Friday, April 30, 2004

And now for some good news

"US government figures suggest that terrorist attacks have fallen to the lowest level for more than 30 years," according to this story at BBC News. I'm not sure exactly what this means, or how the terms are defined, but it certainly seems encouraging. (Note that the count does not include attacks against our troops in Iraq.) The report cites increased international cooperation as a factor.

UPDATE: more detailed info here.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Diamond says

Larry Diamond is an expert in democracy formation who has spent the last few months working as an adviser to the U.S. occupation authority in Iraq. This is what he said in an interview last June:
Peter Robinson: One other question. Be honest. Ten years from now, will Afghanistan and Iraq be functioning as democracies....Larry?

Larry Diamond: Afghanistan, I'm very skeptical about because I don't think we're willing to make the commitment. Iraq, I think--I will be pleased if it's functioning in the most minimal sense, Peter, because that would be a historic breakthrough. I think they've got a decent chance...

Peter Robinson: You do?

Larry Diamond: ...if we're committed.

This is what he said to the San Francisco Chronicle this week (via Dan Drezner):
The story of Iraq, this onetime optimist believes, is a tale of missed opportunities.

"We just bungled this so badly," said Diamond, a 52-year-old senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. "We just weren't honest with ourselves or with the American people about what was going to be needed to secure the country."

"You can't develop democracy without security," he said. "In Iraq, it's really a security nightmare that did not have to be. If you don't get that right, nothing else is possible. Everything else is connected to that...."

Last Thursday, when it came time for Diamond to return, he did not get on the plane.

Instead, he was in his office at the Hoover Tower, disillusioned over the desperate turn of events he had witnessed and what he feels was a country allowed to spin out of control, in large part, he says, because of the Bush administration's unwillingness to commit a big enough force to protect Iraqis from militias and insurgents.

Sad, very sad.

That wonderful word, flag

The image above is the new Iraqi flag, as announced today by the Iraqi Governing Council. As anyone can see, it is very lame; it would probably earn no more than a "D" grade at this amusing site. Even worse, it looks a little like the flag of Israel. What were they thinking?

Fine the DJ

It seems the FCC has fined a spanish-language radio station after a pair of DJs made a prank phone call to Fidel Castro, but failed to obtain permission for putting his voice on the air. This FCC document contains an amusingly dry account of the episode:
The Commission received an informal complaint that Station WXDJ(FM) broadcast a telephone conversation between radio personalities Joe Ferrero and Enrique Santos of WXDJ and President Fidel Castro of the Republic of Cuba and four officials of the Cuban government. According to the complaint, and a recording of the broadcast available on WXDJ(FM)’s website, Mr. Santos and Mr. Ferrero pretended to be President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and a high-ranking Venezuelan government official, and telephoned the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Relations, requesting to speak to President Castro. Each Cuban official was informed that President Chavez was on the line waiting to speak to President Castro on an urgent matter and each official transferred the caller to another official closer to the intended recipient until President Castro answered the phone. When Mr. Castro answered the phone, Mr. Ferrero informed him that President Chavez was on the line and wished to speak to him concerning the loss of some sensitive material. Moments later, Mr. Ferrero revealed the ruse to Mr. Castro and identified himself and Mr. Santos as employees of Station WXDJ(FM).
They then called Castro an assassin, and the conversation broke down pretty fast.

Enemy combatant

If you (like me) haven't been following the Jose Padilla saga, this New York Times article is a good way to catch up.

After reading the article, I remain concerned about the idea of detaining a US citizen in this way. I can see where something like this might be necessary for national security, but I hope the courts impose oversight requirements of some kind. Especially since the "wartime" used to justify such detentions is likely to go on indefinitely.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Hand off

I've been wondering about the administration's insistence that it would hand over power in Iraq on June 30, even though they don't yet know to whom they will be handing it over. The New York Times clears it up:
WASHINGTON, April 22 — The Bush administration's plans for a new caretaker government in Iraq would place severe limits on its sovereignty, including only partial command over its armed forces and no authority to enact new laws, administration officials said Thursday.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Lawmakers are p***ed off

This proposed House bill known as the "Clean Airways Act," dealing with broadcast decency standards, would define eight words as being 'profane,' along with "other grammatical forms of such words and phrases (including verb, adjective, gerund, participle, and infinitive forms)." I doubt it will pass, but since the Janet Jackson incident it's been picking up sponsors. (Via Stuart at the Volokh Conspiracy).

I was quite surprised to see that the word "piss" made the list. I think that's the only one of the profane words that is used in the Bible.

Oh, Canada...

Lately I've been reading reports from right-wing types that Canada (among other countries) has recently been adopting hate-speech laws that are far more restrictive than what would be allowed in the U.S. under the first amendment. This recent U.S. News piece reports on a new law that would prohibit "public criticism of homosexuality," as well as stories about people who have already been punished for expressing such views.

I'm not sure how accurate these reports are. But I'm very surprised to see a defense of these laws from law professor Brian Leiter. I don't know a lot about Brian Leiter, but he's apparently "the youngest chairholder in the history of the law school at Texas," as well as being a prominent law-blogger. His defense of these laws is basically that he considers them to be "civilized." David Bernstein offers a detailed rebuttal over at the Volokh conspiracy, which is worth reading. I'm shocked and appalled that a respected legal theorist at a top law school would defend these laws, especially with such a dismissive argument. I just hope the first amendment can stand up to a nation of lawyers trained by people like Leiter.

One surprising and ridiculous part of Leiter's rant that goes unmentioned by Bernstein is this quote:

It's also true that if you're skeptical about U.S. motives in Iraq (and elsewhere) and think the invasion was on a par, morally, with the Soviet invasion of Aghanistan [sic]; if you believe nationalized health care is preferable to a system which caters to the needs of the insurance industry; if you think redistributive taxation is a requirement of justice; if, in short, you dissent from the neoliberal paradigm and chauvinist nationalism that dominate the public sphere in the United States, you will have far more freedom of speech in Canada: for example, your views might be expressible outside your living room, perhaps, say, in major newspapers, or even on television.
Perhaps Leiter is being a bit facetious here, but I can't imagine what he's talking about. People say those things in the media all the time. And this is a guy who spends his days at a law school, where I'm sure it's more risky to disagree with any of the propositions he lists than it is to promote them. Talk about a persecution complex.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Cheaters Prosper

Here's a Washington Post piece about the ever-dwindling level of enforcement of tax laws by the IRS. The audit rates and the number of auditors have decreased while the sophistication of cheaters has increased. The money quotes:
What isn't so easy to understand is why the Bush administration and Congress aren't falling all over themselves to give the IRS more money. Tax enforcement pays for itself many times over, and it would seem to be a good way to cut the deficit.....

So what does this mean for you as a taxpayer? Well, you've got four choices:
- Pay more taxes to make up for the cheats.
- Settle for less service from the government.
- Become a cheat yourself (I don't recommend it).
- Start screaming to your representatives in Congress that you want the tax laws enforced.

This is a little worrisome...toleranceance for cheating can spread like a virus. I hope the politicians don't let the voters' general dislike for the IRS turn the U.S. into Italy.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Here today, guano tomorrow

Here's a BBC News article about the woes of the small island republic of Nauru. I remember reading a newspaper story about Nauru, the richest little island in the world, with it's natural deposits of bird poop, as a child back in the 1970s. But now they have fallen on hard times:
Nauru's rich reserves of phosphates - an ingredient for high-grade fertiliser - created enormous wealth during the 1970s and 1980s.

The island's 10,000 inhabitants enjoyed one of the world's highest standards of living, as well as exemption from tax and immigrant labour to perform all menial jobs.

But once the phosphates started to run out, Nauru's finances collapsed - and it has emerged that much of the money salted away in investments has been either lost or stolen.

Infrastructure has collapsed, and payment problems have frequently led to the island being cut off from supplies, including fresh food.

And unpaid bills mean that Nauruans, among the unhealthiest people in the world after decades of prosperous idleness, are no longer able to fly to Australia for subsidised medical care.

This all sounds like a cautionary fable right out of Dr. Seuss, but I'm not sure what the practical moral is. Obviously it's dangerous to have an economy built on a single natural resource, (or even a man-made resource, like legal gambling on an Indian reservation.) Some Naruans apparently realized this, too, but it's not an easy problem to fix:
The island has made strenuous attempts to diversify its economy. A major shift into offshore financial services during the 1990s seemed promising, but has resulted in Nauru becoming a major haven for organised-crime financing - and being blacklisted for money laundering by both the US Government and international bodies
Here's another page with some pictures of Nauru. (Via Crescat Sententia)

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Getting digits

Here's a piece in the Washington Post about retailers' common practice of asking for a phone number or zip code when a customer purchases an item. I usually decline to give this information, although I haven't yet come up with an easy, polite way to do this. The only place I have ever had any trouble declining was Radio Shack, who discontinued the practice in 2002:
"At one point in time it was no big deal for most people, but in recent years we had found more and more resistance from people wanting to give that kind of information," said Charles Hodges, a spokesman for the chain. Eventually, Radio Shack found that the quality of the information it was gathering was going down. A customer might say his name was Joe Smith and lived at 123 Main Street, for example.

When the company stopped gathering phone numbers, Hodges said, "we got nothing but praise from our customers and our sales associates, because they're the ones who took the heat."

It's not so much that I resent the privacy implications of giving my phone number, it's just that I don't want to be bothered. I don't really have a problem with using my "club card" at the grocery store, but I don't feel any obligation to keep the information up to date either.

I had a friend who registered his club card using an implausible name, something like "Trung Nguyen." I suspect he didn't like the idea of giving out private information, but he didn't want to be deceitful either, and he probably saw it as a form of civil disobedience. Bemused checkers would look at my friend, (who looks more like Woody Allen than Ho Chi Minh), and say "have a good day Mr....," followed by some attempt at pronouncing "Nguyen."

Friday, April 16, 2004

Poesy

What if famous poets wrote poems whose titles were anagrams of their own names? This important question is answered at this Modern Humorist page. I enjoy the restrained anxiety captured in "Toilets," by T. S. Eliot:
Let us go then, to the john,
Where the toilet seat waits to be sat upon
Like a lover's lap perched upon ceramic;
Let us go, through doors that do not always lock,
Which means you ought to knock
Lest opening one reveal a soul within
Who'll shout, "Stay out! Did you not see my shin,
Framed within the gap twixt floor and stall?"
No, I did not see that at all.
That is not what I saw, at all.

To the stall the people come to go,
Reading an obscene graffito.

We have lingered in the chamber labeled "Men"
Till attendants proffer aftershave and mints
As we lather up our hands with soap, and rinse.
Can you guess who wrote the poems "Skinny Domicile" and "I Will Alarm Islamic Owls?"

Tax and Spend

Now that we've finally sent in our tax returns, it's a good time to contemplate where the money is going. Tyler Cowen gives a good breakdown here. (His source is a Washington Times article.) The bottom line:

The federal government is projected to spend $21,671 per household in 2004...$3,500 more than in 2001. Tax revenues will reach $16,981 per household through a combination of the income tax, payroll tax, gas tax, estate tax and assorted business taxes typically passed on through higher prices and smaller investment returns. The remaining $4,690 represents the deficit per household, which will be dumped in the laps of our children.

Read the whole thing for more details.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

April is the cruelest month

April isn't even half over, and it is already the worst month yet in terms of American deaths in Iraq, including the months of the invasion, according to this website that tracks coalition casualties. March was pretty bad, too.

Fortunately, these sacrifices are worth making, since our president has given clear and realistic explanations about why we went into Iraq and what we will accomplish there. </sarcasm>

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Hey, you, get offa my cloud

I recently signed up for an email address with the German domain name "wolke7.net." It turns out that "Wolke sieben" has the same idiomatic meaning in German as "cloud nine" in English. I'm not sure how the numbers got to be different, but it's interesting to know that even when transported to a realm of ecstatic bliss, we will still be segregated by language so that we can understand the other people on our cloud.

This site discusses the origin of the English expression "cloud nine." Apparently it's been around since the 1930s, although it took some time to settle on the number "nine."

Perhaps "Wolke sieben" is not far from "seventh heaven." According to someone here (in German), the Koran also speaks of a seventh heaven. So don't go there unless you enjoy cultural diversity.

Monday, April 12, 2004

Different ways of seeing Rashômon

A few weeks ago I finally saw the famous Kurasawa film "Rashomon." [Warning: possible spoiler ahead]. I have to admit I didn't much like it, but what got me was that the different witnesses weren't just seeing things from their own perspective, they were actually lying. Why then do so many people use "Rashomon" as a shorthand for the idea that there are many ways to see the same thing and truth is subjective (for example, here)?

Organ transplant?

James Lileks' site features this amusing page from an old Popular Mechanics magazine. I have to agree with him that this is indeed "Do-it-yourself hell." I wonder if anyone actually built one of these organs? Actually, his whole Institute of Official Cheer is entertaining....if you visit, don't miss "The Art of Art Frahm."

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Mind the gap

I enjoyed looking at this website that has descriptions of subway systems for cities all over the world. If you like looking at maps and you like reminiscing about places you've been, you might enjoy it too.

I'm Old! Gimme gimme gimme!

A very prolific blogger named Betsy Newmark posted this story about her high school students:

Last week, I took my AP Government students to the computer lab to let them play around with a federal budget simulator to see if they could balance the budget. It was fun to see how a bunch of teenagers, most of them 15 or 16 years old, would balance the budget. They were ruthless. The liberal kids happily cut away at military spending, NASA, and foreign aid. They were then dismayed to find that they hadn't cut very much of the deficit. The conservative kids whittled away at social welfare and increased the tax cuts. They too were unable to make substantial headway on the deficit. However, the cut that both the liberals and conservatives agreed on was whacking away at Social Security and Medicare. Cries of "throw Granny off welfare" and "buy your own drugs" were heard. They were ruthless. Some of them reduced Social Security down to zero, cackling cheerfully all the while.

My conclusion is that, if younger voters had more pull in Congress, we could get some serious reform of Social Security and Medicare accomplished. Unfortunately, they'll never equal the strength of AARP.

I think young people, if anything, tend to be too cynical about social security. The fact is, the system could be made sustainable with relatively minor adjustments. (Medicare is a much bigger problem). Unfortunately this cynicism often becomes apathy, and Ms. Newmark is probably right that the young won't be challenging AARP anytime soon.

If I could do one simple thing to combat apathy about these programs it would be this: I would require that the entire social security and Medicaid taxes appear on paychecks. As it stands, we only show the "employee share," while the equally large "employer share" may go unnoticed by the average person. I think most people really believe the fiction that the employer is "paying" the employer share. Of course, he is no more paying the "employer share" than he is paying the "employee share;" in fact, he probably writes a single check to the government for both amounts. Who is really paying is a question of tax incidence, and economic theory suggests it probably falls mostly on the employee. The only change I'm proposing is that we add the "employer share" back onto the employee's pay, and then show it being deducted away in taxes. I bet this would get some reform juices flowing. (I'm sure the self-employed are on board already.)

Friday, April 09, 2004

More about height

Last week I linked to a New Yorker article dealing with differences in height between populations. Now here's an interview with the writer, Burkhard Bilger. An excerpt:
Does that mean that people in 800 A.D. lived better than people in 1700?

On average, it looks like Northern Europeans did live better in 800 than in 1700. They lived in smaller communities, so they were less prone to disease. They often ate better, because they were growing or hunting their own food. Early cities in the seventeen-hundreds, on the other hand, were crowded, with open sewers, and food often spoiled or was less than fresh.

One thing I've always wondered: if these small, primitive communities were eating so well and had so little disease, how did they keep their populations down? Did they practice some sort of birth control or infanticide? Or were their young just more likely to die young in accidents or violence? How and why did the population of Europe explode starting in the 1700s if the average person was so much less well off then?

I've been wondering these things for years...does anybody out there have any insight?

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Bronx cheer

This New York Times article reports that last week in the Bronx there were no incidents of gunfire reported to the police. This highly unusual event for the Bronx reflects the significant decrease in crime that has occurred nationwide in the USA over the last few years. Property crime rates have steadily declined since the mid-1970s, and violent crime rates have declined by about half since the urban crack wars in the early 1990s. Check out some of these graphs from the Bureau of Justice Statistics website.

A less-noticed trend is the sharp rise in the number of people behind bars in the USA, now over 2 million (!!!!). Perhaps this was necessary to bring about the decline in crime discussed above, but I still feel somehow we should be more cognizant of the human cost of locking all those people up. (By the way, drug offenders make up a significant portion of this increase, but not the majority of it.) Many of these prisoners become victims of violence by other prisoners, including rape, a problem that is usually the subject of jokes rather than the serious attention it deserves.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Inside Bush's brain

I was talking to some friends the other day about our president. Among Bush opponents, some people think he's evil and mean, and some that he's just incompetent. I'm in the second group...I fear that Bush is very bad for the country, but I don't think he's evil.

This interview gives Molly Ivins' opinion on the subject. She's from Texas and has been aquainted with GWB since they were both in high school. I usually don't much like Molly Ivins, but her analysis here rings true to me. An excerpt:

BUZZFLASH: Jim Moore, in his book "Bush's Brain," argues that, yes, obviously there is a real terrorist threat to this country. But the war was fashioned with a political objective in mind.

IVINS: Yes, the origins of the war seem ever more obscure. I mean, the more you try to get to exactly why we were driven into this thing, the more confusing it becomes. But again, I think, you know -– look, Bush was hit with September 11th. That changed everything. That reverses policies, and got him into things he never thought he'd be doing, like nation-building. He actually turned around and became a multi-lateralist for a period of about five months, until we had won in Afghanistan. And then he went back to the previous unilateralist approach that's really irking me alive.

I think it's much too easy to say it's all political calculations. It seems to me that what you have is a group of people who are reinforcing one another's prejudices and not accepting information from outside their inner loop. And they would be the obvious suspects, including Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, et cetera, et cetera. And of all of them, I suspect that Cheney has the most influence. Of course, I say that simply because Bush's pattern has been to adopt an older male mentor as he enters each new field. He had an older mentor in baseball, and he had an older mentor in Texas politics.

And it seems to me that Cheney is the guy who he listens to. But I do –- I think all of them form a tight, self-reinforcing circle. And they're committing the ultimate political folly, which is not listening to people who don't agree with them. I think they equate dissension with disloyalty. And with the Bushes, both father and son, loyalty has always been considered THE primary virtue.

BUZZFLASH: Switching gears a bit, is the caricature of Bush as sort of an airhead an accurate one?

IVINS: No. I think I've said this several thousand times in my life. George W. Bush is not stupid, and he's not mean. You know, it is possible to really independently disagree with a politician's policies without personally hating him. You know, grownups can do that. [laugh] It's feasible, believe me.

You don't have to turn into, you know, the liberal equivalent of the Clinton hater in order to think that this guy's just completely screwing up the country. No, he's not stupid. He is very limited, however.

It's not stupidity as much as ignorance, and his inability and unwillingness to learn. He's not very curious. And it's not a first-rate mind. I mean, you get him to a certain point in a discussion, and if you ever hear him talk about "my instinct" or "my gut tells me," then you know we're in trouble. Then you know we have left the realm of facts and logic and where we're going is something else altogether.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Some thoughts on professional basketball

Now that college basketball has ended, it's time to ask....how bad is the NBA's eastern conference?
  • With 2 interconference games left to be played, the east is 154-264 against the west, for a .368 winning percentage. This is quite a bit worse even than last year when the east batted .405 vs. the west.
  • A few days ago, all but 3 eastern teams were below .500. There is still a reasonable chance that a team in the east will not only make the playoffs but actually have homecourt advantage without a winning record (although this will probably not happen because most of the games in the last few weeks of the season are within conference, and somebody has to win those games.)
  • All but 3 teams in the east are worse than the entire midwest division.
  • Every eastern team except Indiana and Detroit has a losing record against the western conference.
Despite this huge gap between the conferences, the effect on team records is smaller than you might think. If you moved an eastern team into the west, it would mean they would have to play an additional 24 games against western opponents. Thus we would predict that the average team in the east would have 3.16 fewer wins if it played in the west.

One small and simple change that could help (slightly) fix the balance of power would be to base the draft order only on won-loss record, with no reference to playoff position. As it stands now, there will likely be 5 playoff teams in the east that will draft after the 9th and 10th teams in the west, despite having worse records.

UPDATE: The east lost their final two games against the west. Final talley: 154-266, for a .3667 winning percentage.

Most improved

My friend Blake runs a little NCAA tournament contest (for bragggin' rights only). This year I'm in first place out of 58 entries, and I'll actually win the whole thing if UConn wins tonight. This is much better than my performance last year, when my picks were worse than a random coin flip. So in any case, I should get a "most improved" award.

Blake pointed out another interesting contest where you put in a probability of each team winning for each game, and points are computed according to a non-linear scoring function. I'm not sure where they got the scoring function (it's not a log). They make the dubious and unsupported claim that their function makes it optimal to select the "true" probabilities, a claim which is bound to rankle those with some knowledge of decision theory. But it still looks like a fun idea...maybe next year.

UPDATE: UConn won, and so did I! I even got pretty close on predicting the final score (I predicted 80-70, the final score was 82-73).

Islam at the gates

In this piece piece in the New York Times Magazine, Niall Ferguson predicts that immigration by muslims to Europe will have large and unpredictable effects on the culture of the nations of europe.

I have long wondered about this, too. As a fan of Western Civilization, I'll admit to being un-PC enough to feel some apprehension and regret about this prospect.

Sometimes I think that western culture's overwhelming advantage in producing economic and technological growth will carry the day. But other times I think that demographics are inevitably leading to a major decline in western values. A major question, I suppose, is how much the natives and immigrants are able to assimilate together into sharing a common culture.

Not exactly Wallace and Gromit, but...

Today I did something I've wanted to do since I was a child: I made a stop-action animation movie (along with my girlfriend Nikki using her digital camera and clay and Windows Movie Maker). It was kind of fun and only took a few minutes! (Kindly ignore the red filmy residue left on the dresser top by the clay.)

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Not the time of my life

On Friday night I went to the theatre for the first time in a long while. I saw the play "The Time of Your Life" by William Saroyan. (I don't know much about Saroyan...before the play I was thinking, wasn't he the guy who wrote "Sophie's Choice?" Wait, no that's William Styron. Very confusing.) This production originated at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago, and has apparently received a lot of critical acclaim.

Anyway, I didn't much like it. It's a very idealistic play about the wisdom of the common man, and all men are brothers, and that kind of thing. The characters are mostly a bunch of quirky and colorful working-class types, who dispense their down-to-earth insights with groan-inducing lines like "It takes a lot of rehearsing for a man to get to be himself." It seemed like it was an attempt to be unpretentious that instead comes out even more pretentious. Of course, this all might have seemed very fresh back in 1939 when the play was written.

But that's just grouchy old me...my companions all seemed to like it pretty well. And it was nice to get out of the house.

Meet the new boss

Here's an article in the NY Times about employers who "shave time," deleting hours from time card records so employees don't get paid for all the hours they work. I sincerely hope this despicable practice is less prevalent than the piece implies. Some quotes:
Compensation experts say that many managers, whether at discount stores or fast-food restaurants, fear losing their jobs if they fail to keep costs down. .... Another reason managers shave time, experts say, is that an increasing part of their compensation comes in bonuses based on minimizing costs or maximizing profits. "The pressures are just unbelievable to control costs and improve productivity," said George Milkovich, a longtime Cornell University professor of industrial relations and co-author of the leading textbook on compensation. "All this manipulation of payroll may be the unintended consequence of increasing the emphasis on bonuses."
Giving managers incentives may be a good idea in general, but if you increase the power of incentives, you'd better also increase the safeguards against cheating. (Another place we should worry about this is with high stakes testing in schools, where teachers and principals can cheat when administering standardized tests.) Instead, it appears the safeguards have sometimes gotten smaller:
In the punch-card era, managers would have had to conspire with payroll clerks or accountants to manipulate records. But now it is far easier for individual managers to accomplish this secretly with computers, payroll experts say. .... Employees at Wal-Mart and other companies complain that they receive no paper time records, making it hard to challenge management when their paychecks are inexplicably low. Ms. Danner, the former Family Dollar manager, praised the system at the McDonald's restaurant she managed for seven years. At day's end, she said, employees received a printout detailing total hours worked and when they clocked in and out. "We never had any problems like this at McDonald's," she said.
Interesting that McDonald's, every liberal's favorite example of a crummy job, is the one doing this right. (Of course, Wal-Mart is every liberal's other example of a crummy job.)

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Disappointing Start

Today is the debut of the much-heralded Air America Radio network, an attempt to provide a liberal counterweight to conservative talk radio. I was just listening to their RealAudio live feed. I missed the Al Franken show, unfortunately, but I caught a little of a show by a woman called "Randi Rhodes," (I presume no relation to the late Ozzy Osbourne guitar hero). It took only about 30 seconds before I heard a statement as stupid as any you'll find on Rush Limbaugh: she said that the Bush family "dynasty" is just as much a dynasty as the House of Saud. Uhhh....right.

Personally, I think we already have a liberal radio network--it's called NPR, and it's excellent.

Disturbing

Here's a shocking article about a mother who murdered two of her children because God commanded her to. She's now on trial. This incident reminds me of the Bible story about Abraham being commanded to sacrifice Isaac. I find that story disturbing. (I can't agree with Elder Monson's strange assertion in a 2002 conference talk that "All of us love the beautiful account from the Holy Bible of Abraham and Isaac.") Apparently, sometimes it is possible for a good person to fully believe that God is speaking to them when really he is not. My advice to anyone reading this: even if God tells you to kill someone, don't do it.

The Height of Nations

Here is a good article in the New Yorker about a subject that has long interested me, differences in stature between populations and over time. I heard Robert Fogel give a talk about this in 1995, and ever since I've wondered why all historians aren't doing economic history.

Yo!

Hi, welcome to my new blog. I turned in my dissertation a couple of weeks ago, so until I start my new job, all I do is ride my bike and surf the web. This will give me a chance to comment on all the great stuff I find out there....