Thursday, December 27, 2007

US Weekly Update

On holiday break - we'll get a double week of scoring early next week.

Don't you all wish you had picked Jamie Lynn?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Pre-Christmas Cute

Like little blond monkeys.

The Wire

We started watching "The Wire" (Season 1), recently. I've heard nothing but glowing reviews about this show, and since I grew up slinging crack in the 'hood with my homeys, I thought I'd check it out. (Editors note: for "slinging crack" read "feeding chickens", for " 'hood" read "barren tundra of central Wisconsin", and for "homeys" read "dog").

Quick premise of the show: good cop with bad attitude gets special assignment to take down new-style drug lord who runs a tight crew and so far hasn't been caught for anything. Wait, that's the plot of American Gangster. Well, this is the T.V. version, with different names and fewer afros.

So far, the show is good. Not as great as the reviews made it out to be, but to be fair, I've been told that it's the second season that really shines. I was thinking about the show, though, and I think the #1 element that makes the show good is the language. The dialogue is snappy - not quite up to 'West Wing' standards for both speed and wit, but high quality nonetheless. But more than the dialogue, what really stands out is the artful use of foul language.

This is not just curse-word carpet-bombing (e.g. Sam Kinnison). This is swearing that just ripples out in the normal course of conversation. You've got to believe that these cops and drug dealers really do talk like this. Why do you believe? Because you talk like that. They swear at the right times, with the right inflections. They swear because they're not supposed to be literature majors, but cops and drug dealers.

There is a scene in one of the first episodes where McNulty and Bunk (the irascible cop and his smooth partner) visit a crime scene to recreate what happened. The scene takes maybe 5 minutes. At about the 2 minute mark, Kirstin and I realize that the only words spoken so far in the scene have been f*$& or some variant thereof. We lean forward, expectantly, like we're watching someone walk a tightrope. "Can they do it? Can they make it through?" And for the next three minutes, these two cops say nothing but f#*$ and the myriad permutations of f&^@ that you all know and love. Five straight minutes. They never raised their voices. The best part was that in the context of the scene, "f@&$" was always the exact right word. Brilliant.

This whole experience makes me realize how much I enjoy a good curse. I mean, when applied correctly, a swear word can be a thing of art. If you swear too much, it's crude. If you don't swear at all, then you've got something shoved too far up there.

At this point my Mom is shaking her head and wondering how I ended up this way. I'm sure my potty mouth has got to be on her top five list of things she wishes she could have changed in my youth.* She had no chance, of course (have you met my dad?). But never underestimate the power of the Iron Law of Motherhood: "I you can find a way to blame yourself, do so." **

So rather than continuing to ramble on about my particular fondness for a well-crafted f-bomb, let me wrap up by saying:

Happy F-ing Holidays

* The others, FYI, are (in no particular order): not liking vegetables, not going to church, not tucking in my shirt, and an inability to repress sarcasm.
** The Iron Law of Fatherhood, in contrast, reads: "Keep your children out of jail and/or strip clubs as much as possible."

Michigan Mountaineers

Now that we have West Virginia's old basketball coach AND football coach, I thought you might like to see what the words to "The Victors" will look like next year (It's "The Victors", NOT "Hail to the Victors". The former is the title, the latter is a line from the song.):

Let's give a rah for West Virginia
And let us pledge to her anew,
Others may be black or crimson,
but for us it's Gold and Blue.
Let all our troubles be forgotten,
Let college spirit rule,
We'll join and give our loyal efforts
For the good of our old school.

It's West Virginia, It's West Virginia
The Pride of every Mountaineer.
Come on you old grads, join with us young lads,
It's West Virginia now we cheer!
Now is the time, boys, to make a big noise
No matter what the people say,
For there is naught to fear; the gang's all here,
So hail to West Virginia, Hail!

So at least their colors are pretty close to Maize and Blue.

No word yet on whether the WVU lacrosse coach will be replacing Red behind the bench for the hockey team next season. Incidentally, we remain #1 in the CCHA at 11-1 in conference, 16-2 overall. Somehow we managed to get bumped to #2 nationally this week after being #1 last week. By Miami, no less, a team with a worse conference record. This freshman class continues to impress: they still occupy positions 3-7 on the team in scoring. Not to leave the old boys out, let's not forget that Kevin Porter (Sr.) leads the nation in scoring with 18-11-29.

Go Blue (and hope that Florida's bus explodes on the way to the bowl game).

Because you're not lazy enough..

This should use up those extra 10 minutes a day that you actually do work.

Tower Defense

It's like Tetris, but kind of like Centipede. Dangerous stuff. My advice if you decide to play: don't build lots of weapons - build a few and then upgrade them like crazy.

You were warned.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

US Weekly Update

Happy Holidays, I'm still kicking all your butts. Here's the latest round of scores:

This Week:
1. The Boob Jobs (53)
2. Ocean's Fifteen (45)
3. F-ing French (42)
4. Dina Lohan's Playgroup (41)
Fourteen Freaks and Kid (41)

December Total:
1. The Boob Jobs (86)
2. F-ing French (77)
3. Dina Lohan's Playgroup (72)
Los Chulos y Las Putas (72)
5. Ocean's Fifteen (67)

Season Total:
1. The Boob Jobs (131)
2. F-ing French (116)
3. Dina Lohan's Playgroup (110)
4. The Good, The Bad, and the Fugly (103)
5. Los Chulos y Las Putas (102)
Ocean's Fifteen (102)

Friday, December 14, 2007

Huh? Part Deux

"In a news story Friday (”Spectrum holds Condom Olympics to educate on safe sex,” page 3), it was incorrectly stated due to a reporting error that health and wellness educator Beth Grampetro and Tim Hegan, an ORL area director, said Fruit Roll-Ups are adequate protection against STDs. No health officials said or advocated this use at the Condom Olympics. The Daily Free Press apologizes for the confusion."

Link here.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Steroid Report

So I'm finding myself unable to get into any kind of uproar over the Mitchell steroid report. Granted, a lot of this report refers to users who are now out of baseball, so there really are only two "sexy" names named: Clemens and Petitte. Now, I think Clemens is a d-bag of the nth degree, and Petitte seems like an overrated mercenary to me, but I don't find the revelation that they used steroids as particularly offensive. Perhaps this is because part of me wants to say, "well, duh."

However, I think I'm just not bothered by the steroid "scandal" because I don't see it as being fundamentally any different from a host of legal medical techniques that are used to prolong seasons and careers. The issue with steroids (or HGH) is that it is performance-enhancing. How do they enhance performance? By repairing muscle at a faster rate than one would achieve without them. So when you work out, you rebuild muscle faster. When you are injured, you rebuild faster. What these drugs do is make your body capable of something that it would not naturally be capable of.

How does this differ from Tommy John surgery? When Kerry Wood blew out his elbow, it meant that he was not naturally capable of throwing curveballs at 90 miles an hour. Should he have quit? No, he had surgery to put a cadaver's tendon into his elbow, and a year later he could pitch again. This is not "natural". He's got a dead guy's tendon in his elbow - not his own. His body basically said, "I can't do this", and he used modern medical innovations to override this signal. Isn't this what steroids are for? Overriding your body's natural signals?

I just can't get up any anger at guys using steroids. They're going to die young, probably with massive complications and a scrotum the size of a Peanut M&M. But that's their problem, not mine.

(And don't give me this "bad example for the kids" crap. If my kids are taking cues from professional athletes on what is right and wrong, then I failed as a parent a long time ago.)


This made my head hurt. From the Guardian:

"We misspelled the word misspelled twice, as mispelled, in the Corrections and clarifications column on September 26, page 30."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

My Kids are Mutants


"Ten thousand years ago, no one on planet Earth had blue eyes," Hawks notes, because that gene—OCA2—had not yet developed. "We are different from people who lived only 400 generations ago in ways that are very obvious; that you can see with your eyes."

According to these guys, the pace of evolutionary change has accelerated over the last 10,000 years since the agricultural revolution. We're acquiring mutations (like blue eyes) faster than we did previously - a lot faster. Between 10 and 100 times faster.

I'm pretty excited to see if my grandkids have four legs. Sweet.

Amazon Humor

So you thought I had lots of free time on my hands. These are comments left on Amazon for "Tuscan Whole Milk" - there are 97 total pages of comments!

"Horrible service, I bought my milk and went with the 7-9 day super saver shipping method and it arrived warm and curdled. What the hell?"

"One should not be intimidated by Tuscan Whole Milk. Nor should one prejudge, despite the fact that Tuscan is non-vintage and comes in such large containers. Do not be fooled: this is not a jug milk. I always find it important to taste milk using high-quality stemware -- this is milk deserving of something better than a Flintstones plastic tumbler. One should pour just a small dollop and swirl it in the glass -- note the coating and look for clots or discoloration. And the color -- it should be opaque, and very, very white. "

"This milk worked well when I first got it, but within a few days it wouldn't hold a charge. I called their customer service department and, I don't know if it's in Bangalor or Ireland, but I couldn't understand a word that they said and they began to scream at me. Finally, though, they sent me another one - but that wouldn't hold a charge, either. I'm beginning to wonder if this is truly meant to be a portable product. I still haven't been able to retreive my email and the video is murky. "

" Has anyone else tried pouring this stuff over dry cereal? A-W-E-S-O-M-E!"

"On the nose this milk is exceptionally elegant. Dominant floral notes (mint and white flowers) mingle with hints of fresh fruit (citrus fruits, fresh almonds). As it undergoes aeration, riper notes of vanilla and nougat come to the fore, giving a pleasant roundness to the milk. At this stage a typical whole milk characteristic, crisp elegance, clearly prevails over aromatic strength."

These comments are for "Bic Pens":
"Upon receiving my order, I carefully opened the box and dug through the packing peanuts in order to get to the pen contained therein. 'Beautiful!', I thought, and promptly opened up my moleskine notebook to jot down to myself some notes. My previous pen had ran out of ink four weeks prior and I didn't want to splurge on expensive shipping, which meant I had a lot of notes to catch up on writing."

"And I can conclusively declare that these pens are the PERFECT (the ***PERFECT***) thing to use for spooling cooked linguini for storage purposes."

"Very good if you need to write on paper"

No-Good Teenager Cute

Abby and Maddie hanging outside of Kinko's with some friends, looking to bum cigarettes. Deadbeats.

Academic Angst

I recently received a "revise and resubmit" from The Review of Economic Studies for a paper that is authored with my grad school advisor and another economist. It's a great journal, and I'm quite happy to be close to publishing in it. However, this is now the 3rd round of revisions requested by said journal. A brief scan of my hard drive shows drafts of this paper with the following dates:


So that's three and a half years of drafts for those of you scoring at home. I started working on this project in grad school, just as my fourth year had ended. One year of grad school, and now two and half years at UH, and I'm STILL revising this f$*#(-ing paper.

If this ever gets published I may have a bonfire party and burn that part of my hard drive.

How to Invest

There is a great article by Michael Lewis on the efficient market hypothesis - the idea that financial markets are so good that you can't actually beat the market. (I can't find it online anywhere) I'd summarize it, but this blog by Megan McArdle has already done so in a much pithier manner than I am capable of:

"Lewis completely glosses over distinctions between various forms of the efficient markets hypothesis, bizarrely simplifies arguments about the various premia on asset classes (those looking for a solution to this riddle might start with the word "liquidity"), and tells a suspiciously pat morality tale about a stock-jammer-turned-sainted-investment-advisor. But he gets the big thing right. The world would be a better place if we all took home the point of his sermon:

You can't beat the market. YOU can't beat the market. YOU CAN'T BEAT THE MARKET.

It doesn't matter which version of the EMH (efficient market hypothesis) is correct. It doesn't matter if the behavioral finance guys are correct. You--adorable, clever, hardworking little you--are mathematically just as likely to underperform the market as outperform it. You would do better to go to Vegas and sit down at the $25 blackjack table with a firm resolve to walk away as soon as probability has varied a few hundred dollars in your favor."

McArdle concludes with the essential investing advice that any sane economist should give you:

"You can't beat the market, and neither can the jerk on the phone trying to sell you stocks. Put your money in the broadest possible index fund (being young and having no children, I'm all equity with a 70/30 split between domestic and international; your mileage may vary). Then leave it there. Don't even peek. Throw the statements away unopened. Rebalance once a year to keep your money at your target allocation, and otherwise don't think about it. If you want the thrill of gambling, go to Vegas. At least they'll give you free drinks."

Monday, December 10, 2007

US Weekly Update

A new month begins with Halle Berry racing up the charts thanks to having had tons of plastic surgery. If only someone had Scarlett Johansson, they could have racked up 10 points from the cover this week. Scoring note: Katie Holmes has 5 points this week, not 6. In one of her pictures with Tom, she's facing away from the camera, and we can't see her face - no point.

Top 5 for the Week, and for December:
1. F-ing French (35)
Los Chulos y Las Putas (35)
3. The Boob Jobs (33)
4. Dina Lohan's Playgroup (31)
5. The Good, The Bad, and the Fugly (29)

Top 5 for the Season:
1. The Boob Jobs (78)
2. F-ing French (74)
3. Dina Lohan's Playgroup (69)
The Good, The Bad, and the Fugly (69)
5. Los Chulos y Las Putas (65)

Still lots of time left before the Oscars. Tell your friends and enemies to get their lists in.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Mental Housekeeping

Crap you might find cool:

1. Strange maps. This blog posts some new weird map pretty much every day. One could waste a lot of time (not me, of course, but some hypothetical procrastinator) on this website. Scroll down a few days for the map of the prevalence of blond hair in Europe. Useless, but interesting.

2. The Hamlet text adventure. Old school computer adventure game. And when I say old school I mean OLD school. Like type "look book" to look at a book, or "north" to go north. No graphics at all. This could have run on the PET computer we had in 4th grade. Love it. Helps if you remember at least some of the plot of Hamlet, and Macbeth, and Romeo and Juliet, and Othello...

3. It's like they're really talking:

Sick? Not so cute

I know that they're cute in their little dresses (see a couple posts below), but give Maddie a sinus infection, a fever, and an inability to breathe, and this is what you get.

Random Sports

A few things to get off my mind and onto the web-o-net:

1. Michigan hockey continues to look very good. Big wins around Thanksgiving versus Wisconsin and Minnesota. I'm willing to forgive the hiccup against Ohio State the following week, where we split with the Buckeyes. My boy Louie Caporusso has quited down lately, and has missed some games (can't get any info on whether this is injury or Red's decision). But freshman continue to be big contributors. Palushaj, Pacioretty, Langlais, Rust, and Hagelin are 3-7 in team scoring. Bryan Hogan got a start vs OSU, after having mono for the first two months of the season, and scored a W.

2. Who in the Michigan athletic department agreed to play Florida in the Capital One Bowl? Isn't this just the Oregon game all over again, except with more speed and a better quarterback? I want to believe, but yikes.

3. College football - doesn't this crap-ass LSU/Ohio State match-up make the case for a real playoff? How can you tell me Oklahoma, or USC, aren't really deserving of those spots? What about Virginia Tech? Aren't they a different team than lost to LSU early in the season? Here's the 1st round matchups of my mythical 16-team playoff, based on the BCS rankings
  1. Ohio State (1) vs. Tennessee (16) - the battle of the loudest stadium in America
  2. LSU (2) vs. Clemson (15) - not a bad game either
  3. Virginia Tech (3) vs. BC (14) - you might want to shake this up to avoid their 3rd meeting
  4. Oklahoma (4) vs. Illinois (13) - also not a bad basketball game
  5. Georgia (5) vs. Florida (12) - the world's extra-largest cocktail party?
  6. Missouri (6) vs. Arizona State (11) - wasn't this a Final Four game from like 1986?
  7. USC (7) vs. Hawaii (10) - probably 42-0 in USC's favor, but whatever
  8. Kansas (8) vs. West Virginia (9) - uh, okay, I wouldn't watch this either
Let's assume the higher seeds win each game, then your final 8 looks like this
  1. Ohio State (1) vs. Kansas (8) - alright, still boring
  2. LSU(2) vs. USC (7) - now we're talking
  3. Virginia Tech (3) vs. Missouri (6) - can Chase Daniel handle that D?
  4. Oklahoma (4) vs. Georgia (5) - TOP quality game
From there, who knows, but isn't this a lot better than what we're going to get anyway?

Monday, December 3, 2007

Overdue Cute

Thanks to GG for the cute dresses.

US Weekly Update

This weeks standings:

1. Papa Razzies (22)
2. Dina Lohan's Playgroup (20)
F-ing French (20)
The Boob Jobs (20)
5. Fourteen Freaks and Baby (19)

Month (November)
1. The Boob Jobs (45)
2. The Good, The Bad, and the Fugly (40)
3. F-ing French (39)
4. Dina Lohan's Playgroup (38)
5. Ocean's Fifteen (35)

J.D. (Papa Razzies) scores big in his first week in the pool, but as always, my own celebrity radar is spot on. For your own celebrity edification, here are the top scorers so far:

1. Vanessa Minillo (10)
2. Lauren Conrad (6)
Lindsay Lohan (6)
4. Jessica Alba (5)
Victoria Beckham (5)
Carrie Underwood (5)

Friday, November 30, 2007

Highway to Hell

No, not the AC/DC song. From an article here, it turns out that portions of the Eisenhower Interstate System are to be the source of our salvation. Four lanes to freedom, apparently. A quote:

A number of Christians have come to believe, because of recent prophecies, dreams, and visions, that I-35 is the highway spoken in Isaiah 35, verse 8: “And a highway will be there, it will be called the way of holiness.”

… [Heartland Ministries’ Hill] believes God has an awesome plan that starts along I-35. “Let’s draw a line in the center of America, set people on fire, get young people saved, get moms and dads saved, get churches on fire, get holy, and watch how it affects the rest of America.”

“What do we expect to see?” [said Cindy Jacob.] “We expect laws to be changed in cities. We expect righteous leaders. We expect a movement, a reformation that will literally sweep the face of the earth.”

First, I'd normally assume that this Rev. Hill doesn't actually want to light people on fire - but given the state of the religious right today, I'm not sure this is a safe assumption. Second, I think they are underselling the proof behind this theory. Don't we all remember how Jesus teaches us that Duluth, Kansas City, Witchita, and Waco will be where we'll all find redemption?

Honestly, does anyone really buy this crap? How much peyote do you have to smoke to get down with this idea?

Investment Advice for the Non-raptured

Since I'm quite sure that most, if not all, of the people I know are unlikely to be Raptured once Jesus returns to Earth, I thought this link might come in handy. It's sound investment advice for those of us who will have to endure the 7 years of tribulation under the reign of the Anti-Christ.

The best tips:
1. Expect a mini-recession resulting from confusion and departure of saints leaving fewer consumers chasing the same amount of goods. Christian nations like the United States will be hardest hit, so consider distributing your portfolio among nations with low percentages of godly people, like China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.

Have cash and gold on hand for buying opportunities and let your most sinful friends know you're willing to give cash value for their assets in a pinch.

Armageddon, of course, shapes up to be a boom year for defense contractors, but beware -- this is Satan and Jesus we're talking about and there's a good chance their arms and supplies may come from miracles and other non-standard sources.

Bible Smack-Talk

Just in case you need to deliver a holier-than-thou verbal boooo-yah to somebody, be sure to stop by the "Biblical Curse Generator" here. These are the 3 curses I got randomly:

1. Listen, thou wolf in sheep's clothing, for you will accidentally insult Goliath!
2. Hear this, O ye breaker of the commandments, for you will be mocked by eunuchs!
3. Behold, thou shalt beget difficult teenagers, thou exceedingly foolish virgin!

Of course, this is working on the assumption that the original Biblical characters, despite being Jews living in the eastern Mediterranean and speaking Hebrew, use a form of English that hasn't been spoken since about 1611. But who am I to question the Bible?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

How to Look Good on Christmas and Spend Less

Someone asked here if there was any way to take advantage of people's cognitive biases so that one could seem generous while not actually spending a lot of money. The good news is that the answer is yes you can!.

Here's a very simple example. If you give someone a $50 scarf, this will seem more generous than giving them a $100 coat. Why? Because scarves, in general, are cheap, and therefore a $50 scarf is an extravagant gift. Good coats, on the other hand, are usually much more than $100, so your gift recipient will think of your gift as cheap. So save yourself the $50 and buy the scarf.

The general rule of thumb is this: buy expensive versions of cheap objects, and people will consider the gift very generous. How does this work? Why isn't the gift recipient annoyed that you spent less? The key is that the gift recipient does not understand all of the gift options you compared. When I go shopping, I compare the $50 scarf with the $100 coat and decide what to give to you. I realize that the coat is worth more - it's a bigger sacrifice for me to buy it, and thus on most levels is a more valuable gift. However, you don't know that I considered buying a $100 coat, all you see is the $50 scarf.

Without the ability to see my whole set of gift options, you have to evaluate the gift based solely on its own merits. So you open the box and say, "Hey, look at that, a really nice expensive scarf! Wow, what a great gift," because you just compare this scarf to your idea of scarves in general, and not to the whole class of possible gifts.

Note that this probably doesn't work as well with kids, because they have an inexhaustible reference list of gifts to compare too. Their reaction is likely, "Hey, look at that, a really nice expensive pair of Dora underwear! How come I didn't get a pony?" You'll just have to wait til they grow up, and then feel free to screw them every holiday with expensive cheap stuff.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Wiggalzzzzzz, Beeaaatch

I'd hate them so much less if this was how the show went:


Here's the list of teams, which will be updated as often as necessary as we include new players.

  1. Dina Lohan's Playgroup: Kirstin
  2. F-ing French: Jenny Eck
  3. CM's: Nicole
  4. The Good, The Bad, and the Fugly: Berna
  5. Fourteen Freaks and A Kid: Heather
  6. Los Chulas y Las Putas: Sarah
  7. Ocean's Fifteen: Sig
  8. The Boob Jobs: Dietz
  9. Papa Razzies: J.D.

US Weekly Pool Begins!

Alright, it's been a few weeks in coming, but the initial week of the US Weekly Pool has begun. Don't worry if you haven't entered yet, you can always join in. Just e-mail me your 15 celebs (per the rules linked to in the left column of the blog). For the initial week, here are the standings:

1. The Boob Jobs (25)
2. The Good, The Bad, and the Fugly (22)
3. F-ing French (19)
4. Dina Lohan's Playgroup (18)
5. Ocean's Fifteen (17)
6. Fourteen Freaks and A Kid (15)
7. Los Chulos yLas Putas (13)
8. CM's (11)

It's early, but it's obvious that my discerning eye for celebrity smut is unsurpassed! Love live the Boob Jobs!

I know what I want for Christmas

Personal exo-skeleton. Check out the video here. Remember the forklift-ish type robot thing in Alien? It's basically like having one of those. Sign me up.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Post Thanksgiving Book Review

I've got a backup of books I wanted to spout about. (Not to mention a 2 foot high stack of books I haven't gotten to read yet. Yikes.) So in no particular order, here goes:

1) The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman. Friedman is a columnist for the New York Times, and one time he got to take this great trip to India, and like, they've got a Pizza Hut there! How cool is that? Doesn't that make you think the world is really flat? Actually, Tom, it makes me more convinced that you're a bumbling idiot. In the immortal words of Bart Simpson, "I didn't think it was physically possible, but this both sucks and blows." Friedman has written a 300 page 6th grade book report on globalization, and he did all of his research by Googling management textbooks. If you spent a hour by yourself coming up with a list of characteristics of globalization you'd get just what Friedman apparently charged the NYT a fortune in expenses for. I'll admit, the first 50 pages were so bad, I stopped reading, so to be fair, I could be missing the "good parts" in the back. If I ever heard about a ship falling off the edge of the ocean, I'll be sure to go back and finish it.

2) The Adventures of Augie March, Saul Bellow. From the juvenile to the adult. Too adult (No, not dirty, you perv. Sophisticated). This has been called, or at least is in the running for, the Great American Novel. And there is obviously a lot about this book that is spectacular. It was one of the first novels to feature an obvious immigrant, in an obviously immigrant neighborhood, as the main character. The beauty of it is that Augie, the immigrant in question, is portrayed so clearly as a definitive American. He is capable, smart, and motivated. His problem is that the endless possibility before him offers no clear path. The book is something like an extended resume of Augie's life. Augie the movie ticket seller, the deliveryman, the book thief, the union organizer, the eagle trainer, the dog groomer, the student, the salesman, etc.. etc.. He is willing to try anything, because he has no idea what he actually wants to do with himself. He could be good at all of these things if he put his mind to it, but nothing "clicks". In the end, he comes to some appreciation of the fact that in neither his work life nor his love life, will an actual switch get thrown in his head that says "HAPPY". This is slightly depressing - because Augie has been operating on the assumption that if he just tried the right thing, with the right job, or the right girl, it would all fall in place. It's not that he can't be happy, but rather that some effort will have to be involved. Being happy for Augie is in large part willing himself to not be bored.

As for the use of language, I can't say anything smart. Bellow writes beautiful language, as opposed to beautiful stories. From what I understand, one of the innovations was his intense usage of the "street language" he grew up listening to in Chicago among the immigrant neighborhoods. It's rough, dirty, and improper. But the sentences run quite long and they ramble about. Personally, I cannot focus enough on the language (the sounds, the cadence) to appreciate it. I'd prefer a clearer story to follow. I'm willing to concede, though, that the book is a major milestone in American literature, if only for the intensely detailed descriptions of what the lower ends of American cities are really like to those trying to claw their way out.

3) The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass, Philip Pullman. No, Nicole Kidman isn't in the book - but she probably is perfect to play the part of Mrs. Coulter in the movie (in theaters Dec. 7th in case you missed the 5000 commercials this weekend). A sci-fantasy kind of trilogy with a heavy, HEAVY religious element. Can't say much about the actual role of religion without giving away much of the fun. However, this is a really worthwhile read. The main characters, Lyra and Will, are two roughly 13 year-olds who, in a common sci-fantasy motif, find out they are Really Important People who can do X, Y, and Z to save the world. The fun of the books is not in the plot, it's clever but not stunning. The fun is in the detail and the novel world that Pullman creates, with the talking bears and the daemons and the multiple worlds and the Dust and all that. It's not quite as engaging as Harry Potter, where you just wanted to go to Hogwarts for a year yourself, but it was a pretty fun ride.

4) On the Wealth of Nations, P.J. O'Rourke. O'Rourke reads Adam Smith so you don't have to. In fact you get two books in one, since he read Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments as well (they are really a matched set). It's a short, fast read, and O'Rourke gets out a lot of the essential points of Smith that get lost when people just say "invisible hand" and laissez-faire. Economic progress consists of three elements: pursuit of self-interest, the division of labor, and free trade. There is a lot more said by Smith, and a little more said by O'Rourke, but these are the things you need. Self-interest doesn't mean greedy bankers screwing over defenseless grannies, either. It simply means that what we do with our money is our own damn business.
Rather than continue on summarizing what is already a summarization of Smith, I'll just highly recommend the book.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

I Guess Jim Craig Has Broadband Access

I'm not sure what to say about this (aside from the host of dirty jokes that came to mind). I saw this on Andrew Sullivan's blog at the Atlantic. Here are the top ten pages viewed on "Conservapedia", a right wing.....something (dictionary? encyclopedia? echo chamber? brainwashing vehicle?). Anyway, here are Conservapedia's own '10 most popular articles', as listed on their main page:

1. Examples of bias in Wikipedia
2. Theory of evolution
3. Homosexuality
4. George W. Bush
5. Jesus Christ
6. Global warming
7. Barack Obama
8. Bible
9. Atheism
10. Conservative

Even more intriguing are the statistics on the top ten viewed pages in Conservapedia (according to their own stats here):
1. Main page
2. Homosexuality
3. Homosexuality and Hepatitis
4. Homosexuality and promiscuity
5. Homosexuality and parasites
6. Homosexuality and Gonorrhea
7. Homosexuality and domestic violence
8. Gay Bowel Syndrome
9. Homosexuality and Syphillis
10. Homosexuality and mental health

There is something just incredibly Freudian going on here, isn't there? How did the right wing end up so obsessed with gay lifestyle? What happened to Barry Goldwater, small government, and fiscal responsibility?

And honestly, "Gay Bowel Syndrome"? Just in case you don't believe in this medical condition, you can just read - according to Conservapedia - the book "The Marketing of Evil" about how.....forget it. It's another book about how gay people will either kill you or suck your soul forcibly out of your eyeballs.

Don't people have better things to do with their time?

Subprime Mortgages - How Bad?

Here's an interesting link I picked up today:

"The entire market in subprime debt is just 1.4% of the size of global equity markets. Or, to put it another way, a 1.4% downward fluctuation in stocks erases the same amount of value as if all subprime-backed bonds were collectively marked to $0."

Now, if all the subprime bonds were marked to $0, this would cause a lot of disruption, because the people who owned them usually borrowed the money used to purchase them. So who loses the money? Probably a lot of banks who made loans to hedge funds and other banks to buy these subprime mortgages. But regardless of who gets the shaft here, it's only 1.4% of global equity markets.

For comparison, the S&P 500 dropped over 1.75% yesterday, and this did not cause anyone to panic or assume the financial world was coming to an end. The difference is that stocks are probably less leveraged than subprime bonds (that is, people used their own money to buy stocks), so the owners are the same as the losers.

If subprime mortgages are going to ruin financial markets, then this would have to be because the losers are the lenders, and this might mean they stop lending to everyone else, and this brings investment to a stop. But you'd only stop lending to everyone else if they were bad credit risks, and corporate profits are still quite high and there are still plenty of prime mortgagee's out there (remember, this is all a problem with subprime lending, or lending to people with lousy credit in the first place).

Recession? Maybe. Titanic financial collapse? No.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Go Blue

Yeah, I know we couldn't even top 100 yards of offense against Ohio State, our coach is "retiring", and earlier this year we were on the wrong end of the worst upset in college football history.

But there is more to life than beating Ohio State (although beating them would make life better). Last weekend UM hockey took two from Lake Superior State to go 8-0 in conference and 11-1 overall. #2 in the national polls so far. Freshman are all over our top scoring list, 6 of the top 10. The future is bright.

And let's not forget that Ohio State graduates had to spend 4-8 years living in Columbus. Punishment enough.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Honest Dating

Finally a woman who just tells it like it is:

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Fantastically Poor Reporting

This article reviews the results of a recent study linking materialism and self-esteem. It's terrible. Not the study, but the reporting about it. I'm guessing that this kind of poor reporting will occur all over the place as the study gets some traction in the media.

The first problem:
"Researchers have found that low self-esteem and materialism are not just a correlation, but also a causal relationship where low self esteem increases materialism, and materialism can also create low self-esteem."

This fundamentally fails to appreciate the definitions of correlation and causality (not to mention proper usage of those words). If self-esteem and materialism are significantly related to each other (say in a regression), then we can conclude they are correlated. Without proper identification, though, we can say nothing about which direction the causality runs. That is, we cannot be sure if self-esteem causes materialism or vice versa. An unidentified correlation presumes that causality runs both ways. They do not "find" that causation runs both ways, until we have identification we have to assume that it does.

The second problem:
"The paradox that findings such as these bring up, is that consumerism is good for the economy but bad for the individual. In the short run, it’s good for the economy when young people believe they need to buy an entirely new wardrobe every year, for example. But the hidden cost is much higher than the dollar amount. There are costs in happiness when people believe that their value is extrinsic. There are also environmental costs associated with widespread materialism."

This is just dumb. If you want to make statements regarding the economy, you should know something about how it works. And you should know something about how people work. "Consumerism is good for the economy" is an ignorant statement. A brief increase in consumer spending may boost GDP for a short period before prices rise. However, increasing consumer spending means that less money is saved, and this means that growth is lower in the long run due to less investment. If materialism raises consumption permanently, we'll have lower long run income per capita. "But the hidden cost is much higher than the dollar amount". The dollar amount of what? The dollar amount of increased spending? I thought this was a good thing, not a cost. What the author means is that there are hidden costs that offset his (false) benefits of higher consumer spending.

And what are these hidden costs? The loss of happiness from extrinsic self-esteem is one. I don't mean to be cynical, but the whole point of materialism is to boost my self-esteem extrinsically when my intrinsic self-esteem is low. So it doesn't necessarily mean that I'm less happy. From the outside, perhaps I think this not a good trade-off, but the conclusion does not follow automatically.

The second hidden cost is the ephemeral "environmental costs". This would only be true if the goods preferred by materialistic people were relatively "dirty" compared to the goods purchased by less materialistic people. As less materialistic people, by definition, spend less, they should be saving more. This higher savings would be loaned out so that others could buy investment goods (houses and factories). I'm not convinced that Gap jeans are necessarily worse for the environment than another McMansion going up. At a minimum, one would have to support this statement with some kind of evidence.

All in all, a stunningly bad piece of reporting. Cheers.

US Weekly Update

For those of you interested in the US Weekly pool, I'm going to start the actual competition the weekend of Thanksgiving (that is, with the edition that we get at home that Friday). So if you want in at the start, make sure to e-mail me your 15 celebrities. The official rules can be found on a link at the left side of the page. (Don't worry, you can always enter later as well.)

For transparency, I thought I'd list my own roster publicly, so no one can accuse me of pulling a switcheroo. So, ladies and gentlemen, I present "The Boob Jobs"

1. Nicole Ritchie (duh, she' skanky AND she's got one in the oven)
2. Christina Aguilera (lower skank factor, always a risk for fashion police spread, but is going to pop one out soon)
3. Lauren Conrad (someone needs to tell me who she is and what she does, but every week she's in the magazine)
4. Katie Holmes (you should always have at least one cyborg on your roster)
5. Kate Hudson (I predict that she will drive the other Wilson brother to suicide as well)
6. Brad Pitt (oh God, he's so dreamy, and he - like - cares, you know? About all that Africa stuff and everything)
7. Jennifer Lopez (again, can't lose with B-list celebrities about to give birth - she'll sell her baby pictures in a heartbeat to get some press coverage)
8. Lindsay Lohan (getting trounced badly in her one on one battle with Britney to go off the deep end)
9. Reese Witherspoon (oh God, she's do dreamy, and she - like, cares, you know? About her kids and she seems all normal and stuff)
10. Carrie Underwood ("Must remain perky. Must remain perky. Must remain perky.")
11. Jessica Alba (dude, you could totally see her underwear in Fantastic Four - thank God for TiVo)
12. Tom Cruise (see #4)
13. Justin Timberlake (perhaps the one person in the world I'd like to punch in the mouth more than anyone other than Dick Cheney)
14. Pam Anderson (Large boobs? Check. IQ of a tree squirrel? Check. Unnatural lack of dignity? Check.)
15. Spencer Pratt (With that name, isn't impossible for him to NOT be an asshole?)

Your Money

This website is fantastically cool. It allows you to track the amount of money (either in grants or in contracts) that go to any specific congressional district, state, or company. It's fun to just look over the top 100 lists.

Top 5 contract recipients:
1. Boeing: 12.01 billion dollars
2. Northrup Grumman: 8.34 billion
3. Lockheed Martin: 7.99 billion
4. Raytheon: 4.82 billion
5. General Dynamics: 3.26 billion

The number 26 company on the list is FedEx, earning 773 million dollars for shipping things and people around for the government. The biggest spender on FedEx? The Air Force. Don't they have their own planes?

Of the 2.2 trillion dollars awarded in contracts between 2000 and 2007, 68% were spent by the Defense Department.

Compared to the 2.2 trillion in contracts (which presumably are used to buy "stuff" that the federal government can use), there was 13.8 trillion awarded in grants (which covers everything from funding school lunches to buying hazmat suits for police departments). The top agencies awarding grants were:
1. Health and Human Services: 3.70 trillion
2. Homeland Security: 3.62 trillion
3. Social Security: 3.49 trillion
4. Housing and Urban Development: 0.83 trillion
5. Department of Agriculture: 0.82 trillion

By far the biggest recipients of grant money were Florida and California, to the tune of 1.5 and 1.2 trillion, respectively between 2000-2007. This seems to mainly be for flood, hurricane, and earthquake insurance. So roughly 20% of all federal grant money was spent on making sure that people who live on a) one of the most unstable fault lines in all the world, or b) the equivalent of an interstate highway for hurricanes, will be compensated when - lo and behold! - a catastrophe strikes. That means as much is spent on catastrophe insurance as on all of Social Security. We could make Social Security AND Medicare solvent by ending the subsidization of living in places that God is intentionally trying to destroy on a regular basis. Just a thought.

Christmas Lists

The picture on top is an example of what Abby and Madeline will NOT be getting for Christmas. The picture on the bottom shows, yes, plush huggable versions of everyone's favorite pair of bodily excrements. Those rascally scamps, I just want to give them a big squeeze!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Rich, Woody, and Full of Crap

For those of y'all who are wine peoples. I knew you were faking it the whole time. ("I won't drink any f*#$-ing merlot!"). Original post here, and some selected quotes:

In the first test, Brochet invited 57 wine experts and asked them to give their impressions of what looked like two glasses of red and white wine. The wines were actually the same white wine, one of which had been tinted red with food coloring. But that didn't stop the experts from describing the "red" wine in language typically used to describe red wines. One expert praised its "jamminess," while another enjoyed its "crushed red fruit." Not a single one noticed it was actually a white wine.
More proof that it's all just a front -
The second test Brochet conducted was even more damning. He took a middling Bordeaux and served it in two different bottles. One bottle was a fancy grand-cru. The other bottle was an ordinary vin du table. Despite the fact that they were actually being served the exact same wine, the experts gave the differently labeled bottles nearly opposite ratings. The grand cru was "agreeable, woody, complex, balanced and rounded," while the vin du table was "weak, short, light, flat and faulty". Forty experts said the wine with the fancy label was worth drinking, while only 12 said the cheap wine was.
From these two simple tests, I can only conclude that the experts are attempting to create a cognitive scheme around which they can place specific........................mmmmmmm, beer.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Rip Away 1000

The future is so bright, I gotta wear shades.


Our last two Netflix movies were The Hours and Hero. Let me lay out a quick review of both for you:

The Hours is basically like watching an extended episode of Sex and the City. Except that instead of well-dressed socialites, you have frumpily dressed women in various stages of mental decay. Although both the Hours and Sex and the City have shown women kissing women, I have a feeling that I'm understating the importance of these kisses in the Hours. If you asked your film studies major friend (you know, he works at Arby's), he'd tell you that the kisses represent the yearning for a deeper meaning in the confined world that a women is forced to operate in by the patriarchal system of domination. The movie involves the ways in which a novel by Virginia Woolf steers and frames the lives of two other women, but let's not forget that Woolf was a certifiable nut case. Maybe one could turn to some other sources of inspiration.

Hero is in that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon genre of Chinese action films and involves lots (LOTS) of wire-fighting martial arts scenes. There is nothing terribly stunning about the fights relative to CTHD (or the Matrix, for that matter). The story could have been intriguing, but it is told in such a way as to rob it of all the suspense. All that being said, this is probably the coolest looking movie I've ever seen. The movie tells the same story several times over, from different points of view, and each point of view is represented by a different primary color being used for the costumes and major props. And the colors themselves are brilliant - bright blue, stop sign red, pure white. The settings are fantastic Chinese landscapes. Rent this, put the mute on, and just watch.


This is frightening. Honestly frightening that people such as this live among us. This comes from Deroy Murdock:

While the White House must beware not to inform our enemies what to expect if captured, today’s clueless anti-waterboarding rhetoric merits this tactic’s vigorous defense. Waterboarding is something of which every American should be proud.

By all, any, and every definition of torture, we are torturing people. (People, mind you, who have been named "enemy combatants" by our government, and so therefore are not eligible for a public hearing on the charges against them. So yes, your government could pick YOU up off the street, declare you an "enemy" and imprison and torture you without recourse.) Now one can argue that torture of one is justified in the defense of the many, but should we suggest at any point that this is something to show pride in?

"Hey Bob, nice job electrocuting that rag-head's testicles. High five!"
"Thanks Mike, but it wasn't nearly as cool as that time you cut that camel-jockey's fingers off one by one with a bolt-cutters. That rocked, man."
"Sweet. Let's get some brews. "

Pride? That's what I should feel? I feel sick to my stomach if I actually bother to think about what we do out of fear. Even if it's justified, I feel sick. We've been put in a position where torturing suspects (not convicts, suspects) is our optimal policy, and I'm supposed to be proud? I'd be proud if we'd been able to bring all the 9/11 masterminds (Osama et al) to justice without firing a shot. THAT would have been something to be proud of. By the logic of Deroy Murdock, I should be proud that the cops in Houston beat up some drug dealer. I should be proud when some kid with an attitude problem gets expelled from school.

Maybe it's time to start looking for positions at universities in Canada.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Way Cool

A graphical dictionary. It's just fascinating to watch it kind of give birth to new words when you click on a word. Try "smart", "humor", "history", or "fight" - lots of bubbles (you'll see).

Friday, November 2, 2007

The Enola Gay

You may have noticed that yesterday (Nov. 1st), Paul W. Tibbets died. Tibbets was the captain of the Enola Gay, the B-29 bomber that left Tinian island in the Pacific on August 6th, 1945 and delivered the 'Little Boy' atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima. Tibbets stated in 1975, "I sleep clearly every night," and maintained that if given the same assignment, he'd do it over again without question.

While Tibbets organized, planned, and flew the mission, there were 11 other men on board the Enola Gay that day. In particular, Thomas Ferebee was the bombadier - when all is said and done, this guy was the one who actually pulled the trigger on the first atomic bomb. Think about being asked to do that.

Robert A. Lewis was the plane's regular commander, and served as the co-pilot on the Hiroshima mission. Theodore Van Kirk was the navigator, William Parsons was the weaponeer (bomb mechanic), Jacob Beeser worked the radio countermeasures (and fulfilled the same role during the Nagasaki mission, the only man to fly both). Morris Jeppson was the assistant weaponeer, George Caron was the tail gunner, Wyatt Duzenberry was the flight engineer, Joe Stiborik was the radar operator, Robert Shumard was the assistant flight engineer, and Richard Nelson was the radio operator.

Fun story

This is from Megan McArdle:

At a conference last year, I saw an incredibly compelling presentation from the guy who does usability for Treo. He talked about design philosophy, and showed slides of a project he does where he goes into various institutions, divides people into groups, gives them spaghetti and some tape, and asks them to build the tallest self-supporting structure they can. The worst-performing group, you'll be unsurprised to hear, was MBA students; they spend all their time arguing about who will be boss. Engineers do okay. But the best performing group? Kindergarten students.

The students don't plan anything. They just try stuff, and if it doesn't work, they try something else. The presenter's argument was that if you want to do something quickly, and well, you need to have a lot of failure. Failure is the quickest way to learn.

Basically a nice quick argument for messy capitalism over planned economies (or planned anything).

White Trash Cute

I love my kid.

Halloween Cute (and more)

This is probably the last year we'll get off this easy on Halloween. They wiggled into their princess gowns last week for a big mom's group Halloween party - but apparently spent the whole time attached to Kirstin's leg (until of course the food showed up, see the picture). Wednesday night they got hitched up again in their princess gear and headed out onto the block.
(For all my friends north of the Mason-Dixon line, it was about 75 outside when we went trick or treating. Hope you were able to get the snowsuit on underneath your kids costumes.)

The best part about two tiny little princesses is that everyone is actually happy to see them because they are so non-threatening. We actually had some neighbors request that we ring their doorbell because they wanted to have the little princesses stop by. Of course, dressing like a princess does not mean one acts like a princess. Twice Maddie was unimpressed with people's charity and just made a stab for their bowl, ripping out a handful of goods and stuffing them in her bucket. I did get her to yell 'thank you' at them from the sidewalk as she hustled to the next house.

Kirstin completely suckered the two of them in with her "Great Pumpkin" tradition (i.e. bulls***). If you leave your candy bucket by the fireplace, the Great Pumpkin will come during the night, take your candy, and leave you a toy. Abby was skeptical, and I have to admit I admired her a little for seeing through this blatant attempt to subvert a national holiday. But she went for it and even ran downstairs Nov 1st to find that the GP had brought her - a book. Honestly, we duped our kid into giving up a bucket of candy for a book. I'm not sure whether to be thankful she is developing a love of reading, or to shake my head at the fact I'm raising a sucker. Maddie got a book too, but this is less disconcerting - she's got the attention span of a rock.

Next year, I predict Abby calls Kirstin out for the B.S. and takes steps to secure her candy in a safety deposit box.

Best. Ad. Ever.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Optimal Taxes

I know, it's the worst title for a post ever. Bear with me. Let's say we have 8 people who earn 10,000 a year, and 2 people who earn 100,000 a year. Now which tax system would you prefer?

1. Those earning under $20,000 a year gets an earned income tax credit (essentially, a refund) equal to 90% of their income. Those earning over $20,000 pays 36% of their income in taxes.
2. Everyone pays 50% tax on all their income, but then everyone receives a $14,000 grant.

The first scheme appeals to progressive instincts. Those who can pay more should pay more. It transfers money from the rich to the poor. But it isn't necessarily fair because why should we punish one group just for being rich? The second scheme seems fair - it treats everyone identically. But why should people who are already rich receive this block grant? They don't need it, do they?

Here's the kicker. Each tax scheme results in an identical distribution of post-tax income. In either case, each of the poor people ends up with $19,000, and each rich person ends up with $64,000. In the U.S., we operate more like scheme 1), but it doesn't necessarily lead to any greater redistribution than a flat tax and grant scheme.

I'm not sure exactly what my whole point is on this, but I thought it was an interesting thought experiment.

Like Watching a Zamboni....

Interesting links to space out to:
1. Go here to watch in (close to) real time the updates made to Wikipedia and where they come from around the world.
2. Go here to watch Cheddarvision. Shockingly, this is not from Wisconsin.

South Park Fun

Sig comes through again. She pointed me towards this site, at which you can create your own South Park character. I did the whole family.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Fun Amazon Tool

Scroll down through an Amazon listing for a book, and under "Inside this book" you can find a link for 'text stats'. It's got all sorts of fun stuff for a numbers geek like me, like percentage of words that are complex (e.g. three syllables or more), words per sentence, and words per dollar. A few famous selections:

War and Peace: 11% complex - 19.2 words per sentence (wps) - 52,888 words per dollar (wpd)
Oliver Twist: 9%, 19.3 wps, 25,204 wpd
Huck Finn: 3%, 19.1 wps, 22,006 wpd
Old Man and the Sea: 3%, 14.3 wps, 2,845 wpd
Billy Bathgate: 7%, 25.5 wps, 10,830 wpd
To Kill a Mockingbird: 8%, 12.6 wps, 3,405 wpd

This just confirms my conclusion that Billy Bathgate rambled endlessly. It's got sentences twice the length of 'To Kill a Mockingbird'. For further comparison, take Hegel's 'Phenomenology of Spirit' (the densest book of arcane Germanic philoso-babble I could think of), which has 18% complex words and 25.1 words per sentence. If your sentences are just as long as Hegel's, you should look into hiring a good editor. I should also note that you get a much better deal on Hegel than on Billy Bathgate (16,470 words per dollar as compared to 10,830).

Of course, these are all pretty smarty-farty books. So I looked up a couple of books that Kir and I have read recently. 'Eat, Pray, Love' has 10% complex words and 16.9 words per sentence. 'Ender's Shadow' has 8% complex words and 11.6 words per sentence.

So here's a good question. Do books written primarily for guys (like Ender's Shadow, a science fiction novel) normally have less complexity in structure than books for women (like Eat, Pray, Love)?

Chad Vader

I'm not sure I can do justice to the genius that is "Chad Vader: Day Shift Manager". ("Yes, my master." "Dude, just call me Randy.") Leave it to some kids in Madison to come up with this. Thanks to Sig for putting me onto this.

Let's Go Blue

I'm not sure whether to be very frustrated or very excited by Michigan's 7 game win streak. I love that we are peaking towards the OSU game, I'd love to knock them off their unwarranted #1 perch. We're up to #12 in the BCS, ahead of Texas, Auburn, USC, and Florida. (If we played those 4 teams, though, I think 1-3 is as likely as 3-1. ) But this win streak just makes the Appalachian State and Oregon losses look that much worse. Where was this team two months ago?

On hockey, I know Boston U. is down a little, but any time you can beat that school 4-2 and 6-2 in a weekend, that's a solid accomplishment. More freshman kicking in. Matt Rust with 2G and 1A for the weekend, and Caporusso handed out an assist this weekend as well. It's time now for the CCHA to get rolling, so we'll see if this rolls over to conference success. Does Billy Sauer get a day off ever? Or does Red want to continue to have his goalies set records for minutes, games, and wins in a season?

I watched the end of the Patriots/Redskins game. My boy Brady is fantastic, but have you every seen a professional team run up the score like that before? Throwing on fourth down while you are up 49-0? I think right now it would be an upset for them to not actually cover a spread, much less lose a game. I think the Pats should change their logo back to the hiking patriot guy giving everyone the finger.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The US Weekly Pool is back!

I'm opening up a new season of fantasy celebrity watching. There are new rules this year in order to make this easier for a) you to enter and play and b) me to manage. So here goes:

1. Each player has to pick a list of 15 celebrities that they think will show up in US Weekly pictures most often over the course of the new "season". You will keep your 15 celebrities for the whole season - there is no changing of your lineup week to week (Eck!). There is no draft, you just pick 15 celebrities you think will be popular/drunk/knocked-up enough over the next few months to show up repeatedly in US Weekly. Yes, it is possible that we all could pick the same person for our team (hello, Britney) except for rule #2.

2. You may NOT pick any of the "big five": Britney, Paris, Angelina, Aniston, or Jessica Simpson.

3. There are two "seasons" a year. The winter season runs from the Emmy's (middle of Sept) to the Oscar's (March-ish). The summer season runs from the Oscar's to the Emmy's. So if you join now, we are in the middle of the winter season, and your list of 15 celebrities will collect points up until the first US Weekly issue following the 2008 Oscars. At that point you can completely rearrange your lineup for the new season.

4. Scoring. Each week your celebrities gain points based on the pictures (you don't really think I'm going to read this crap) contained in US Weekly. Here's the basic breakdown:
  • Main cover shot: 5 points
  • Inset cover shot: 3 points
  • All interior pictures: 1 point
  • A "Fashion Police" picture: -1 point
In addition to the standard scoring, this year I'm instituting bonus points for special circumstances. Note that these do not require an actual picture, but must be recorded somewhere in US Weekly (this is Kirstin's job):
  • Enter rehab: 3 points
  • Give birth: 3 points
  • If the baby is illegitimate: 4 points
  • Get divorced: 2 points
  • Get married: 1 point
  • Arrest: 1 point
  • Jail time: 2 points (must be in the clink for MORE than 24 hours)
5. I'll keep track of points for everyone on a weekly, monthly, season, and lifetime basis. The current standings will be posted on this blog each week. The prizes for each time period are as follows:
  • Weekly: A smug smile
  • Monthly: The ability to sneer at your lesser competitors
  • Season: You will be allowed to possess the illustrious gold spray-painted Barbie on a stick that is the official US Weekly Championship Trophy (at least until the next season's winner gets to have it - it's kind of like the Stanley Cup)
  • Lifetime: Dominion over all that you survey and power over both life and death
6. No pansies. That is, you can't sign up as a couple. It's a low maintenance league, so man up and pick your own list (that means you Alex and Bryan).

7. Team names. This year I'm requiring a team name. Your points don't count unless you have a - preferably tacky or offensive - name for your collection of pimps, ho's, and addicts. My team, for example, is going to be called "The Boob Jobs".

8. Signing up. Either 1) leave a comment on this blog post with your name, your team name, and your list of 15 celebrities or 2) e-mail me at dietz.vollrath AT with your team name and your 15 celebrities.

9. We've got a real hippie vibe this year. Invite your friends and enemies, the more the merrier.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Spam, spam, spam, spam. spammity spam!

Yes, that's a map made of spam. This is art I can understand. Full link here.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

I am shocked!

Kid Rock jailed in Georgia waffle house brawl, released

Monday, October 22, 2007

Birthday Cute

I know that all you care about is cute pictures of the kids - so here goes. Maddie's birthday party was this weekend. I'll stick a few choice photos here. Just imagine a sugar-induced bout of hyperactivity, combined with some form of Ebola that caused a continual runny nose. Good times!

Prom Night

Kirstin and I went to prom. Or a grown-up, much fancier, drinking-is-allowed, quality steak dinner, flaunt-it-if-you've-got-it version of prom. We attended the Children's Museum gala on Friday, thanks to an invite from a colleague of mine. As this colleague is married to someone whose family is a pretty big mover and shaker in Houston, we were at a good table. When I say a good table, I mean we were sitting in front of the guy who bid $62,000 on a weekend getaway trip to the Kentucky Derby for four people (I think they let you pick up horse turds for free).

We did enter the silent auction, bidding for a box at a polo match for eight (probably more horse turds) followed by dinner for the same at this nice local restaurant. We were the only ones to bid up until the last few minutes when some other woman upped the bid (in the words of K, "She can't steal our polo match. And seriously, who wears that dress to a gala?") So we rebid a little higher, and thought we had it nailed down until the polo-stealing tramp cracked the whip on her husband to come and re-up again.

The guy saved us spending the money, and probably kept me from stepping in horse turds for an entire Sunday afternoon, but when that adrenaline was flowing I was pissed. That jack off stole polo from me! So his little harlot could see the cute widdle ponies? (Let's leave aside for the moment that I have never once in my life wished to watch polo.) I hope he gets turd in his tea and crumpets. Bastard.

Other than that, we had a splendid time. If you haven't been to a gala, here's how to picture it. Think of a nice wedding you've been to. Now replace all the cheap well liqour with good stuff. Scale up (yes up) the percentage of women who are wearing things that I'll kindly refer to as "fashion risks". Finally, remove "that table" (you know, your nose-picking cousin Eddy, the podiatrist that lives next door to your grandma, and your alcoholic uncle who likes to goose waitresses), and replace it with "that table" (essentially, the nose-picking heir to the Chevron fortune, the head of proctology at Memorial Hermann Hospital, and 6 other alcoholic waitress-goosers who happen to own energy-trading companies that are in the black on their positions in oil futures).

Go Blue

Fine weekend for Michigan. The hockey team took two from Northern Michigan. My new favorite Wolverine Louie Caporusso had two assists for the weekend, and is tied for second on the team in scoring at 4 points. In a nice sign for the future, 5 of the 10 leading scorers on the team are freshmen (Caporusso, Hagelin, Rust, Pulashaj, and Winnett). Next weekend, BU comes to town for two games. Love to be at Yost for that one.

27-17 at Illinois is a nice way to keep the ball rolling for the football team. I really have never, ever, wanted to beat OSU so bad. They've completely backed into the #1 ranking and will get embarrassed (again) in a national title game. After next weekend, BC will be out of the #2 spot (losing to VT), and LSU will be right back in line for the title game. Do you think OSU has any chance of moving the ball against the LSU defense? Honestly?

Tom Brady is a god.

More random sports:
Not a big fan of the Houston Texans, but since I'm forced to watch all their games I have come to feel some sympathy for them. And Sunday's game against Tennessee was just gut-wrenching. To come back all the way from down by like 28 to take the lead - and then to BLOW it in the end is just sick. They'd be better off having been blown out. It would have been less painful.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Some Interesting Articles

1. Is The Onion one of the best newspapers in America?
2. Robert Kaplan on the long-term implications of focusing on counter-terrorism versus traditional military strength.
3. In praise of Leonhard Euler, mathematician and all-around groovy guy. Yes, I'm a geek.
4. Smart people might be close to finding a vaccine for malaria.
5. Stephen Pinker gives you the low-down on the F word.
6. Bill Gates' mug shot from 1977 for a traffic violation. Seriously, this guy is the richest man in America?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Top Five

Top five songs I've downloaded on iTunes recently
1. I Got a Woman - Ray Charles
2. Spirit in the Night - Bruce Springsteen
3. Bottom of the Barrel - Amos Lee
4. Hallelujah, I Love Her So - Ray Charles
5. A Deeper Shade of Soul - Ray Berretto

More Ankle

So some people wanted to know how I broke my ankle. The above picture shows you essentially how it happened. Except, of course, that I'm not black. Or a professional soccer player. Or a multi-millionaire. Nor did I score on the play where I got hurt. Oh, there were about 30,000 less people watching. And I was in Texas, not England.

But it was during a soccer game, on grass, outside, and other people were around. So the picture is pretty accurate.

Focused Blogging

I don't feel so bad anymore about mentioning my broken ankle on my blog. This guy started a blog solely to discuss his broken ankle.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

To my single male friends

Move to New Zealand now!

New Zealand women have the most sexual partners in the world, according to a global sex survey reported on Saturday.

They have an average of 20.4 sexual partners, according to a survey by condom-maker Durex - well above the global average of 7.3.

Kathleen Casey-Kirschling can kiss my...

Too much stupidity in one place to go unmentioned. Today in the Washington Post, Dana Milbank has an article about the first baby boomer to actually sign up for Social Security - Kathleen Casey-Kirschling. Let's take a quote from dear Kathleen and parse out the ignorance:

"Why should boomers who have earned it and who may need that extra support in their retirement -- for medicine, for food, for whatever -- why should they wait if they really don't have to?"

1. No one "earns" anything by paying FICA taxes during their working years. The whole premise of SS is that the current generation makes payments to the retired generation. Kathleen Casey-Kirschling, your FICA taxes from back when you worked went to pay your parents SS. You do not have an "account", nor do you have any kind of lien on the government for your SS payments. What you have is a number of people like me who are currently paying FICA. Because there are so many of you baby boomers, Kathleen, and relatively few of us, we're going to have some issues coming up with the money you are expecting. But don't think that we "owe" you this money. The only reason we pay today is because 1) it's the law and 2) we have an implicit promise that our kids will pay us when we retire.

2. Why should you wait to take it, Kathleen? Because by waiting one or two more years, and by getting all the rest of your baby boomer friends to wait one or two more years, you can remove the financial issues facing Social Security. In other words, if you and your cohort could show an ounce of moderation and respect for other generations, you wouldn't have to worry about your grandkids getting Social Security. The fact is, Kathleen, that you really do have to wait. It's the responsible thing to do. But God forbid we acknowledge that the SS solvency issue (and Medicare even more so) is precisely your generation's "fault". There are lots of you. There are few of us working people. Either we pay more in taxes, or you retire later. Show we what impels us to have to choose higher taxation?

Kathleen continued:
Casey-Kirschling, speaking for the boomers, counseled confidence. "I have great hope," she said, that Social Security will be repaired for "my children's generation and certainly my grandchildren's."

Oh really, Kathleen? And is that because you are prepared to sacrifice either some of your benefits or your retirement age? No, you already said that you "earned" the right to go on SS right away. Make up your mind. Either you deserve your benefits and screw the rest of us, or you DO care about the future generations and you are prepared to act. Pick one.

Improve your vocabulary

A few quality entries from Urban Dictionary:

ignoranus: A person who is not only ignorant, but is also an asshole.

Designated drunk: Responsible partiers choose a Designated Driver to drive during a night of debauchery. The Designated Drunk is chosen by the Driver. The Designated Drunk assumes responsibility for all drink offers given to the Driver. The Designated Drunk will take all offers of toasts, shots, and drinking competitions in place of the Driver.

typeractive: Someone who is overly talkative on emails or text messages.

Man Stand: The act of a man standing outside a shop while his wife/girlfriend/partner shops inside. Man Standing involves looking into space, at other women, or in the case of multi story shopping centers, leaning on the railings of an upper floor watching the people below.

nillionaire: Person without any money of their own.

conswervative: A conservative politician or other public figure caught doing things that he has denounced on record. (see Larry Craig)

brodeo: A get-together or a party where the attendance is prodominantly male.

remasculate: The opposite of emasculate. To grow one's balls back after they have been shrunken by an especially effeminate activity. God, the girlfriend dragged me to go see License to Wed... it was terrible. I had to remasculate afterwards by watching Die Hard: The Bloody Retribution.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Monkey Cute

Abby got to monkey-sit for Curious George this weekend - he's the class "pet" at school. So here are all three monkey's out for breakfast on Sunday morning. Not sure if George is tired or if he's about to participate in some sort of medical procedure. (Don't worry, no stuffed monkey's were actually harmed)

Random Sports Reactions

Lots happened over the weekend:
1. My dream matchup of BC and South Florida for the college football national championship is one step closer to reality. Thanks to LSU for spitting the bit. Now if only Michigan can hold up their end of the bargain and beat OSU. Go Blue!

2. Michigan hockey dropped their game 4-3 to Minnesota on Saturday. Disappointing, but they hung tough. We get them again later this year at Yost. Time for revenge. No points from Louie Caporusso, but Matt Rust (another freshman) put two in the net.

3. It looks like the Rockies will get to the World Series - will they officially be the worst-dressed World Series team ever? Those uniforms are putrid. They look like a bad softball team.

4. Packers eek out a win - nice bounceback from the Bears debacle. We go to Denver and to Kansas City now. Neither team is good, but two tough places to play. Have a feeling we're looking at splitting those. But I'll take 6-2 at the half-way mark.

Useful Economics

So you can't say economics isn't good for anything. A new paper out develops an answer to the question: "when should I refinance my mortgage?". One of the authors, John Driscoll, was one of my first-year macroeconomics professors at Brown.

They have a website that you can plug in some values to to find out when you should refinance. The answer you get is in terms of an interest rate. That is, if you can get a mortgage rate of X or less, you should refinance.

Friday, October 12, 2007

New Hockey Season

Michigan opened the hockey season by beating BC 4-3 in overtime - Louie Caporusso with the unassisted winner at 2:31 of the extra period. How great a name is Louie Caporusso?

Tomorrow night they face the winner of the Minnesota/RPI game tonight. So barring hell freezing over, its Michigan/Minnesota Saturday night. Go Blue!

Interesting Study

I'm looking online for the actual published study, but the NY Times had an interesting article on a recent WHO article on abortion rates across countries. Essentially, abortion rates were uncorrelated with the legality of abortion. Anecdotal evidence from the article:

In Uganda, where abortion is illegal and sex education programs focus only on abstinence, the estimated abortion rate was 54 per 1,000 women in 2003, more than twice the rate in the United States, 21 per 1,000 in that year. The lowest rate, 12 per 1,000, was in Western Europe, with legal abortion and widely available contraception.

A correlation that did arise in the data was that places where abortion was illegal had much higher mortality rates for women who did get abortions - presumably because of sub-standard conditions. However, without seeing the whole study it's hard to say if this is really meaningful because countries in which abortion is illegal may be, on average, poorer in the first place and have fewer quality hospital facilities.

This seems to me to be an important point in the whole abortion debate. Those who would like a full ban, it seems fair to assume, are hoping to lower the number of abortions. However, evidence suggests that numbers are not likely to decrease. And this makes some sense. If you actually want to limit the number of abortions, you're best bet would be to outlaw hormones, because they, not Roe v. Wade, are the cause of most abortions today.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Thinking about Social Security

Obviously some sort of adjustment to Social Security is necessary to ensure its long term survival. There are three options: raise the retirement age, lower the benefits, or raise taxes. (No, privately invested accounts won't solve the problem.) Most people have an aversion to all three, but to me the clear winner would be to raise the retirement age. When Social Security began, the retirement age was 65, and this was higher than life expectancy in 1940. So a baby born in 1940 was expected to die before going on SS. That lucky fraction who did make it to 65 could collect SS, and this helped keep costs down. As time went on and life expectancy rose, so did the percentage of your life that you could expect to spend receiving SS. By 2000, nearly 16% of your life (in expectation) will be spent on the program.

Even if we allow for the increase in retirement age to 67 (which only really hits in 2027), we're still looking at over 15% of your life on SS if life expectancy stays at 78 years. If we were to enforce a rule that the retirement age has to be set so that 12% of your expected life is spent on SS (much like it would have been in 1980, and much greater than it would have been in 1970, 1960, 1950, or 1940), we'd need to raise the retirement age to 68.6. This one and a half year increase would, from what I understand, solve almost the entire problem with SS.

Implementing this increase isn't problematic. We don't have to tell people who are 64 that all of the sudden they have to work an extra 4 years. You phase in this increase (much as the 1983 changes to SS are phasing in the increase to 67 even now) over time. The people affected would only be in the 20's or 30's now.

More Overwhelming Cuteness

Shots from Abby's last soccer game. In the interest of equal coverage, Madeline gets a cute shot too. Abby's team won, and fewer kids on her team collapsed into tears this week when no one "shared the ball" with them. There were also only about 3 blatant episodes of kids actually picking up the ball. Slowly but surely kids on all the teams are starting to understand the purpose of the game is to kick the ball in the net. In a few weeks they might realize that it has to be the other net.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Lego Can Blow Your Mind

Very cool. You can see more at

Too True

Finally a newspaper telling it like it is (from the FT):

Corporate America racked by uncertainty
Executives unable to make strategic choices

Your Zip Code

This website is great. Gives you the basic Census data on your Zip code. Median income, racial profile, age profile, etc.. Fun to compare where you've lived.

Billy Bathgate

I'm reading E.L. Doctorow's Billy Bathgate. I'm confused, unimpressed, and frankly pretty bored. His writing is very much a stream of consciousness, and I find this style tedious because the thoughts tend not to be resolved. I understand that this is how my mind, your mind, and Billy Bathgate's mind actually works, but if I'm reading something I'm specifically looking for coherent, complete thoughts. To me, a good book is good because it is able to overcome the stream of consciousness and express complex thoughts in a finite set of words or sentences.

That problem aside, the book suffers from the "wildly improbable and gratuitous sexual encounter" syndrome. I get that Billy is infatuated with Drew Preston, and that Ms. Preston might find something innocently attractive about the younger Billy. Yet their mud-encrusted naked romp through a scummy upstate New York pond is frankly just silly. I actually laughed when I read this, it was so ludicrous. My opinion is that the relationship between the two of them would have been much more engaging and heartbreaking if it was unrequited, two people who could be in love but for circumstances.

I'm nearly done with the book, and thankfully so. I'm not sure how much longer I can maintain my attention to sentences that run to 40 or 50 words at a time. Here's a quick rule of thumb: no more than 3 commas in a sentence.