Procrastination Nation

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

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Thursday, December 30, 2004
Mr. Tony's Back
While I was back in Maryland, I discovered that Tony Kornheiser is back on the air with a local show on WTEM (SportsTalk 980) airing 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. ET. Before you get too excited though, it's only a 2 hr show immediately rebroadcast at 11:00 a.m., so plan your day (and phone calls and emails) accordingly. You'll need to register with them to get the audio.

New Pub
I forgot to post my most recent academic article. Scintillating reading. No sign of my Nashville Parent article yet, but I'll keep you updated.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004
Back in Town
I'm back in the 'ville. Should resume posting this week. I keep hoping my next article will come out online before January, but c'est la vie, I guess.

Monday, December 20, 2004
"I Like My Meats Processed"
This is a quote from an improv show at ImprovBoston that has stuck with me for about four years. A fun scene. Now, I get to pay homage to winter's favorite processed meat, the summer sausage, in this article for the Tennessean.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004
Weird Dream, Weird Idea
I had bizarre series of dreams last night, all running together, but when I awoke at a 4:00 a.m. I had this idea to fix the NBA: what if the referees officiated the game more like water polo? The idea would be to call incidental infractions (e.g., pushing, hand-checking) with a short-whistle. This would pause the clock, force players to reset a bit, but everyone would continue play instantaneously without (1) stopping play completely for a foul, (2) cut the number of ticky-tack fouls called and putting players on the bench in foul trouble, and (3) keep the game from becoming an interminable foul shooting contest. (I'd like to include some other classes of fouls like when two players roughly equally positioned collide going for a loose ball--instead of calling a foul, have the ref assign possession and move on--but pushing and hand-checking are a decent start.)

Refs could still call fouls for these infractions (and others like "over the back") using a double-whistle (beep-beep). You wouldn't have "ejection"/man-advantage situations like in water polo, but water polo's basic rules of "too hard" of a foul or a run of mini-fouls that excessively interrupt play would earn the type of foul we're accustomed to seeing in the NBA. And refs would still get to call

I think the additional benefit of this rule is that it encourages the refs to get over their fear of blowing the whistle. It keeps them active, keeps them engaged in the game, but it may diminish their fear that they will disrupt the flow of the game by calling a foul or that they will harm a star player by calling him for illegal plays.

This is not a perfect system. It would take a while for players and refs to get accustomed to the technique (though it could certainly be tested in a summer league). And teams may adopt a mini-foul strategy that perpetually interrupts the team's offense by committing mini-fouls. I think the extent to which this is a problem would also require some testing in a summer league. There's no reason to think this is all that different from "Hack-a-Shaq" or Riley-era Knicks-style defense--at least the game wouldn't stop for 30 seconds at a time for the same fouls repeatedly. Also, although you would think this would let players play physical without getting too physical (a sort of valve release), it is not inconceivable to think that players might flip-out in frustration. Again, testing would help gauge the magnitude of the problem. And finally, the accumulated pauses may make the games longer, depending on how many mini-fouls occur, how many full fouls in the game are removed, and how quickly the clock operators adapt to pausing/unpausing the clock (a slow hand, a slower game). The last is a learnable skill, and the former two can be tested in practice.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004
Truth Will Out...When the Stakes Are High Enough
I was talking with a friend last night about all this crap coming out regarding Kerik, the would-have-been Secretary of Homeland Security. What I wonder is, "What is the calculus that determines whether prior actions become important enough to stop somebody from obtaining a job?" Several of these accusations and problems date to his time in NYC, yet none of them stopped his appointment to go Iraq. Some predate his time working for Giuliani, yet none stopped his rise to police commissioner.

To come from the other side, people knew about Clinton's dalliances and marijuana before he ran for president, yet it never stopped him from becoming governor of Arkansas. Yet suddenly because he was a candidate for president, it was important.

I understand why the people appointing him would want to look past these things. I don't understand why people who might oppose him or the press corps wouldn't do more to track down info on appointees themselves. I mean, isn't that part of what reporting is? How hard would it be to get an intern to spend $50 to run a background check on appointees, even lots of appointees?

Certainly something about the stakes of the appointment make sense. Perhaps it is too daunting to track down every single appointee at every level of government, and so institutions like the press or government agencies invest only effort commensurate to the level of appointment. On the other hand, maybe people who oppose a candidate reserve charges for when they will be maximumly damaging. It's just curious is all I'm saying.

Monday, December 13, 2004
I caught a Seinfeld rerun last night, and it was the one where Elaine is so irritated by her braless, childhood friend from Baltimore, Sue-Ellen Mishkie, that she gives her a bra for a birthday present, which leads to Kramer and Jerry having a car accident. I recognized Sue-Ellen though as Brenda Strong, the dearly departed Mary Alice Young from Desperate Housewives. I need to figure how to get all the guest actors from Seinfeld and link them to actors on other shows/movies and compare it to other "guest role" nirvanas like Cheers.

Sunday, December 12, 2004
Back on Track
Hola! I realized I hadn't given a weight update in a while. Today I made it down to 191, 62 lbs. total. I took off the weight I gained on Thanksgiving by the end of that weekend, but I've been hovering in the 194-197 range for the past few weeks. So, I decided to make a concerted effort to get under 190 before getting home for Xmas. I'd say I have a reasonable shot at it.

Also, again I'm ahead of the curve. It took Ferecito (Fred Armisen) to call out Bono (Colin Ferrell) on SNL last night on the Vertigo counting problem. Someday I'll be on the damned show.

In the meantime, you can look forward to a few more freelance writings. I have a holiday food article coming out 12/20 in the Tennessean and an article in the January 2005 issue of Nashville Parent. I'll post the article links when they're available.

Friday, December 10, 2004
The Real Tragedy
The Chattanooga Times Free-Press, which is actually a nicely laid out, decently written newspaper, is catching some flak for helping the guardsman grill Rumsfeld in Kuwait regarding dumpster-diving for equipment.

USAToday is helping stamp out the firestorm by downplaying the importance of the issue with articles like this.

The real tragedy is that the only way to ask these questions of America's leaders is by getting soldiers to stand-in for reporters. The reporter, Edward Lee Pitts, should get a medal.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004
Blue States, Red Blood
For some reason I started thinking about where in the U.S. casualties were from, to get a sense of the impact of the war.

Where would you think the casualties are from? It depends on how you would code the person's "residence," right? Your map would look different if you recorded the address for where the person was posted within the U.S. versus where the person was recruited from, right?

Let's assume the address they use is where the person enlisted from. Where would you expect more pins on the map?

This site plots the "home of record" for US casualties thru 11/15/2004 (I'm checking on how this is defined). It turns out the casualties seem pretty heavily clustered in blue states, with heavy clustering in the east from MD, NJ, PA, and NY and out west in LA and SD.

If the "home of record" is where the person's regiment is headquartered, well this is a map that shows how America's military bases are distributed across the country. My guess is that it's probably the person's "hometown" before they joined the military since so many dots appear where there are no bases (though these could be reservists).

The other thing to keep in mind is that these areas have higher population densities, so it's natural to expect them to have greater numbers of "dots" than elsewhere. And the states are smaller, so the dots look proportionately bigger.

It's tempting to conclude that it's the blue state folks whose kids are dying in a war supported by the red states. And that seems to be the case in terms of aggregate numbers of casualties.

But, their main site has more details that slice-and-dice the data other ways. I combined the deaths by state with Census figures for population as of 7/1/2003. These are the casualty rates per 1,000,000 population:

State Casualty Rate
Alaska 1.54
Nevada 2.23
Minnesota 2.37
Hawaii 2.39
Utah 2.55
Georgia 3.11
New York 3.13
Missouri 3.16
Connecticut 3.16
New Jersey 3.24
Florida 3.35
Maryland 3.45
North Carolina 3.57
Michigan 3.67
Massachusetts 3.73
New Mexico 3.73
Colorado 3.74
Ohio 3.76
Louisiana 3.78
Kentucky 4.13
California 4.23
Illinois 4.35
Montana 4.36
West Virginia 4.42
Maine 4.60
Virginia 4.60
New Hampshire 4.66
Indiana 4.68
Iowa 4.76
Alabama 4.89
Washington 4.89
Tennessee 4.96
Pennsylvania 5.18
Mississippi 5.21
Texas 5.24
Wisconsin 5.30
South Carolina 5.30
DC 5.32
Kansas 5.51
Rhode Island 5.58
Arizona 5.73
Idaho 5.86
Arkansas 6.24
Oklahoma 6.27
Oregon 6.74
Delaware 7.34
South Dakota 9.16
Nebraska 9.77
Wyoming 9.98
North Dakota 14.20
Vermont 16.15

A somewhat different picture here, as NY and NJ move down to the bottom 20% (lowest 10 states). CA and PA hang in the middle of the pack. It's probably not surprising to see the smallest population states at the top of the list because with such small aggregate populations, it doesn't take too many casualties to get a high score: Vermont, for example, has 10 casualties, yet its rate is 16 per 1m; Wyoming has 5, with about 10 per 1m. And, it's probably not too surprising to have the reverse happen: Alaska has 1 casualty, so its rate is very low even with a small aggregate population.

The lesson isn't that statistics lie and we should chuck the whole thing. The lesson is to know what question you're asking, what your data represent, and whether the questions match the data you have.

Forgive me, but I'm practicing being professorial as I plan to teach an undergraduate research methods class next semester. This struck me as a useful pedagogical tool.

Anybody who can help me figure out how to get rid of the huge space between the text and the table in Blogger would be my hero. (I don't see any HTML code that is forcing the extra space to be added.)

Updates: Jed is my hero. He figured out that Blogger was inserting a BR command with each return in the table. That is kind of obnoxious, but at least it's fixable by running all the rows and cells together in one long string.

Also, I heard back from the casualty mappers: the "home of record" is the place where the person enlisted.

Sunday, December 05, 2004
Key to the City
I've lived in Nashville for over 12 years now, and last night was one of the best uniquely Nashville nights I've ever had. Apparently the key to getting the most out of a city is to know the right people.

My friend, Bill, called me last night about 8:00 and asked if I wanted to go to a writer's night at The Bluebird Cafe. His musical hero, Big Al Anderson (another site), one of Musician magazine's top 100 guitar players and a former member of NRBQ, was part of a round hosted by Bob DiPiero (Brooks & Dunn's "You Can't Take the Honky Tonk Out of the Girl") and which included Leslie Satcher (LeAnn Womack's "A Man With 18 Wheels") and Tony Mullins (Kenny Chesney's "How Forever Feels"). Even if you're not a country music fan, you'll recognize their hits.

We were treated to about 3 hours of music and funny insider stories, including DiPiero's new Christmas Song about quarrel between Rudolph and Santa about dragging Santa's fat ass around the world. You can catch DiPiero on "Live at The Bluebird" on Turner South with another writing giant Gary Burr on 12/29 at 11:00p ET. Also, be on the lookout for Tia Sillers (LeAnn Womack's "I Hope You Dance") on 12/22 at 11:00, too. I got to sit in on an interview with her in a songwriting class, and she's really super.

A-run-del High!
Congratulations go out to Mr. Denny Neagle (Class of '86) for having the foresight to avert a DUI charge by hiring a prostitute to blow him in his moving vehicle. This suggests an important question for the greater Gambrills, Md. area: will his mug shot go up on the wall at Kaufmann's, too?

Thursday, December 02, 2004
Holiday Shopping Will Be All Kinds of Fun!
This is what I have to look forward to at my hometown mall. As if being run into by SUV-sized strollers isn't fun enough, I can now look forward to having them stop in front of me and their drivers breaking into calisthenics. This should cause absolutely no disruption as I wander from store to Orange Julius to store.