January 31, 2006

MUSICAL CHAIRS, SUPREME COURT EDITION

Posted by Hei Lun

Having never seen the Supreme Court in session in person, I didn't know that there is a specific order in which the justices sit on the bench until I saw Orin Kerr mention it today. According to Kerr, now that Alito has been confirmed, the justices will sit from left to right in this order:

Breyer Thomas Kennedy Stevens Roberts Scalia Souter Ginsberg Alito

The rule seems to be that the Chief sits in the middle, while the others alternate left and right closest to the middle in order of seniority, starting from the seat to the left of the Chief Justice's:

7 5 3 1 Chief 2 4 6 8

This got me thinking: what would need to happen so that all the liberal justices sit to the left of the Chief Justice and all the conservative justices sit on the right*?

Scenario number one:

  1. A Democrat wins the presidency in 2008.
  2. Breyer or Ginsberg retires early and gets replaced by a liberal.
  3. A Republican wins the presidency in 2012.
  4. Kennedy retires and a conservative replaces him.

New lineup:

L Breyer/Ginsberg Souter Stevens Roberts Scalia Thomas Alito C

The major obstacle to this is that if anyone from the current court retires, it'd likely be Stevens.

Scenario number two:

  1. Scalia and Kennedy retire within the next three years, and get replaced by Alberto Gonzales and a conservative.
  2. A Democrat wins the presidency in 2008.
  3. Stevens retires, and during the confirmation hearings for the new nominee something happens to Roberts so that he'd have to be replaced.
  4. Because the Republicans have firm control of the Senate, the Democratic president has to make deal with them. Ginsberg becomes the first female Chief Justice, the Senate confirms a liberal and a conservative.
  5. Gonzales turns into another Souter.

New lineup:

L Gonzales Breyer Souter Ginsberg Thomas Alito C1 C2

For my next blog post on the Supreme Court I think I'm going to analyze the justices' hairstyles.

continue reading "MUSICAL CHAIRS, SUPREME COURT EDITION" »


11:30 PM | Link | Law | Comments (3)

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STATE OF THE UNION

Posted by Steve

Assorted thoughts on the State of the Union address...

1) Where was the rest of the Supreme Court? I only saw Roberts, Souter, Thomas and Alito. There was an odd-looking woman who could have been a relative of Ginsburg, but it definitely wasn't her. Where were the rest of them?

2) Speaking of the Supreme Court, I thought they were supposed to sit politely with their hands folded on their laps. They stood and applauded several times. What gives?

3) I love the crowd shots, especially the Democrats looking like they're trying to be polite but not really meaning it. Hillary Clinton really needs to work on her poker face.

4) It's a shame Cindy Sheehan got arrested before the speech began. She has the potential to do more for the Republican party than Michael Moore. Maybe she'll be sitting in Jimmy Carter's box at the 2008 Democratic convention.

5) Tim Kaine, seriously dude, get that left eyebrow checked out. The Democratic response is boring enough anyway, but when you hypnotize us with your errant left eyebrow, it is utterly impossible to concentrate on the message. Get that thing stapled down if you need to. Your political career depends on it.

Tim Kaine

10:35 PM | Link | Politics | Comments (22)

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LEGAL FICTION

Posted by Greg

Watching the brouhaha over James Frey's rehab-memoir "A Million Little Pieces" has been good spectator sport—especially if, like me, you've been waiting for Oprah to be taken down a few pegs. And I don't have much sympathy for the author, either. He must have known he was trying to put one over on his readers, even if the story he was telling was probably a lot more entertaining than it otherwise would have been.

But the most recent development is also the most inane: a spate of lawsuits over those claiming that the work of fictional non-fiction caused them some kind of legally cognizable harm.

During his class on contract and tort remedies at DePaul University law school the other day, professor Bruce Ottley was asked by a student about one of the recent lawsuits filed against James Frey and the publisher of Frey's quasi-memoir "A Million Little Pieces."During his class on contract and tort remedies at DePaul University law school the other day, professor Bruce Ottley was asked by a student about one of the recent lawsuits filed against James Frey and the publisher of Frey's quasi-memoir "A Million Little Pieces."

The federal court suit in Seattle is seeking compensation for, among other things, "the lost value of the readers' time."

"The question that came up is, How do you value somebody's time in reading a book? OK, I spent X number of hours reading this book. What is the value of that time?" Ottley recounted last week. "You wouldn't do it at a billing rate sort of thing, so how do you figure out the value of the time you spend reading a newspaper or a book? I don't know how you are going to do that."

At least two other suits have been filed against Frey and publisher Random House. They are in Cook County Circuit Court and in state court in Los Angeles. Like the Seattle action, they seek class-action status and allege that plaintiffs bought the book in reliance on fraudulent misrepresentations about its truthfulness.

...

He added, "My impression is that this book was unequivocally billed as a true memoir, that no reasonable consumer should have known or suspected that it was, in important respects, false and knowingly false."

But, said Ottley, how much of a memoir cannot be true to be a cause of action?

"You've said. 'This is a true story and in reliance on that I bought the book.' Well, maybe part of it is true. Does every single word have to be true?" he said. "Not many books would stand up to that."

To date, class-action lawsuits have been filed in Seattle, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles on behalf of readers who allegedly wasted their time reading Frey's book. Forgive me for being so bold as to disagree with a professor of law, but I think these lawsuits are completely worthless. And I'm not as willing as he is to brush off First Amendment concerns. Are we really going to make publishers responsible for fact checking everything they publish under the category of non-fiction? How is that not going to cause a chilling effect on speech?

These aren't the most idiotic of the lawsuits, though. This one is:

Another suit, filed in Manhattan Supreme Court by social worker Jennifer Cohn, stated that as a "health care professional" she recommended the book to people with substance abuse and legal problems because of its "redemptive theme."

Cohn is seeking $10 million on behalf of consumers she claims were injured by Frey's fibs.

Apparently, they'll let just anyone be a "health care professional" these days. And you don't even need to take any responsability for the health care that you are providing professionally, either.

10:45 AM | Link | Law | Comments (12)

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OSCAR NOMINATIONS

Posted by Greg

Because I have seen exaclty zero of the movies nominated for major awards—you have to go all the way down to "Best Animated Feature" before you come to a movie I've seen—I won't bother making predictions this year. But I will note that the nominations are in, and they are pretty much as everyone expected.

10:25 AM | Link | Movies | Comments (0)

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PRIORITIES, SCHMRIORITIES

Posted by Hei Lun

According to the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, the second most important issue to House Republicans in the race for House majority leader is the marriage amendment. The budget is first, while ethics is third. I repeat: ethics is number three. So according to the average House Republican, a frugal crook or a religious crook is still preferable to someone who's against the marriage amendment. And lest I state the obvious, they're still in the middle of the Abramoff scandal. How high did ethics rank before? Fifth? Eighth? Right below "Darrin Stephens #1 or Darrin Stephens #2"?

12:47 AM | Link | Politics | Comments (3)

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January 30, 2006

THE 12TH MAN GOES TO COURT

Posted by Venkat

Texas A&M recently ratcheted up its battle with the Seattle Seahawks over the Seahawks’ alleged infringement of Texas A&M’s “12th Man” trademarks. Texas A&M filed “for a temporary restraining order in the 85th District Court of Brazos County, Texas, where Texas A&M is located.” (Seattle Times article here.) The case sounds like a loser.

continue reading "THE 12TH MAN GOES TO COURT" »


11:34 PM | Link | Law | Comments (5)

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TWO KINDS OF DEMOCRATS

Posted by Hei Lun

Here's how they voted on cloture for the Alito nomination:



For cloture
Akaka (HI)
Baucus (MT)
Bingaman (NM)
Byrd (WV)
Cantwell (WA)
Carper (DE)
Conrad (ND)
Dorgan (ND)
Inouye (HI)
Johnson (SD)
Kohl (WI)
Landrieu (LA)
Lieberman (CT)
Lincoln (AR)
Nelson (FL)
Nelson (NE)
Pryor (AR)
Rockefeller (WV)
Salazar (CO)
Against
BAYH (IN)
BIDEN (DE)
Boxer (CA)
CLINTON (NY)
Dayton (MN)
Dodd (CT)
Durbin (IL)
FEINGOLD (WI)
Feinstein (CA)
Kennedy (MA)
KERRY (MA)
Lautenberg (NJ)
Leahy (VT)
Levin (MI)
Menendez (NJ)
Mikulski (MD)
Murray (WA)
OBAMA (IL)
Reed (RI)
Reid (NV)
Sarbanes (MD)
Schumer (NY)
Stabenow (MI)
Wyden (OR)

Senators up for election in 2006 are italicized, those who voted for cloture in "Kerry" states or against in "Bush" states are bolded, and those who will probably run for president are capitalized. All six of the presidential contenders voted against cloture, while the five who are up for re-election in 2006 in Democratic states and voted for cloture will be getting a lot of heat from Democrats, and probably will face primary challenges. I don't know what else can be said about this data. Draw your own conclusions.

10:39 PM | Link | Politics | Comments (4)

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REPUBLICANS ARE RACISTS - THEY PROVED IT AGAIN

Posted by Steve

Social scientists have proved for the hundredth time that Republicans are racists. The Washington Post dutifully reports.

The analysis found that substantial majorities of Americans, liberals and conservatives, found it more difficult to associate black faces with positive concepts than white faces -- evidence of implicit bias. But districts that registered higher levels of bias systematically produced more votes for Bush.

"Obviously, such research does not speak at all to the question of the prejudice level of the president," said Banaji, "but it does show that George W. Bush is appealing as a leader to those Americans who harbor greater anti-black prejudice."

And there will be much rejoicing among those who follow James Lileks' simple rules for making a fool of yourself on the internet. Charming example here ("Unfortunately, the study doesn't investigate the complexities of 'why' folks who vote Repug are more likely to be racist.") More incisive political theory. ("I never understand why they need studies to prove the obvious!")

But does the study really say what they say it says? Back to the article:

For their study, Nosek, Banaji and social psychologist Erik Thompson culled self-acknowledged views about blacks from nearly 130,000 whites, who volunteered online to participate in a widely used test of racial bias that measures the speed of people's associations between black or white faces and positive or negative words. The researchers examined correlations between explicit and implicit attitudes and voting behavior in all 435 congressional districts.

You can take an online demonstration version of the test by clicking here. It measures the speed with which you associate positive and negative ideas with African and European faces.

The analysis found that substantial majorities of Americans, liberals and conservatives, found it more difficult to associate black faces with positive concepts than white faces -- evidence of implicit bias. But districts that registered higher levels of bias systematically produced more votes for Bush.

I'll leave it to others to critique the science (at this moment the methodology has yet to be released) and note only that the result as described above is something quite different from Dr. Banaji's assertion that "George W. Bush is appealing as a leader to those Americans who harbor greater anti-black prejudice."

Regardless, this periodic debate (hardly a year goes by without new scientific proof that Republicans are evil) touches on a larger truth about American politics. Since there are only two parties, everyone's got some loonies on their side.

Are racists more likely to be Republicans? We can debate what it means to be racist, soft bigotry of low expectations and all that, but insofar as we are talking about gun-toting, confederate flag flying, cross burning rednecks, the answer is obviously yes. Those people voted for someone, and it probably wasn't John Kerry.

The problem arises from our irresistible compulsion to draw invalid conclusions from uncontroversial facts. "Racists are Republicans" does not mean "Republicans are racists." And it doesn't mean Democrats are not racists. It certainly doesn't mean YOU are not a racist.

It is an incontrovertible fact that high school dropouts preferred John Kerry in the 2004 election. What does this say about Democrats? Not much.

Which party is supported by drug dealers? Which party is supported by child molesters? Booger eaters? Double dippers? Toilet seat leaver uppers?

It only matters if you're a partisan or a fool.

6:58 PM | Link | Politics | Comments (7)

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January 29, 2006

BIG AND SMALL: PHOTOGRAPHIC TAKES ON PERSPECTIVE

Posted by Greg

Photographer Olivo Barbieri's photographs from far-off perspectives take on an unreal quality, as if what you're really looking at is an intricate scaled model and not the thing itself. († Robot Action Boy.)

Streets are strangely clean, trees look plastic, and odd distortions of scale create the opposite effect of what we expect from aerial photography--a complete overview, like military surveillance. "I was a little bit tired of the idea of photography allowing you to see everything," Barbieri says. "After 9/11 the world had become a little bit blurred because things that seemed impossible happened. My desire was to look at the city again."
The Santa Monica Pier, California
Paris Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas.

More samples of Barbieri's work can be found here, here and here.

A completely different—but similarly disorienting—take on perspective can often be found at NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day website, a collection of sometimes startlingly beautiful images from deep space and our solar system. It's difficult to contemplate the immensity of some of the images, but not difficult to realize how aesthetically appealing the images are.

The Andromeda Galaxy
The Trifid Nebula near Sagittarius.
Colliding spiral galaxies, as photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope.


10:34 PM | Link | Photography | Comments (4)

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THE YES MEN

Posted by Steve

I highly recommend The Yes Men, a documentary about a group of pranksters going by the same name. (Here's the Yes Men web site.)

The film follows Andy and Mike, two anti-globalist humorists, as they impersonate WTO spokesmen at speeches, conferences, and interviews on cable news. The pair scored numerous legitimate speaking gigs through their parody web site, GATT.org. They address a conference in Finland on "Textiles of the Future," and lecture a university economics department on a WTO plan to feed third world countries with recycled human waste. Everywhere they go, they expect to be thrown out. Instead, more often than not, they are taken completely seriously. Since the movie came out, through a new parody site, the Yes Men have taken to impersonating representatives of Dow Chemical.

Whatever your politics, The Yes Men is a hilarious and thought-provoking documentary. Check it out.

8:31 PM | Link | Movies | Comments (0)

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January 28, 2006

FORT ZACHARY TAYLOR

Posted by Steve

Fort Zachary Taylor

10:27 PM | Link | Photography | Comments (3)

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Departure

Posted by Kriston

It's my unfortunate duty to report that I'm no longer able to contribute to BTD. In one sense my departure won't make much of a difference, given how infrequently I've posted over the last few months. Art writing consumes more of my time and focus, and yet not nearly enough of it—I still try to keep up with all the hour-by-hour political maneuvers. But even by the modest standards set by most political bloggers, I can't (or don't) process it in a way that amounts to meaningful contributions here.

I think BTD is a great project, and over the last year I've learned a great deal about the other side of the aisle, through some epic rows over Sinclair, SBVT, the filibuster, heteronormativity, and the like. It's probably best for the BTD project to make room for fresh blood—contributors who bring vibrant new opinions to the page, day by day, and can draw out the best opinions from across the political spectrum.

I'm hoping that the guys will let me keep my set of keys, just in case I'm ever freed up from the dayjob constraints or have something truly awesome I need to say. I'll certainly be reading and probably won't be able to resist smacking Steve around a bit, once elections are upon us again. But it's been my distinct pleasure to write here, and I look forward to seeing what happens here next.

1:31 PM | Link | Miscellaneous | Comments (4)

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BEST OF BTD FORUM: ON HOARDING

Posted by BTD

The following was posted by Sally, longtime BTD Forum member, in response to a previous post linking this story ("Woman Suffocates Under Piles Of Clutter In Home").

I know someone like this.

There is only a pathway from the front door to the bedroom and to the kitchen. Floor to ceiling with boxes of stuff, papers and whatnot. Three defunct cars, 2 Caddy's and a Lincoln adorn the driveway in front of his swanky digs. He was going to sell them, but never got around to it, and he thinks they are worth what they would be in the condition they were in when he left them to deteriorate. He thinks EVERYTHING is worth what it would fetch in a premium market with the demand of the right buyer. So now he uses the trunks of these cars in winter as freezer storage!

One year he bought about twenty cabbages to bring home and make sauerkraut. It was Christmastime, and while he was parked in a mall, someone attempted to break into his trunk but instead just broke the lock. Instead of getting a new lock to replace it, he shopped the wrecking yards to get a deal on a new one. By Spring he still hadn't secured one and as you can guess the cabbages were getting pretty ripe in the trunk. The odour of rotting cabbage was so horrific that he had to drive around with both windows down to survive the stench! I was tempted more than once to grab my drill and reem out the defunct lock to let those cabbages free, but he wouldn't hear of it. Because of course he was going to get around to it, tomorrow.

So then he falls ill, and we feared he would not recover. He is rushed to the hospital and after some time, he does recover. But as he is 76 years old, walks with the aid of a walker, and has no washroom on the floor that he lives on, and in the conditions described above, a psychological assessment was requested by family members. (He can well afford to hire a plumber to install a bathroom, but he thinks that he can do it more capably, efficiently and cheaper than a plumber and is going to ' get around to it soon.') He is highly intelligent, makes a lot of sense and he passed with flying colours!

But alas we thought, all is not lost. Health care workers have to go to his home to inspect his living conditions before he can be released by rehab. Eureka! Someone will finally see the light! No way will they release someone who can hardly walk to this home where there is no bathroom on the same floor.... Guess what? They did. God only knows what he said to them, but I can guess.

Catching up with him on the phone, while interesting, is always tense. If you mention a subjct whereupon he has clipped an article (and as he has many interests, he clips many) he'll say "Hold on a minute," and he could be gone for twenty looking for it while you're left on hold. I get around this now by quickly saying, "Wait, Dad, please don't go!"

12:11 PM | Link | BEST OF BTD FORUM | Comments (0)

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January 27, 2006

HEWITT PITCHES; ROVE HITS A GRAND SLAM

Posted by Venkat

Transcript here.

I guess one would expect a high frequency of softballs in this context, but HH really takes it to the limit.

Calling anyone who questions the administration's justification for the domestic surveillance program "disingenuous" without offering any reasons (other than the questioning) is a credibility killer in itself. But Rove really drives it home when he calls the administration's legal reasoning on this issue "impeccable". (I'm not really sure what this word means in this context, but if Rove is seriously reaching if he intends the term to mean conclusive.)

But what really cries out for an explanation is this. Right after Rove finishes explaining how the AUMF authorizes GW to do pretty much anything, including trumping FISA, Rove goes on to argue why Congress must re-authorize the USA PATRIOT Act. THAT makes no sense whatsoever. Why on earth would Congress need to authorize the President to take action which Congress already supposedly authorized by passing the AUMF? Rove just got done explaining how "impeccable" legal reasoning allows the President to do something which ostensibly is prohibited by law. If he can do this, certainly the President can effect that which the USA PATRIOT Act authorizes.

Maybe I'm missing something.

Follow up: Hewitt proceeds to pull the YANAL (You are not a Lawyer) card on Jonathan Alter. Few maneuvers are so tacky. Doing so following a Karl Rove interview allowing without comment discussion of "impeccable" legal analysis in the context of GW's domestic surveillance program (which presents the greyest of questions), however, probably takes the cake. [edited for typo]

2:33 AM | Link | Media | Comments (1)

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January 26, 2006

LOST: BAPTISMS AND MAYHEM

Posted by Greg

Yet another Lost episode. Spoilers and such follow.

continue reading "LOST: BAPTISMS AND MAYHEM" »


2:35 AM | Link | Television | Comments (23)

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IDOL PREDICTION: MARK IT DOWN

Posted by Steve

American Idol is in the first stage of its fifth season. The judges are traveling around America, sorting through the assembled multitudes in seach of a couple hundred prospects for the second round in Hollywood.

I'm going to go ahead and call this one.

Paris Bennett will be the next American Idol.

She's got the voice, looks, and personality. Plus, she's got the lineage. Her grandmother is Ann Nesby of the Grammy award-winning group, Sounds of Blackness.

It's a done deal. You heard it here first.

12:00 AM | Link | Television | Comments (15)

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January 23, 2006

CSI BEEF

Posted by Steve

I sometimes watch old episodes of CSI. The one in Las Vegas. It's the only one I've seen. It's a good show.

Here's the thing, though, and this really bugs the crap out of me. When the CSI people investigate a crime scene, they never turn on the lights. They always poke around with flashlights, spot little toenails or blood spots on the floor or whatever, but always in the dark. Then when they go back to CSI headquarters, guess what? It's ridiculously dark in there!

TURN ON THE LIGHTS, PEOPLE!!! For the love of God, turn on the lights!!!

(Still, good show).

(Note, there are also legalistic things about the show that bug me, mostly involving criminal defense lawyers who sit idly by, perhaps with an occasional visible fret, as their clients confess to the cops. But hey, if we're going to sweat the legalistic quibbles, we're not going to watch TV, are we?)

11:16 PM | Link | Television | Comments (11)

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CAT

Posted by Steve

Cat

11:07 PM | Link | Photography | Comments (2)

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January 22, 2006

BAUDE ON ROE

Posted by Steve

Will Baude has a persuasive op-ed in the New York Times (click through Will's blog post here) arguing that even if Roe v. Wade is reversed, the abortion problem will ultimately require a federal solution. Typically thoughtful commentary follows at Will's group blog, Crescat Sententia.

Will's piece hardly constitutes a defense of Roe, nor is it meant to. He points out that if abortion were left to the states, they would likely approach the question in contentious and contradictory ways. As Baude puts it, "A patchwork of state abortion regulations, however, will lead not to compromise, but chaos."

He's right, but then, sometimes regulatory chaos is a good thing. State-level law is a primordial policy soup, subject to the Darwinian pressures of elections and lawsuits. Good ideas adapt and propagate. Bad ones wither and die. It's messy. It's chaotic. It's perplexing and unwieldy, but it's a glorious disaster. It's democracy. And it works.

5:50 PM | Link | Law | Comments (16)

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January 20, 2006

GERONIMO!: WHAT'S IN A NAME?

Posted by Greg

A whole lot of internet traffic if that name happens to be Geronimo Jackson. If you're interested in internet traffic patterns (like, for example, the Georgy Effect I wrote about years ago), read on. If not, as the Clampetts say, do come back now, ya hear!

continue reading "GERONIMO!: WHAT'S IN A NAME?" »


10:27 PM | Link | Blogosphere | Comments (8)

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SO MUCH FOR THE REMATCH

Posted by Hei Lun

My power of sports prognostication has been seriously off lately. My fantasy football team finished dead last (and it wasn't even close), I've already picked as many NFL playoff games incorrectly as the last two years combined, and I also said off-blog that there was no way Theo Epstein was coming back to the Red Sox, or that the Jets would hire Eric Mangini as head coach. And now I'm going to pick both road teams to win in the championship games, something that hasn't happened in over ten years. But before we get to that ...

continue reading "SO MUCH FOR THE REMATCH" »


2:42 PM | Link | Sports | Comments (0)

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January 18, 2006

LOST: THE HUNT

Posted by Greg

Another action-packed episode. And it seems like just seven days ago we had a new one, too.

Spoilers and speculation after the jump.

continue reading "LOST: THE HUNT" »


11:31 PM | Link | Television | Comments (43)

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HITCHENS SPEAKS

Posted by Venkat

At Huffington Post Mr. Hitchens speaks out about his involvement in the civil suit challenging the administration's domestic spying program. His entire post is below the fold, but he makes all of following points:

The administration claimed disclosure of the spying program was a threat to national security, even though common sense dictates that sophisticated players such as the participants in the 9-11 plot assume they are being monitored at all times.

The administration argued that Congress unwittingly granted it the power to engage in domestic spying which makes the line-drawing all the more imporatnt. [I think he's wrong on this count. Congress did not grant this power.]

The domestic spying program ensnared innocent Americans, potentially diverting resources from known threats.

The executive branch in general has bungled many aspects of the GWOT, (including domestic prosecutions).

In general, we should be wary of increased in government power in the name of national security.

We have to draw some sort of line with respect to executive power. We set dangerous precedent when we fail to do so.

We have to have high standards for when we allow our government to treat us as enemies.

Kudos to him for participating in the lawsuit and speaking out. I think he sugarcoats the situation a bit.

The bottom line is that the President took the law into his own hands in order to avoid the accountability the would have attached with Congressional approval. In the process he probably infringed on the rights on some innocent Americans – the exact situation Congressional oversight is designed to protect against. This is unacceptable. Period. Why? Because by definition, there are no limits to this type of Presidential aggrandizement. It's limitless.

continue reading "HITCHENS SPEAKS" »


2:52 AM | Link | Politics | Comments (0)

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January 17, 2006

This Is Your Congress. This Is Your Congress on Drugs.

Posted by Kriston

As someone who for several years dealt with epilepsy and the medication (and side effects) attendant to that condition, I'm appalled to read that coverage under the new Medicare prescription drug dispensation restricts and excludes whole classes of antiepileptic drugs. Barbiturates, for example, are not covered at all, for seemingly arbitrary reasons—though I agree with one TPM reader that there's surely a Republican shibboleth at the root of that objection.

continue reading "This Is Your Congress. This Is Your Congress on Drugs." »


1:02 PM | Link | Politics | Comments (6)

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THE FOREIGN PRESS RECOGNIZES MY TV OBSESSIONS

Posted by Greg

Following my lead, Golden Globes were given out last night to Lost (best drama series) and House (best actor in a drama series, Hugh Laurie). Now if only the foreign press would recognize the greatness of Avatar: The Last Airbender.

9:46 AM | Link | Television | Comments (3)

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BEAUTIFUL NOISES AND BROTHERS GRIM

Posted by Greg

When I met Salim Nourallah for the first time, he was gracious and self-effacing. He had just finished a modest set as the opening act for The Foxymorons (a band that I've written about here several times) and wanted to know if Allison and I were a fan of the band. He enthusiastically said he loved the Foxymorons and that was why he had agreed to do the show. Tall, handsome and scruffy, Salim Nourallah looks the part of the rockstar in everything but attitude. When I asked him if I could buy a copy of his new album, Beautiful Noise, he was almost apologetic ("It's $15. Is that okay?").

I'd been casually following Salim's career since I arrived in Dallas six-and-a-half years ago. One of the first albums I ever bought of a Dallas act was The Happiness Factor's Self Improvement?, Salim's mod-punk Brit-pop band that, in my opinion anyway, outplays Oasis at its own game. As we made awkward small talk with Salim, remembering that he had once collaborated with his brother, Faris, and also remembering that I had heard Faris had also put out solo albums, I asked, "What's your brother up to these days?" I didn't realize then that it was a loaded question.

continue reading "BEAUTIFUL NOISES AND BROTHERS GRIM" »


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January 15, 2006

BEST OF BTD FORUM: "GUS"

Posted by BTD

From time to time, we plan to post some of the entries found over at the BTD Forum. This, our first entry in the "Best of BTD Forum" category, comes from regular poster Gattigap. The entire thread can be found here.

Hello, Gentle Reader –

I’m writing you today to tell you the story of Gus. (No, not the poster known as Gus.)

This Gus.

This, I’m coming to realize, is one profoundly stupid cat.

In our backyard we have a Jacaranda tree. Gus, it appears, likes our Jacaranda tree.

Day 1: We find Gus sitting in the V in the tree, mewing for help. About 5 feet up. Reach out and grab Gus, tell him not to climb the tree, put him down. Away he goes.

Day 2: Gus climbs waaaaaay up into the tree, probably 15 feet. Unreachable by any ladders in our possession. Fortunately, the landscaping guy is around, and Mrs. Gattigap asks for the guy’s help. Guy puts on the tree-climbing gear, hops up the tree, gets Gus, drops him onto blanket that Mrs. G and MIL are holding aloft. Gus darts for the house.

Day 3: Mrs. G out for the day, me and FIL at home. Early afternoon. Hear mewing outside. Curse. Look up, Gus is in the same precise spot. Call Mrs. G. Come to consensus that the answer is not to employ fire dept. at cost of (reportedly) hundreds of dollars for a 1-minute kitten rescue. Answer, instead, is to let the cat figure out how to get down, because otherwise this little endeavor is headed for painful, utter failure.

Several hours later, Gus is still there. FIL and I step outside to assess the situation. FIL says, you know, when I was a kid, we’d get cats out of trees by tossing rocks at it.

I arch eyebrows, look over at FIL. FIL turns palms up, adopts “I’m just sayin’” expression.

We assemble various wiffle balls, soft mini-basketballs, etc. Toss each up to Gus such that the top of the arc comes close to him. Gus is unmoved, though he finds this exercise interesting. 15 minutes later, a mini-basketball occupies Gus’ exact spot on the branch. Gus tumbles, falls to the deck below. Lands upright -- though, admittedly, dispassionate observers wouldn’t call this a perfect 4-point landing. Gus darts into house (and is unharmed from the experience). FIL and I decide to volunteer that we saw Gus fall, though not necessarily mention that we tossed balls in his direction.

Day 4: Gus back in tree, in same freakin’ spot. I have to leave for a dinner, plan is for others to let Gus figure out the mechanics of tree descent on his own.

I return after event. Everyone in house is asleep, except Gus, who’s still in the tree, mewing. I softly call up to Gus. Explain, cajole, plead, curse. Gus is unmoved. I contemplate what to do, and while engaged in Deep Thought on the topic, fall asleep on couch.

Awake at about 1am. Mrs. G is there, worrying about Gus. We go outside to assess our options. Gus still there, still mewing. We’re both exhausted. Mrs. G worries about Gus falling asleep and then, well, falling. At this point, I don’t see this as a uniformly bad outcome. Mrs. G disagrees. We need Options.

Well, says I, we could toss balls up in his direction, see if he’s encouraged to come down. No, says she, that sounds a bit cruel.

Pause.

Maybe, says she, you could get out the hose and spray water near him. You know, just to encourage him to come down.

I arch eyebrows, look over at Mrs. G. She turns palms up, adopts “I’m just sayin’” expression.

So, at 1am, I get out the Domestic Water Cannon. Spray hose in Gus’ general direction. Gus is unmoved.

It’s at this point, Gentle Reader, that your author lost patience with this overall exercise. I adjusted the arc of the water slightly, and what was a Warning Shot Across The Bow became more of a Direct Water Assault.

Gus tumbles, falls, lands upright. Though, admittedly, most dispassionate observers wouldn’t call it a perfect 4-point landing. Wet, bedraggled Gus darts into house to gorge on food and receive pampering from Mrs. G while I turn off the Water Cannon.

Though I’ve been traveling the last couple of days, I am writing this epistle from the SFO terminal returning home. Just spoke on the phone with Mrs. G.

Gus is in the tree.

Your faithful friend,
Gattigap


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THE AUMF HOUSE OF CARDS

Posted by Venkat

The New York Review of Books publishes a letter† by several law professors and former government officials responding to the DOJ letter to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees defending GW’s “domestic spying program”.*

The letter contains an interesting tidbit that has not seen much light and which was not mentioned at all by the DOJ letter. It notes FISA specifically allows for “wartime domestic surveillance – but only for the first fifteen days of war.” [citing 50 USC § 1811.] The letter also notes that FISA states it is “the exclusive means by which electronic surveillance...may be conducted.”

continue reading "THE AUMF HOUSE OF CARDS" »


8:30 PM | Link | Law | Comments (0)

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WHY I'M NOT A TV EXECUTIVE

Posted by Hei Lun

I had this idea while watching the CBS commercials during the Patriots game yesterday: a two-part crossover television event on Criminal Minds and In Justice. I know they're on different networks, but everyone would tune in to this. Imagine: you have a bunch of smarty-pants on one show proving how guilty some guy is, then you have the smarty-pants on the other show arguing that he's actually innocent, and you as the viewer get to make the final call (with an online poll!). It's interactive, it's definitely going to be better than the Ally McBeal/The Practice crossover from several years ago or the multiple Buffy/Angel crossovers that never served much of a purpose, and most importantly, it completely overturns the premise of the two shows, which seems to be that the criminals are all guilty (Criminal Minds) or that the prisoners are all innocent (In Justice).

I think this is the most brilliant idea I've had since I decided to microwave bacon before frying it.

3:31 PM | Link | Media | Comments (2)

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January 12, 2006

ROUND 2

Posted by Hei Lun

A few things before my picks for the NFL playoffs, which is way more fun to think and write about than the Alito hearings:

  • With the first pick in the 2006 NFL draft, the Texans should ... trade it away for draft picks. The only players who'd make sense right now for the first pick are either Bush or the two quarterbacks, and neither fills Houston's greatest need right now, which is an offensive line to keep their quarterback upright. Domanick Davis is a good running back, and David Carr isn't the problem. Sure, he hasn't fulfilled his potential, but it's not as if he ever had the opportunity to. No quarterback—not Peyton Manning, not Tom Brady—can succeed without an at least adequate offensive line, and isn't the best left tackle available in the draft and (say) another second round pick this year and a number one pick next year worth more to Houston?
  • Right now it looks as if Bush is the consensus first pick, but regardless of who is picking first I don't think any running back makes sense, with the way the NFL is right now. Edgerrin James and Shaun Alexander will both be free agents this year, but despite their statistics and high quality of play neither one will make big money this year. The reason is that there are so many good running backs in the game right now that teams can easily find a runner half as good as James or Alexander at a tenth of the cost. The same applies to Bush. Franchise quarterbacks, however, are impossible to get except through the draft. If I were starting a team, Leinart would be my pick.
  • Why Leinart and not Young? I know very little about either player, but I have a bias for pocket quarterbacks, with good reason. Here are the total regular season rushing yards for the last seven Super Bowl winning quarterbacks: 28, 63, 30, 43, 75, 92, 94. You don't need a quarterback to run to win games, but he must be an accurate passer. And Young's awkward throwing motion isn't exactly comforting.
  • Poor Bengals. They finally find a good coach and good quarterback and make the playoffs, but then Palmer went down on the first play in their first playoff game in a decade, and now the injury looks worse then the initial diagnosis. Now it's likely that the next time they take the field their quarterback is Jon Kitna, and that's assuming they that Kitna doesn't get a starting job elsewhere.
  • Now that Herman Edwards is the coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, I'm not so sure anymore that Larry Johnson is the third best fantasy football running back next year. He might be a competent coach, but he's no Dick Vermeil. In fact, not to self: avoid all Chiefs offensive players ...
  • There was an article on the SI website about black coaches last week (he's in favor of hiring them—shocker!), and there'll be a lot more as teams are filling positions one by one with white guys. Needless to say, I'm against forcing teams to interview black candidates. And it's absurd to argue that teams should hire black candidates based on the success of other black coaches who've been hired before. Does the fact that Tony Dungy is black make Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera a potentially better coach? And what about the flip side—if black coaches so far had all been failures, would that be an argument to not hire other black coaches in the future? Because despite their success in the regular season, they have done nothing in the playoffs, with a combined record of 14-24, and not a single one of them has a winning record in the playoffs. (Tony Dungy would have a winning record after the year only if the Colts win the Super Bowl, and Lovie Smith if the Bears make the Super Bowl.) In other words, black coaches are like Jim Mora. Does this mean future black coaches can't win in the playoffs? Of course not. And if teams pass over superior candidates just because they're black to hire inferior white candidates, they'd be punished with worse teams, so it all works out anyway.
  • Speaking of head coaches, why would anyone hire Jim Haslett? Are all the other crappy head coaches taken?

Now, onward with my picks:

Seattle 28, Washington 13
Despite my mispick last week, I stand by my statement that I have no idea how the Redskins made the playoffs, and now I have no idea how they won last week's game. Brunell and Portis both look beat up, and unlike last week they'll have to move the ball to win, because Hasselbeck isn't going to give the ball away like Chris Simms did.

New England 24, Denver 23
On the one hand, the Broncos have a superior running game, a great offensive line, a more reliable defense, and have played great the whole season. On the other, it's Jake Plummer vs. Tom Brady, and I don't care how well he's played so far this year, it's still Jake Plummer and he's not trustworthy under pressure until proven otherwise. The whole season for the Broncos had been about taking the pressure away from Plummer, but that's not going to be possible in the playoffs.

Indianapolis 38, Pittsburgh 17
Not that I need another reason to think that the Colts will absolutely destroy the Steelers, but now I see that Joey Porter is complaining about how the Colts won the last time they played by being the smarter team. Seriously, he was complaining, among other things, that the Colts were running the ball when they had a pass defense on the field and passing the ball when they had a run defense. Even Jon Kitna was able to move the ball up and down the field against the Steelers last week; what do you think Manning is going to do to them?

Carolina 19, Chicago 9
The Panthers defense won't be as good as they were last week, but how are the Bears going to score? Everyone thinks Rex Grossman is vastly superior to Kyle Orton, but in a game-and-a-half so far with Grossman their offensive production has consisted of 24 points against the Packers, and a one yard, one play touchdown "drive" against the Falcons in which Grossman handed off the ball. Orton was the lowest rated passer with a 59.7 rating this year, but what is Grossman's rating so far? 59.7. Grossman's passes might look prettier than Orton's, but the end results are the same. And let's remember that he has played a grand total of 8 games in the NFL and has thrown only 4 touchdown passes. The Bears need to force multiple turnovers to win the game, but for that plan to succeed they'll also need to not give the ball away on offense, and I think Orton is better suited for that role as ball protector than Grossman is.

11:49 PM | Link | Sports | Comments (4)

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RACISM AND "LAZY SUNDAY"

Posted by Greg

After having watched the SNL skit "Lazy Sunday" about a dozen times (make that 13!), I think I'm qualified to say that this guy doesn't get the joke:

Yeah, I’m probably overreacting over something that’s essentially “wassup,” but you know what? I just find the whole thing vaguely racist. No, hear me out. It’s like, the very concept of Parnell and Samberg, who appear to be two suburban white guys, rapping about going to a nerdy movie is intrinsically funny. Why is that? Is it because rapping is expected to be reserved for hyperviolent, hypersexualized, and, of course, hyperblack discussion of killin’, jewelry, and, of course, bitches? There’s this whole ignorant, mostly middle-class, mostly white conceit that hip-hop is purely thuggery that has pissed me off since mostly middle-class, mostly white kids started chanting “Fuck tha police!” along with NWA almost two decades ago. This “Lazy Sunday” thing draws its humor—and, hell, Parnell’s whole rapping shtick—from that racist conceit.

What I find so troublesome is the connection between form and content that goes unchallenged, even though it doesn’t hold up to even the slightest scrutiny. A Tribe Called Quest left their wallet in El Segundo 15 years ago, at about the same time De La Soul was exploring issues of identity in “Me, Myself, and I.” J-Live, the Pharcyde, and the greatest of all time, LL Cool J, have numerous songs about love. And we’ve all decided to fall out over Kanye West’s biographical journeys of lost love, insecurity, family, and spirituality. Yet Parnell is able to don this stereotypical swagger and elicit laughter.

The writer goes on to say, apparently with complete seriousness, that Parnell is engaging in "postmodern black face."

I think the issue here is that this writer, Vincent Williams of the Baltimore's City Paper weekly alternative, as he admits himself, obviously doesn't get the joke. And the joke, of course, is that Parnell and Samburg are taking on the affectations and swagger of gangsta rap, but they're completely clueless nerds. This skit makes fun of poseur geeky urban white guys, and that's funny. Nothing that Parnell and Samburg does could be seen as stereotypically black. As far as Samburg and Parnell having outdated concepts of what's cool in hip-hop, well, yeah. That's the point. These guys are hopelessly unaware of how unhip they are. How someone could interpret this as "vaguely racist" really defies explanation. Unless white guys making fun of themselves is racist. But that thought just makes my head spin.

And here's another thing that I don't think anyone can seriously argue about:

Mr. Pibb + Red Vines = crazy delicious

Double true! (†Throwing Things)

11:25 PM | Link | Culture | Comments (6)

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ENOUGH ABOUT ME ... WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT ME?

Posted by Hei Lun

One would think that the purpose of hearings is to find out more about the nominee, which would necessitate letting Alito talk. Not so. Instead, the hearings have been about having the Senators talk ... and talk and talk and talk. Of the 18 Senators on the Judiciary Committee, 15 of them spoke more words than Alito did in their alloted question time. And I don't see any Democratic/Republican disparity—both sides are equally capable in filibustering (well, I guess that's not the right word).

6:23 PM | Link | Politics | Comments (1)

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January 11, 2006

LOST: THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH

Posted by Greg

Finally, at long last, we have a new episode to chew on. And so, without any further ado as they say, let's discuss The Twenty-Third Psalm.

continue reading "LOST: THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH" »


11:20 PM | Link | Television | Comments (19)

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January 10, 2006

ALITO

Posted by Greg

Because someone at BTD should say something about the Alito confirmation hearings. Nora Demleitner, a former judicial clerk of Judge Alito has a nice recap of the first day of the hearings. Notable quotable:

Most of the Senators’ attacks on and defenses of Judge Alito and his record were predictable. While the Republicans proclaimed Judge Alito’s eminent qualifications and record — which nobody seems to seriously dispute — others highlighted his concern for judicial restraint, a codeword presumably for opposition to matters such as abortion and gay marriage and the defense of states’ rights. The Democrats, on the other hand, focused on Judge Alito’s supposedly conservative record as a judge and voiced their distress about his perceived views on abortion, the right to privacy, and separation of powers.

...

More interesting has been Senator Charles Schumer’s attack on Judge Alito. He accused the Judge of reaching predictably conservative outcomes but hiding them behind judicial craftmanship. This is a difficult line of argument to refute. All of those of us who believe that Judge Alito decides each case on its merits may be just dupes -- duped by a super smart judge who has followed his personal ideology for decades. It seems difficult to imagine that a person could have been hiding such strong personal beliefs from virtually everyone with whom he has worked for such a long time. However, nothing is impossible if we believe that Judge Alito is Dr. No.

If Senator Schumer’s line of attack were to succeed, non-ideological judges may face an uphill battle in confirmation hearings. Our judicial system is designed, through procedural and evidentiary rules, burdens of proof, and even substantive law, to make certain outcomes more likely than others, to benefit certain groups of litigants over others. For these reasons comparing one appellate judge’s record against those of all other appellate judges is most difficult, if not impossible, in light of the vast number of cases in which Judge Alito participated. The results of such a comparison may be downright misleading if done with an ideologically driven outcome in mind.

And that's why Schumer's argument won't ultimately win the day, either. In fact, by focusing on such an obviously skewed basis for criticism, Senator Schumer's making it look like there must be no legitimate basis to oppose this nominee. Attorney Wendy Keefer has a critique of day 2, arguing that the Senate spent too much time quering Judge Alito on outcomes, and not enough on the judicial process.

I haven't been able to follow the hearings much myself. Some very premature impressions from the little bit I have heard/watched: First, the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee seem to be going through the motions. They seem resigned that Alito's going to be confirmed and don't seem willing go the distance to defeat the nomination if that's what it takes. Surprising, given that Alito is unquestionably conservative. Unsurprising, though, considering that Alito is unquestionably qualified and intelligent. Second, while Alito is doubtlessly bright, he doesn't strike me, at least in his mannerisms, as the superintellect that Chief Justice Roberts is. He seems more warm and personable than Roberts was, though.

Meanwhile, on the left, hysterical interpretations of Alito's statements abound, such as interpreting this statement by Alito:

It was a time of turmoil at colleges and universities. And I saw some very smart people and very privileged people behaving irresponsibly. And I couldn't help making a contrast between some of the worst of what I saw on the campus and the good sense and the decency of the people back in my own community.

to mean this:

I think it's fairly certain that he's not talking about branding frat boys' asses or getting drunk and stealing Christmas Trees. He's talking about anti-war protestors, feminists etc. And like so many campus conservatives of that era, he sounds like he's still carrying around a boatload of resentment toward them.

Because what Alito was really saying, apparently, was that he hates minorities, women and civil rights. It's not much of a leap, really, provided that you already see the world through polarized glasses and presume Judge Alito to be pure evil!, never mind what all of Alito's colleagues say about the man.

Sigh. At the end of the day, I fear that the Culture Wars are wars of attrition.

10:39 PM | Link | Law | Comments (2)

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Dispensationalism

Posted by Kriston

Dean Esmay, who calls those individuals traitors who leaked information about the NSA's domestic spying program:

When I say "treason" I don't mean it in an insulting or hyperbolic way. I mean in a literal way: we need to find these 21st century Julius Rosenbergs, these modern day reincarnations of Alger Hiss, put them on trial before a jury of their peers, with defense counsel. When they are found guilty, we should then hang them by the neck until the are dead, dead, dead.

No sympathy. No mercy. Am I angry? You bet I am. But not in an explosive way. Just in the same seething way I was angry on 9/11.

These people have endangered American lives and American security. They need to be found, tried, and executed.

(† Lindsay Beyerstein) Calling for the execution of New York Times reporters! Or the government officials who gave the reporters the story? I concur with Julian Sanchez—since the distinction between the NSA program and the FISA secret wiretaps is judicial oversight, I'm not sure that the NYT has provided nutritious succor to the enemies of freedom. So I say that we don't hang James Risen or the whistleblowers. Also, I say we never hang journalists for reporting on whistleblowing, and also don't hang whistleblowers for alerting the public to secretive executive alterations to public understandings of private rights—but then I also just simply don't get the sort of erotic thrill out of the notion of justice dispensed by a length of rope that Esmay does. I realize that it's me who's missing out.

12:57 PM | Link | Politics | Comments (1)

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January 7, 2006

YOU DON'T NEED TO BE AN EXPERT TO PICK FOOTBALL GAMES

Posted by Hei Lun

Picking then correctly is another matter of course, but I've been 10-1 and 9-2 the last two years, so how hard could it be?

Tampa Bay 10, Washington 9
Should I go with the team with the good defense, a wide receiver having a career year, and an inexperienced running back and quarterback, or the team with the good defense, a wide receiver having a career year, and an old, beat-up running back and quarterback? I'll take the home team. Frankly, I have no idea how either team even made the playoffs.

New England 24, Jacksonville 13
The Jaguars are going to have serious problems moving the ball, since 1) the Patriots defense is playing as well as they have the whole year, 2) both Fred Taylor and Greg Jones are big backs, and the Patriots usually do much better against big running backs than speedy ones, 3) Byron Leftwich is just returning from injury, and 4) it'll be really, really cold. The Patriots cornerbacks are still suspect, but the Jaguars don't have the receivers to exploit that.

Pittsburgh 35, Cincinnati 20
Except for a blowout win against the Lions, the Bengals haven't played well in a month, and their defense has been mediocre all year. In the last seven weeks, they've given up 45 to the Colts, 29 to the Ravens, 31 to the Steelers, 20 to the Browns, and 37(!) to the Bills. Teams with a great offense and below average defense usually lose in the first round. The Steelers are the Steelers as always, good enough to beat teams with flaws but not good enough to beat teams without.

Carolina 24, New York 17
The Panthers were my preseason NFC pick so I'll stick with them for at least one week. That, and Eli Manning might be the most shaky quarterback in this year's playoffs. Like the other NFC game, I don't feel strongly about this pick, since there's a good chance Tiki Barber (the real MVP) can go crazy for 250 yards.

12:07 AM | Link | Sports | Comments (3)

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January 6, 2006

THE DIET COKE RANKINGS (REVISED EDITION)

Posted by Greg

A while back at the BTD Forum, I posted a list of each kind of Diet Coke available, ranked in order of preference. Here's an updated list:

  1. Coke Light. Only available internationally, but man is that stuff good. It's taste is similar to regular Mexican Coke, which has a strong flavor and is made from cane sugar. On a trip that Allison and I took to Mexico a few years back, we drank this stuff almost non-stop. As I understand it, Coca-Cola first tried to market Diet Coke internationally, but it flopped. People thought it was only for those trying to lose weight. Coke Light, on the other hand, could be marketed like light beer.

  2. Diet Coke with Splenda Good stuff. Sweet and flavorful. Slight aftertaste, but not too bad. It's a close approximation of Coke Light and it's available in this country.

  3. Black Cherry Vanilla Diet Coke. Tasty. The newest Diet Coke variety, I saw this and tried it for the first time today. It manages to succeed where Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper failed so badly: its mix of flavors blend together well instead of fighting with each other. It's sweet and smooth without being icky or cloying. I'll be drinking a lot of Black Cherry Vanilla Diet Coke in the future, assuming this flavor sticks around.

  4. Diet Coke with Lime. Pretty good. Not as good as a Diet Coke with a slice of real lime in it, but not bad. A nice addition to the Diet Coke family. Lime is a flavor that should be encouraged at every opportunity.

  5. Diet Cherry Coke. Good. Sometimes the cherry flavor comes off as too sweet and icky.

  6. Coke Zero. Okay. Tastes somewhat like regular Coke, but somehow not. It's really not bad, but there's something slightly empty to its flavor.

  7. Diet Vanilla Coke. Better than regular Vanilla Coke, but still a little bit odd tasting. Slightly too sweet and aftertasty.

  8. Diet Coke. The old stand-by. Pretty flavorless, but good enough if it's cold and you're thirsty.

  9. Caffeine Free Diet Coke. I'm not sure what the appeal is supposed to be here: All the blandness of Diet Coke and none of the kick? The best thing that can be said about CFDC is that it's inoffensive.

    Unlike...

  10. Diet Coke with Lemon. This stuff is nasty. It tastes like lemon-scented dishsoap smells. I'm not completely sure whether they even still make this stuff, but if they do, it's definitely the worst kind of Diet Coke available.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum asks about my (and others') preference for Coke Light:

So Coke Light is Coke Zero? Why then does Greg rank Coke Light #1 and Coke Zero #6 ("not bad, but there's something slightly empty to its flavor")? I think Greg needs to perform a blind taste test. For what it's worth, though, this 1999 article in the Atlanta Business Chronicle confirms that when Coke Light was introduced overseas it kicked Diet Coke's butt pretty spectacularly. That Ace-K stuff must be sweetener gold.

Similarly, Nic in the comments states, "Uh, Coke Zero IS Coke Light. Same formula, sweetened with aspartame and acesulfame potassium. Maybe things are just more fun in Mexico."

I like Kevin's idea of a blind taste test. There's a specialty grocery store, Central Market, in Dallas that I seem to recall sells Coke Light. (Mexican Coke is easy to locate in Texas, but Central Market is the only place I've ever seen Coke Light domestically.) I'm certainly willing to entertain Nic's theory as well. Maybe Coke Light isn't any different than Coke Zero, but in my mind it's associated with sitting under a palapa on white, sandy beaches and staring out into the turquoise water of Playa Del Carmen. It's also possible that when I had Coke Light, several years ago, I didn't have anything to compare it with other than Diet Coke, so it tasted that much better. When I get a chance, I'll pick some of each up and put it to the test.

11:40 PM | Link | Food and Recipes | Comments (4)

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Givhan the People What They Want

Posted by Kriston

Bayes is all wrong about Robin Givhan's column on Abramoff's gangsta style. I really like the archetype of a self-serious beat writer who can't help but transform the news through her individual lens. Also, Abramoff did show up to trial in a floor-length trench coat and coal-black fedora. The fashion analysis makes clear that Abramoff is simply dressing true to form.

What's the current over/under on congressmen implicated in the scandal, 20? Republicans 18, Democrats 2 sound like the right spread?

3:14 PM | Link | Politics | Comments (2)

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Young Guns

Posted by Kriston

To the draft, or not to the draft? One thing I think I think about Young's throwing motion and its potential to impede his success in the NFL: It's important to remember that Young is 6'5" and some change. That makes him taller than plenty of quarterbacks—not all, but many—so I'd like to see what his motion actually amounts to in terms of height and arc at release. It certainly looks worrisome, but Young's passing style has not amounted to cringeworthy performances this year. The scouts may be wrong about his NFL prospects.

No doubt his passing accuracy still needs development, even if his style is acceptable, but that's something he's going to get through an NFL team whether he takes another college year or not. The same is true for Matt Leinart and every other quarterback who makes the pro-ball transition.

So, draft? I'm completely happy to see Vince Young stick around and rack up trophies for my alma mater, but he ought to go in, especially if he thinks that Houston is now reconsidering their options. And Houston should reconsider their options. They have a great prospect in Reggie Bush, but they have a great prospect and homegrown hero in Vince Young. Houston must not only develop its loser team but also could use to invest in its relationship with its fans. The day after the Rose Bowl, calls poured into local sports radio affiliates from Houston fans voicing their support for a Young-helmed offense. It's a win-win decision with the first pick, sure, but Young brings intangibles to the team that Bush doesn't offer.

1:35 PM | Link | Sports | Comments (8)

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46,000

Posted by Kriston

The number of "over-votes" in Florida for Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election, i.e., votes in which both the checkbox for Gore was selected and "Gore" was offered in the write-in box. President Bush captured approximately 17,000 over-votes. († Kevin Drum)

1:07 PM | Link | Politics | Comments (18)

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January 5, 2006

IN CASE ANYONE HASN'T HEARD ...

Posted by Hei Lun

I didn't know the price of a stamp was going up from 37 cents to 39 cents next Sunday until I had read it from a blog several days ago. You'd have figured that I'd have heard about this earlier since I actually try to pay attention to the news. Good thing I pay all my bills online. (Take that, U.S. Postal Service bastards!)

11:07 PM | Link | Miscellaneous | Comments (4)

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January 4, 2006

WE LOSE AGAIN!

Posted by Hei Lun

Hey, there's some coal miners trapped. Let's blame Bush!

I predict Republicans do surprisingly well in the next election. And then the Democrats have no idea what hit them. In case you missed it, that was the script for both 2002 and 2004. Is there any reason to believe things will be any different in 2006? Sure, the Republicans are crooks and have bad policy, but they were crooks and had bad policy in 2004 too. And have the Democrats gotten any smarter in the interim? Among the grass-roots, the favorite for the nomination is Wesley Clark. I rest my case.

I don't think the above link is indicative of the Democratic Party as a whole, but it'd be nice if more than a few of them show they have a clue, no?

1:57 AM | Link | Politics | Comments (18)

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January 3, 2006

THE COMING MEDIA DYSTOPIA

Posted by Greg

I'm impressed by this flash animation, "EPIC". It's very well done and thought-provoking.

Go watch, then read some critiques below the fold.

UPDATE: The most recent version of EPIC ("EPIC 2015") can be found here. (†Ryan at Dead Parrots.)

continue reading "THE COMING MEDIA DYSTOPIA" »


11:46 PM | Link | Media | Comments (4)

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January 2, 2006

AND WHAT DO YOU DO FOR A LIVING?

Posted by Tom

Hi. It's been a while, hasn't it? I won't dwell, or get overly introspective. I've just been a bit checked out of politics and uninspired to make general commentary.

But I have a story to share — one from over the holidays. I attended a bunch of lovely parties and met a bunch of lovely, fascinating people. But there was one that made a bigger impression than the others. I call him The Astroturfer.

Most of you are probably familiar with the term. For those who aren't: it refers to the sponsorship of allegedly spontaneous opinions. Generally this refers to work done in the political arena — the classic example is a fake grassroots blog that endorses the party line. But my Astroturfer worked on movie campaigns, exclaiming his love for his clients' products in various online forums.

None of this is too surprising. You shouldn't trust strangers on the internet, after all. I am, perhaps, touchier about this stuff than most people, but in general I suspect that everyone realizes that there is money being spent to push online opinion in subtle ways.

What amazed me was the dedication and depth behind these campaigns. The Astroturfer said it wasn't unusual to spend three or four months building an identity in a given online forum prior to hatching the sponsored opinion. Frequently, he said, his fake persona would have received invitations to help administer the forum by that point. And when others make accusations against The Astroturfer, it's common for the people he's been fooling to spring to his defense. He'll have been there for a while, after all, contributing to the discussion and making everyone feel good about themselves.

I find all of this pretty horrifying. The Astroturfer wouldn't say what sites he frequents — "all the ones you don't," was his stock answer — but he did mention some of the movies for which he'd campaigned. Out of respect for my hosts, I won't share the names of those films — but they were big, big features. Some of the campaigns began more than a year before the movies' release dates.

"You have to give more than you take," he said at one point, as if he worked for a lumber company that also planted trees. I don't know if this sort of thing will bother anyone else. But personally, I really don't like the idea of corporations secretly pretending to be my friends over a period of months in order to better sell me products. I don't want to be sold, fooled, or otherwise harvested. Make an honest case, then leave me alone.

10:23 PM | Link | Culture | Comments (4)

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January 1, 2006

BEST WISHES FOR THE NEW YEAR...AND POSSIBLY THE NEXT 500

Posted by Greg

Being less than a novice when it comes to science—either theoretical or applied—I'm not one to evaluate anyone's biological and genetic claims. It certainly does pique my interest, however, when apparently intelligent and well-qualified scientists make claims about extending life expectancy for several centuries:

"Average life spans would be in the region of 1,000 years," [Dr. Aubrey de Grey] says. "Seriously."

De Grey and his wife Adelaide are fixtures around Cambridge. She’s a researcher in genetics; he’s an academic maverick. ... De Grey believes he has unlocked the mysteries of immortality.

"The aging process is really a buildup of side effects of being alive in the first place," he says.

De Grey has identified the biological processes he thinks are responsible for aging, including the mutations that cause cancer and the gradual buildup of useless, toxic junk.

What does this accumulation of junk within the cells lead to?

"It depends on the tissue. In the eye, there is a type of junk that accumulates in the back of the retina that eventually causes us to go blind. It's called age-related macular degeneration. In the arteries, you have a different type of cell which accumulates a different type of junk that eventually causes arteriosclerosis," he says.

But de Grey has gone way beyond describing the causes of degeneration. In a series of papers he has developed a theory he calls "Engineered Negligible Senescence". Simply put, it says science will soon enable us to grow old without aging.

De Grey says that not all of the conditions that cause our bodies to age can be avoided or prevented…yet. "But I do claim that we have a fighting chance of developing ways to prevent them within the next 25 years or so."

So humans will be just as spry at 500 as we were at 25?

"If you have difficultly imaging this, think about the situation with houses. With moderate maintenance they stay up, they stay intact, inhabitable more or less forever. It’s just that we have to do a bit of maintenance to keep them going. And it's going to be the same with us," says de Grey.

Whoa. Dude.

Naturally, de Gray's radical thinking doesn't go unquestioned.

Dr. Olshansky studies longevity and aging at the University of Illinois in Chicago. He says de Grey’s predictions are more science fiction than science.

...

"From an evolutionary perspective, we're designed to make it, to grow and develop and to reproduce, pass our genes on to the next generation, and ensure the reproductive success of our offspring," says Dr. Olshansky. "So you know, early 60s, one might argue, is where evolution has us surviving optimally. But we go well beyond that, well beyond the end of our reproductive period. So it's no surprise that we see things go wrong with these bodies when we use them beyond their warranty period. And that's exactly what we're doing."

As I noted earlier, I'm not a scientist. In fact, I'm so non-scientific in my thinking and my ability to evaluate claims such as this, that one of my first reactions upon reading this article was to reduce this to terms that I can relate to: what might all this have to do with the Hanso Foundation and its clandestine activities on a certain tropical island?

10:42 PM | Link | Science | Comments (1)

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