for more content all the time. And when they don't produce enough, you find other blogs or references within those blogs to get some new information. Ditto for when people started web surfing. The medium and your interaction with it conditions the brain by feeding a psychological reward system that encourages impulsivity and obsession.

On the darker side, I think this is what happens with the priests in the Catholic Church. People like to blame it on the fact that the Church admits homosexuals to the priesthood, or that somehow homosexuals seek out the priesthood to have the opportunity to be around young boys. However, I would argue that the reverse effect holds: I would say that it is proximity to young boys (and the absence of sexual outlets) that creates the impulse to gratify themselvessexually with young boys. Context begets opportunity. Opportunity begets imagination. Imagination begets action.

Ah, now you think I'm awful or disgusting, but tell me this. How many times have you been working with someone that you don't find attractive and then become attracted to them during the time that you work with them? (Or have class with them or whatever.) We like to think we have standards of who we're interested in sexually or romantically, but over time, through repeated interactions with people, we come to make tradeoffs in our putative standards or come to find new reasons to like somebody. We ascribe meaning or happiness or joy to something that ordinarily, rationally, wouldn't motivate us in the slightest.

Asexual? O.k., how many times have you found yourself in a stupid job yet come to find yourself caring about the consequences of a decision there. The context, and your participation in it, gives you an investment and a reason to care. The brain justifies the impulse and uses the justification as evidence for a conclusion that our impulses have already triggered. You mean it's illegal to have sex with kids? You mean it's against company policy to date co-workers? You mean it's against the law to launder money and misstate corporate earnings? As much as you know those rules, you may still not act according to those rules.

How hard is it to believe that deprivation of a something (e.g., alcohol, attention, sex) may cause somebody to overconsume them upon first exposure, whereas somebody given chronic exposure might not respond so wildly. This is not to say that everybody who's exposed to children or that everybody who works at a corporation would do those things. However, I would argue that were the person not in the situation, the idea would never occur to them, and so the crime would not be committed. Perhaps somebody smarter than me who's a better writer will tackle this.

Thursday, May 08, 2003
I've Got Ass to Kiss, Cha-Cha
When the hell did Dennis Miller become the court jester for the United States of Fascism? Watching him the past nine months or so, including this week on the Tonight Show (I confess, I switched briefly from Dave to watch DM), is painful. The guy's about as subtle as a Hallmark commercial. I was always a fan of his on SNL, on his specials, and even to a degree on his HBO show, though I seldom watched because HBO's too expensive in these parts.

I'm frustrated with him not because of his content so much. I disagree with it, but I can laugh at liberals as easily as most. I guess what bothers me is his comic perspective. I've always thought of comedy as being anti-establishment and anti-authority. Even when groups are out of power, it can still be anti-authority as most groups still have some hierarchical, orthodox position to be ridiculed. Perhaps that is just coincidence. But, to me, there's nothing particularly funny about making fun of the weak and downtrodden. Venal, yes. Funny, no.

"Have you seen all these homeless people? This homeless guy comes up to me and says, 'Change.' I'm like, 'Sure.' So, I flip the collar up on my Izod shirt, put on some Vuarnets, jauntily toss my sweater around my shoulders, peg my chinos, and put on some deck shoes. I look like the centerfold of the Official Preppy Handbook. Get yourself a suit and a shower, alright? This guy looks like he hasn't seen running water since the Carter Administration. He thinks Grizzly Adams is a male supermodel for god's sake. Are you telling me this guy can't get a job? His odor alone should get him a taxi medallion. Somebody get Ashcroft on the horn and deport this shit-smelling fuck back to France!"

I guess that's the thing that bothers me. The humor is so self-serving. It's not just that he's picking on somebody. It's that the humor is about his ability to out-smart and out-reference the audience. I've got my own elitist streak, and I get a kick out of catching the references, trying to keep up with him and his staff of writers. But, that can't provide any lasting enjoyment. It's like going on a diet of condiments. I loves me some condiments, but chugging salsa just isn't good nutrition.

That said, Mr. Miller, can I get a job on your staff?

Wednesday, May 07, 2003
Apple Music Update
In a previous posting, I discussed the Apple's $.99 Music Store. Here's a link to another blog that talks about Apple's successful launch of its $.99 music download system. I wonder how much I'm willing to pay to have the physical artwork and liners. If an album has 10 songs, and I have to pay $16.99 at Tower (plus tax), then I'm basically having to pay $7 for packaging.

This is the bad thing--o.k., the different thing--about moving to digital music: as important as the music is, the album (now, CD) art is a central part of the experience. I guess it has diminished in importance and will continue to do so, but when I think about an album (yes, I still call them albums), my brain automatically inserts the image of the album. There's Abbey Road. And there's Are You Experienced? There's Some Girls. And there's Bruce's jeans and white t-shirt against the American flag. There's 1984. And Moving Pictures. Thriller. Synchronicity. Nevermind. You probably have your own to add to the list. I wonder what it will be like when an artist releases their music exclusively through the Internet. That will be a sad day.

My Conspiracy Senses Are Tingling
ESPN, SportsIllustrated, and the Birmingham News have new details about the Mike Price situation. The most humorous part is this passage:
According to SI, Price left the club at midnight and went back to his hotel. According to one of the women involved, Price engaged "in some pretty aggressive sex" with two women in the hotel. The source told SI that at one point she and her female companion "started screaming 'Roll Tide!' and he was yelling back, 'It's rolling, baby, it's rolling.'"

Good stuff. However, more intersting to me are these passages:
"I offered him a table dance," Lori (Destiny) Boudreaux, a married mother of two who has worked in strip clubs for 15 years, told SI. "He tipped me $60. Then he asked me to take him to the semi-private dance area. He got a little bad there. We have rules, and touching is not allowed.

"He told me I was the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen," Boudreaux continued. "He kept telling me he had a room at the [Crowne Plaza] Hotel, and he wanted me to meet him there late that night. He was definitely persistent. I told him my husband was coming to pick me up after work, which he did, by the way."

The newspaper said Jennifer Eaton, who claims to have been in the hotel room that night, supported Price's assertion that there was no sex. Eaton was described as a 30-year-old native of Hartselle, Ala., who used to work at Arety's Angels, the Pensacola topless bar that Price visited April 16.

Eaton said she was one of three women in Price's hotel room that night, but only dancing and ``carrying on'' took place.

"Please tell Coach Price that I'm so sorry if I was in any way involved in getting him in trouble,'' she sobbed in a phone interview, the News said.

My inner conspiracy theorist thinks a significant portion of the Alabama Board of Trust and Alumni Association never wanted Price to begin with, they disliked what they saw at spring practice, and they set about finding a way to get him tossed out. Boudreaux's quote reminds me of Paul Dooley's testimony in Strange Brew: "And those tapes are timecoded. Which is very difficult to fake."

The plot's no more complicated than when Bert and Danny were set up on "Soap" so many years ago, or when Hawkeye and Trapper set up the Colonel at the Japanese hospital with the geishas in M*A*S*H. It'll be interesting to see whether the ladies crack. If t.v. and movies have taught me one thing, strippers are opportunistic and have a hard time keeping their mouths shut. If I were writing the episode for "Police Squad," the title would be, "The Patsy Wore Pasties (Today We Live, Tomorrow We Die)."

Tuesday, May 06, 2003
The Charlotte What?
USAToday has this article about the new Charlotte NBA franchise's nickname possibilities. I thought the Charlotte Queens would be interesting. Imagine Nathan Lane as the mascot and Harvey Fierstein doing voiceover work in the land of NASCAR. How about buying a Torch Song Trilogy Ticket Package: tickets to 3 games, 3 meal deals, and all the smoldering, homoerotic NBA bumping-and-grinding action you can stand for only $33 apiece.*

*Must include Memphis as one of the 3 games.

The Empire Strikes Below the Belt
For all of you kids out there who like to look at D-cupped C-list actresses and models, Wal-Mart is striking back by dropping Maxim, FHM, and Stuff from its shelves. This should raise the nation's IQ by nearly 7 points. All hail the New Puritans!

It'll be interesting to see what this means for Playboy's redesign. After hiring Maxim's former editor, Playboy has planned to become even less nude than it already was, the idea being that it would reduce the stigma of posing for and purchasing it. Of course, if buying Maxim becomes stigmatizing, why should Playboy bother to make the switch?

More Fun
Courtesy of the Washington Post, here is a review of Modern Drunkard Magazine.

According to Lee Sinnis, of the The Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia, the baseball players union has proposed adding 2 more wild cards and giving first round byes to the top 2 teams.

Since playoff games are where the real money is at, I say we make every game a playoff game. Heck, these players try really hard. Sure, they're paid a lot money, but, gosh darn it, they love this game, too. To play 162 games, that takes real courage. But, year after year, teams play 162 games and are discarded like a Jack-in-the-Box wrapper. We need to do what we can to honor the valiant efforts of these players.

But, if they can't do it for the players, they should at least do it for the fans. The fans deserve to see playoff calibre teams every time they go to the ballpark. They're the ones that pay those salaries through those crazy ticket prices and parking fees and outrageously priced concessions. Not to mention those stadiums they finance through PSLs and municipal bonds and property taxes. I mean, if they're going to pay for all these things, don't they deserve to have the best? And isn't the best defined by being in the playoffs and having a chance to win the World Series? I mean, who's going to want to come see these games if they're just going to contribute to "statistics" on the pages of some book or website or cd that you can order from Lee Sinnis?

We must stop devaluing the game by reducing it to numbers and take account of the feelings of the players and the fans. Let's make everybody happy and give every team a chance!!!

Also, isn't the All-Star Game just a little bit elitist? I mean, who are you or I to say who the best 25 or 30 or 32 players are in the game from each league. It's so subjective. You have your criteria, like on-base percentage and slugging percentage and runs saved above average; and, I have my criteria, like the depth of each player's soul, how much they give back to the community, and their need, nay right, to feel love and support and respect from their family and friends. Who's to say one of us is right and one of us is wrong? Everybody should make the All-Star team, just like they do on my son's little league baseball team. Sure, we may have to add a few extra players to the field, but who wouldn't want to see All-Star calibre players like Oakland's Terrence Long playing Deep-Right-Center and batting 14th for the AL, or the DBacks' Quinton McCracken playing Shallow-Left-Field-Foul Territory and batting 18th for the NL?

It's time that MLB start doing something for its players and the fans!!!

Trickling In
Hey, I've gotten a few of your Hillary Contest entries, but not enough to have a meaningful distribution. I know you all are procrastinators, too; so, I'll start with guilt as my motivator. You know, several dozen people are reading this blog. They can't rely on its Creator to provide all the content. As a procrastinator himself, he can only do so much. You should know that. You're letting everyone down by not doing your part. I mean, he's made it as simple as possible for you. He's included the link and filled in the subject line. All you have to do is click this link to the Hillary Contest, type in a number, and click on the send button. Is 5 seconds really too much to ask? I guess you were going to write the great American novel in that time. Or finish your thesis. Or update your resume. But, no, all you've done is read these past few sentences. Now, get clicking.

Monday, May 05, 2003
Future Job Interviews
Mike Price's firing, the possible ouster of Larry Eustachy, and the Bennett revelations, I'm wondering what job interviews will look like in the future.
Coaching Candidate: I would very much like to coach your sports team. I have developed a track record of winning games and graduating students who play in my program.

Athletic Director: That's very impressive. I'm wondering though about your other qualifications.

CC: Well, I have a graduate degree in education. You don't have to worry about me falsifying my resume. Laughs.

AD: Not laughing. That's good to hear. However, I was thinking more about...personal matters.

CC: Yes, sir. I'm married. I've got two kids. They're all looking forward to moving here and the opportunities that being in the shadow of such a fine institution of higher learning provide. And, I'm looking forward to the tuition benefits for the one who's going to college next year. Laughs awkwardly.

AD: Not laughing. Hmm...So, you admit to having a wife and children?

CC: Uh, yes, sir. We are just one big, happy family. Karen was my high school sweetheart. And Josh and Jamie are just the most special kids a fella could have.

AD: And you fathered those children?

CC: Now, wait a minute. I don't know what you're...

AD: We have to be thorough in this process. And we don't want to be surprised.

CC: Umm...o.k. No, they're definitely my kids. Jamie got my go-get-'em personality, but Josh, darn his luck, ended up with my looks. Chuckles nervously.

AD: Well, I appreciate your honesty. Your on the field qualifications are outstanding...

CC: Thank you, sir.

AD: ...but, I'm afraid we're going to have look in another direction.

CC: Because I'm married?

AD: Well, that's part of it. You see, by admitting that you fathered these children, you've admitted that you have had sexual relations with a woman.

CC: You mean, if I were gay, I'd get the job?

AD: Oh, Hell no! What I mean is: We're trying to weed out anybody who has any sexual feelings at all. You see, if you're interested in having sex with a woman, what's to say you wouldn't be interested in having sex with other women. And, if you have sex with other women, well, that's obviously a violation of our morals clause. You follow me? The university has to preserve its reputation. We cannot hire a man, or woman for that matter, who would admit to participating in something as evil as sex.

CC: Well, what if I got a divorce?

AD: I'm afraid that's not good enough. For all I know you probably look at women as they pass you on the street or in the office. How am I to know whether you're thinking of having sex with her? I can't be sure at all. But as the person in charge of ensuring compliance with our contracts, it's my ass if you are. So, it's just better that I hire someone who has never seen a woman.

CC: But, who on earth could that be?

AD: Fortunately, we are a research university, and we've been preparing for this day for some time. The psychology department has been raising a test-tube baby donated by the medical school over 20 years ago. We thought about taking a baby from the hospital, but since it had seen a vagina all up-close-and-personal-like, we thought this might give him a, um, appetite, if you will, for the ladies. That's why we started admitting male nurses to the school. We needed men who could help feed and raise the child. They've been raising Hubert in an underground bunker left over from the '50s. He's kind of like the Boy in the Bubble, except that we control what reading material he receives and all sights and sound that are beamed into his home. In that time, we've shown him all the properly edited video he'd need to become an outstanding coach.

CC: Well, that's great, I guess. Pause. I suppose I'll be going now.

AD: Thank you so much for interviewing. I'm sorry things had to work out this way.

CC: Me, too. But, can you answer me one question? Why did you even bother to interview me at all if you already had a candidate?

AD: We can do a lot of things, but we can't get around the EEOC...yet. Take care.

Wow, 3-for-3: Kinsley's Reaction
I guess columnist Michael Kinsley beat me to publication, but it's good to know I'm in the right ballgame.

Ah, the Sweet Smell of Schadenfreude
Schadenfreude means "taking pleasure in the misfortune of others." It's also a terrific sketch comedy group in Chicago. Just heard this news about former Secretary of Education William "The Book of Virtues" Bennett's gambling problem, a Washington Post article reprinted in the Salt Lake Tribune. There's more from Newsweek and Washington Monthly. Great line on the Monthly site.

Hey, I'm 2-for-2
Some of you may recall my discussion of digital video's spread to theatres and this follow-up. Roger Ebert's Movie Answer Man column Sunday has this exchange that I think supports my contention:
Q. What are your thoughts on the recent announcement that all Landmark theaters are converting to digital screening systems? I am convinced that this is bad news; current top-of-the-line systems are putting out a 1.5K image and experts say that only a 4K image will truly approximate 35mm film. Yet as near as I can tell, the Landmark screens are going to use DVD quality or less (inferior even to the 1.5K resolution that "Attack of the Clones" was shown in last summer). I guess there are two good things about it; that it could allow some really low budget independent films easier distribution, and that the quality will so rankle filmgoers that it will push back total digital adoption even further (Landmark screens usually show films for the art house crowds, who can be the most finicky customers). Richard Huffman, Seattle

A. As I understand it, Landmark does not plan to replace traditional celluloid projection, but to augment it with video projectors that will allow the booking of low-budget indie films without the expense of making and shipping prints. This is an inventive step toward getting such films seen. A year or two ago, it appeared that film would be replaced by digital projection, but that bubble has burst. Digital projection is not ready for prime time in terms of its quality, and no workable system for distributing and encrypting it has been devised. Ebert's Response

Sunday, May 04, 2003
TA Union
Some of you may have seen my comments about unionizing the NCAA's money sports in which I cited graduate assistants as an example of unionized college students. The New York Times Magazine has this piece on the unionization of TAs.

Saturday, May 03, 2003
On the Other Hand...
Mike Price was fired today as Alabama's football coach. An interesting legal question: how do you fire somebody who does not have a contract to work for you? In spite of the firing, he will be honored by the Board of Trustees with a new building on campus for accomplishing what no 'Bama football coach has done, not even Bear Bryant: he never lost to Auburn.

Back from St.Louis
Buenos dias! Just concluded a whirlwind trip to St.Louis and lovely St.Roberts (a.k.a. Fort Leonard Wood), Missouri. The last few miles I spent listening to Spanish tapes. "A comparison of e and i following unstressed syllables." Soon I will be able to pronounce many Spanish words with little or no understanding of their meaning. Like my English.

Here is a rough outline of my itinerary the past couple of days:
  • Wednesday 30 April
    • Spend all morning finishing all the work you needed to get done but haven't because you were blogging.
    • Leave 90 minutes late for St.Louis where you are to pick up your sister at the airport
    • Arrive only 45 minutes late
    • Give up on going to Cards-Mets game to spend quality time with sister at a riverfront restaurant
    • Spend dinner guarding meal from overzealous busboys--if you pause to breathe, they're on you like Eustachy on a coed
    • Choke down the selections recommended by waitress who only occasionally visits table
    • Piss off busboys by ordering dessert at your outside table while they're trying to lock up the patio furniture (it's only 9:00 pm for bleep's sake)
    • Go to hotel

  • Thursday 1 May
    • Oversleep because sister set alarm wrong--cancel plans for Arch
    • Leave for Ft. Leonard Wood, stop at one of the 3 Wal-Marts on the 2 hr drive for miscellaneous items
    • Check into hotel and change for the Army's "family debriefing"--not nearly as creepy as it sounds
    • Confirm observation from Gulf War II that the Army's main function is to train young men and women to operate PowerPoint and make speeches to small gatherings
    • Fall out for dinner and recall how the restaurants around every Army base feature the cuisine of every place in the world that we have a base crammed into the dirtiest strip malls bookended by liquor stores and tatoo or massage parlors--whenever I drive past them in Ft. Meade I think, "Ick! How can this place be open?" and remember as I shower off at my destination that they have a captive population
    • Enjoy fine German meal nonetheless
    • Collapse in bed

  • Friday 2 May
    • Get up and go to graduation
    • Realize how young the graduates' girlfriends are: despite being no more than 52 degrees and overcast, every girl between the ages of 16 and 21 wears her most revealing dress, meaning no sleeves and no shoulders, often no backs
    • Notice that "cadences" (a.k.a. the marching chants) have a different rhythm than in all the war movies I've ever watched, realize that the Army happens to be more "ethnic" than Hollywood armies, wonder if there's a correlation
    • Replay every military-related movie in my head as Army band plays--curiously, the theme from Stripes did not make the playlist
    • Remeber I have tape recorder in backpack and tape the cadences, vow to pitch it to an up-and-coming rap artist
    • Check out of hotel and get lunch featuring the saltiest burrito ever made--missed the note on the menu highlighting their Dead Sea ranchero sauce
    • Head back to St. Louis, check into hotel, go to Busch Stadium to pick up our half-price Cards-Expos tickets--you can park on the street right outside the ticket office and get tickets (I'll have more on the stadium experience in a future blog entry)
    • Go to Anheuser-Busch brewery tour, notice creepy similarity to Duff tour, pinch some authentic beechwood as souvenir
    • Rush out to catch the very last tram to the top of the Arch, observe the similarity between the Mississippi River and the creek outside Shawshank Prison
    • Head back to hotel to change and go to Cards-Expos game--watch RF Eduardo Perez misjudge a flyball and falldown while official scorer misjudges the play a double instead of E-9 (more on this in a future blog entry)
    • Chow overpriced dogs, mildly disappointed in food experience
    • Return to hotel, watch part of 3rd OT of Devils-Lightening game, but leave the tv in the exercise room to go watch in our hotel room
    • Look for game in the room and realize we were Tailhooked--the Devils scored while we were in the elevator

  • Saturday 3 May
    • Wake up at 6:00 to get breakfast and checkout
    • Get out of bed eventually at 7:15 and rush to breakfast, cram omelettes down throats, rush to airport at 8:05 for 9:00 flight
    • Drop everyone off and drive back to Nashville

Whirlwind reaped!