Let me say publicly that DonBoy’s answer exudes a combination of intuitive genius and confidence that make me think DonBoy is going to do big things in his life. -- Steven D. Levitt (Freakonomics blog)
Thursday, December 30, 2004
Four Easy Steps, or: God, I Am A Cranky Old Man

Seenat the supermarket today: Eagle Brand Premium Dessert Kit, subvariety "Peanut Butter Passion". According to the box, "Make in Four Easy Steps!" Here are the four easy steps:

1) PREHEAT oven to 350 degrees. Spray baking pan with non-stick cooking spray, Combine crust mixture with 1 tablespoon of oil and 2 tablespoons of water; mix well. Press mixture evenly in bottom of prepared pan. Bake 9 -- 12 minutes in metal pan of 13 -- 15 minutes in glass pan.

2) PLACE Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk, chocolate chips and 1 tablespoon of butter in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 1 minute on medium-high. Remove and stir until smooth. Set aside 1/3 cup of chocolate mixture. Spread remaining chocolate mixture evenly over baked crust. Bake 6 minutes. Remove from oven.

3) MIX peanut butter and confectioners' sugar in microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 10 -- 20 second on medium-high. Stir to soften. Drop spoonfuls of mixture over baked chocolate layer. Allow peanut butter to soften for 2 minutes. (If no microwave, allow peanut butter to soften for 3 minutes.) Gently spread over chocolate layer.

4) PLACE remaining 1/3 cup chocolate mixture in microwave-safe bowl; microwave on high for 10 -- 20 seconds or until chocolate melts. Drop spoonfuls of chocolate mixture over peanut butter layer. With a table knife, gently swirl chocolate through peanut butter layer. Refrigerate 30 minutes or until set. Cut into squares. Store covered in refrigerator.

I count, conservatively, 18 steps there. I'd say "Do they think we're idiots?" except that I did, in fact, buy the product, even after realizing all this, so, I guess, "Yes, and they're right."

Wednesday, December 29, 2004
From The Nigerian Spam File


Sunday, December 26, 2004
Wal*Mart Hates Christmas

According to the ad I just saw on Fox, Wal-Mart, patron saint of red-state commerce, is having their "after-holiday sale" right now.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004
The Fifth (or so) Commandment

The Ten Commandments, we're hearing a lot, are the very foundation of the American legal code (and, sometimes, of the American legal dress code as well); and although it's easy to mock, one of them seems surprisingly relevant to today's politics:

Honor thy father and thy mother.

If ever a Commandment matched up with a massive Federal program, this one would be it. What, after all, is Social Security but a recognition that the aged deserve a measure of respect, and of support from the younger generation that the elders raised?

And yet, our Commandment Commandos are poised to turn "Pay It Forward", our current system, into "I'm All Right Jack", in which each earner goes it alone for a lifetime. Seems a little inconsistent, no?

A Burning Question
HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuban cartoonists on Wednesday added gigantic caricatures of President Bush and his top diplomat in Cuba to an array of graphics around the U.S. mission attacking America's human rights policies.

It was the latest response in a bitter tit-for-tat exchange between the constantly bickering countries which began last week over a U.S. Christmas display that included a reference to imprisoned Cuban dissidents.
Yes, but -- does the Cuban display say "Merry Christmas"? Surely that's all that matters.

Uncomfortable Moments in Late-Night Talk

Daryl Mitchell was the host last night on The Late, Late Show, as CBS continues its rotating host system in the interregnum between Craig Kilbourn and also-Craig Ferguson. Mitchell had been a well-employed supporting comic actor, most notably in The John Larroquette Show and Veronica's Closet, until an accident left him a paraplegic in November 2001. Since then he's returned to show business; fans of NBC's Ed will remember him as Eli in the last two seasons of that show. He may be the first late-night talk show host, even a fill-in, in a wheelchair.

One of Mitchell's guests was Wendie Malick (Just Shoot Me), pushing her voice performance in the talking-animal film Racing Stripes. Malick was telling a story about how she met her husband, or something like that, and got into their exciting motorcycle safari to Africa, where you need the cycle to get to some of the places.

I guess she was a bit too enthusiastic about the joy of motorcycling, because eventually Mitchell, quietly, said "Yeah, I was on a motorcycle and I broke my back." He pointed at his wheelchair.


Malick either missed it or made the split-second decision that the only thing to do was press on.

And at this point, I changed the channel.

Monday, December 20, 2004
"Peyton Manning Has No Ego."

I heard one of the ESPN announcers say that when Manning, 1 TD short of Dan Marino's single-season record, and with the ball on Baltimore's 5-or-so-yard line, handed off the ball to Edgerrin James for a rushing, not passing, touchdown. That was before the moment when Indy intercepted a Baltimore pass and ran it back for a touchdown with a minute left, making the score 26-10 Indianapolis, sealing the victory but taking away the chance for Manning to get the ball again (since Baltimore would then receive). Manning looked furious. (A more charitable observer might call it a look of grim satisfaction, I suppose).

As it turned out, the interceptor had stepped out of bounds at the Baltimore 3-yard line, which the ESPN guys decided was to allow Manning to get his record-tying passing touchdown, which was a load of bull since it was clearly an accidental step out while heading down the sideline. Now, with the score 20-10 and a minute left, Manning did what he was presumably told by Indy coach Tony Dungy, which was "KNEEL DOWN!" For this non-stupid move, he was hailed by the ESPN crew as a super-class act.

If Peyton Manning played against Brett Favre, who would the commentariat love more? It would be like Jesus vs. Santa.

Sunday, December 19, 2004
It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Festivus

From the NYT via No More Mr. Nice Blog:

The first surprise is that from Tampa Bay, Fla., to Washington, from Austin, Tex., to Oxford, Ohio, many real people are holding parties celebrating Festivus, a holiday most believe was invented on an episode of "Seinfeld" first broadcast the week before Christmas in 1997.
The actual inventor of Festivus is Dan O'Keefe, 76, whose son Daniel, a writer on "Seinfeld," appropriated a family tradition for the episode. The elder Mr. O'Keefe was stunned to hear that the holiday, which he minted in 1966, is catching on. "Have we accidentally invented a cult?" he wondered.
"It was entirely more peculiar than on the show," the younger Mr. O'Keefe said from the set of the sitcom "Listen Up," where he is now a writer. There was never a pole, but there were airings of grievances into a tape recorder and wrestling matches between Daniel and his two brothers, among other rites.

"There was a clock in a bag," said Mr. O'Keefe, 36, adding that he does not know what it symbolized.

Saturday, December 18, 2004
A Question About the Psychology of Santa Claus (SPOILERS)

This Jew has a polite question about how the childhood belief in Santa Claus relates to the belief in that other guy who's supposedly connected to Christmas.

Most Christian children are told, when they're very young, about a magical bearded guy who comes from the sky and give them rewards and punishments. Parents defend their children's belief in this guy as their moral birthright, and it's bound up with the very meaning of childhood.

Then, a few later, the children are told that it was all a lie. Many of the kids have worked this out by then; one reason it's not a tenable "real" religous belief is that it has too many testable implications that don't hold up -- the famous calculation about how many houses per hour Santa visits, that kind of thing.

It seems to me that if I were designing a plan to install skepticism in the population, this would be a pretty good one. Having been lied to once, you'd think people would be a little less prone to jump at the story of an omniscient force that rewards and punishes. But they aren't; at least, not enough to matter. I don't think I've ever heard anyone raised Christian say that the Santa thing turned them away from religious belief.

So...why is that? Is it that the experience of believing in Santa was so pleasurable that the desire to replicate it later, after a fashion, trumps what one might have learned from the debunking?
Tech item: Anti-Linux Screed Pointer

Haven't read a good, long, anti-Linux rant in a while? Steve Gilliard's got your back:
But for every Linus Torvalds, who travels with his kids and his wife, isn't a star and is refreshingly modest, there are 10 Eric Raymonds and Richard Stallmans. Now, Raymond isn't the biggest dick in the Open Source world, mainly because Richard Stallman is still alive. A smart person could grow to hate all of these people, Raymond, a gun nut like Jay Sulzberger, who I actually like, Stallman, who should have to work for a living and worms like Dave Winer, bouncing around the edges of Open Source.

If Microsoft is Big Daddy Bill, and Apple, the land of Guru Steve, Linux is the dysfunctional family from hell. I mean, take the most depraved John Waters movie, toss Christopher Titus's standup act on top of it, and throw in the Barrymores for fun and a pinch of Ken Loach, and that's about where Linux is.
OK, that's gossip and meanness, not a technical argument. But there's more.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004
Yes, Man Bites Dog

Dave Pell, at Davenetics (which complements his decreasingly-relevantly-named Electablog), points us to a story about a man. Who bit a dog.

What are the chances that when he did this, the thought went through his head: "I am so getting in the paper with this."

Great Moments in Investigation

Don't you get the impression that if Bernie Kerik had recently converted to Islam, taken flying lessons that did not include takeoffs and landings, and bought 19 one-way tickets on transcontinental airliners...the White House "vetting process" would have missed it? For supporting links...see, like, everywhere.

Great Moments in Marketing


Nature's laxative. A punchline in themselves. What's a grocer to do?

Seen at the Star Market -- boxed "Dried Plums". Ingredients: Prunes. (And a preservative).

Monday, December 13, 2004
For All Your Sports-Blasphemy Needs

-- thanks to Charles Pierce in a letter to Eric Alterman.

Friday, December 10, 2004
Wrong place, wrong time

Another part of Rumsfeld's performance this week suggests a little more behind it than raw callousness, despite the pleasure of thinking the worst of him:
And if you think about it, you can have all the armor in the world on a tank and a tank can be blown up. And you can have an up-armored humvee and it can be blown up.
Remember, this is a man who was sitting at his desk when a plane flew into his building. Not that this should be driving his attitude towards armored vehicles, but it might explain what pops out of his mouth.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004
"You go to war with the army you have."

This, as we've heard, is Donald Rumsfeld's to complaints that troops in Iraq are foraging for their own armor in scrap heaps. Fred Kaplan in Slate misses the point of the remark, I think:
[H]is answer was wrong. If you're attacked by surprise, you go to war with the army you have. But if you've planned the war a year in advance and you initiate the attack, you have the opportunity—and obligation—to equip your soldiers with what they'll need. Yes, some soldiers will get killed no matter the precautions, but the idea is to heighten their odds—or at least not diminish them—as they're thrust into battle.
All well and good, but surely the not-very-subtext of Rumsfeld's answer is "It's Bill Clinton's fault." No?

Monday, December 06, 2004
Calling a Tail a Leg

From the manipulators who turned the estate tax into the "death tax": tort "reform" -- already a misnomer -- will become a campaign against the "litigation tax". This from Glenn Hubbard, tonight on NPR's
Marketplace [audio link], but earlier, substanially the same, in Business Week this past August, here. Highlights from the print version:
President Bush's Council of Economic Advisers estimated in 2002 that the U.S. tort system's direct costs total about $180 billion a year.
[In Business Week's author bio info:] Glenn Hubbard is dean of Columbia Business School. He chaired the Council of Economic Advisers from February, 2001, to March, 2003, and is an informal adviser to the Bush Administration.
So that first sentence is Hubbard quoting himself for added credibility. Also note this -- I've juxtaposed the two points to highlight the contradiction, but neither is taken out of context:
[$180 billion] is likely a conservative estimate: It ignores the many economic distortions that arise as individuals and companies try to avoid lawsuits. Examples include defensive medicine and decisions by manufacturers to remove products from the market.
From an economic perspective, tort costs are a pure burden on companies -- a cost with no corresponding benefit. That's because punitive damages are random and fail to provide incentives to companies, many empirical researchers in law and economics have concluded.
So the threat of lawsuits does not provide "incentives" -- reasons to do things, or avoid doing things -- but they waste companies' money because of the all the things those companies do, or avoid doing, in order to not get sued.

Anyway, here's the payoff:
The burden on the economy is large. According to the CEA, if it were borne just by workers, litigation costs would be equivalent to 2.1% of wages and salaries. If the "tax" were borne by consumers, it would be equivalent to a tax on income from savings of 3.1%.
Hold on -- a tax on income from savings? You mean, if you compare this randomly assessed cost with the money I earn on bank interest or the equivalent, it's a whopping 3.1%? Wow. Now, if you were to tell me that it's 3.1% of my income, or even 3.1% of my savings, you might have something...but you didn't, although if I wasn't reading carefully, it kind of sounds like you did, doesn't it?

But my main point can be found in an apocryphal Abraham Lincoln story:
Lincoln says to his straight man, "If you call a tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have?"

Answers the patsy, "Five."

To which Mr. Lincoln responds: "No, four.
Calling a tail a leg does not make it a leg."
Maybe they decided "tort reform" just wasn't working. But calling it a "tax" frames it even more duplicitously. And it might work.

Saturday, December 04, 2004
Family Nod

Book review in Sunday New York Times containing picture, from the book, taken by one's brother.

This thumbnail may or may not be permanent; the NYT link above should be a permalink.

Dear SNL

If Mark Evanier hasn't just handed you next week's opening, you deserve the pasting you're getting from Jon Stewart in the fake news department:

If you think back, The Mary Tyler Moore Show ended with a cute reversal of logic: Everyone was fired from WJM News except the guy who was truly, undeniably incompetent...Ted Baxter.

You get the feeling the same pattern's at work with the Bush Cabinet? Get rid of everybody except Rumsfeld...

Wednesday, December 01, 2004
Call Me, Irresponsibly

One of the few explicit bits of "fatherly" advice I got from my father was this: "Someday, you'll be drunk, and it will be 2 in the morning, and you'll think of someone and want to call them. Do not call them."

If only all of Australia had taken such advice to heart:
An Australian phone company is offering customers the chance to blacklist numbers before heading out for a night on the town so they can reduce the risk of making any embarrassing, incoherent late-night calls.

A survey of 409 people by Virgin Mobile, a joint venture of The Virgin Group and Optus, found 95 percent made drunk calls.

Of those calls, 30 percent were to ex-partners, 19 percent to current partners, and 36 percent to other people, including their bosses.

The company also found that 55 percent of those polled would grab for their phone first the next morning to check who they had drunkenly dialed, compared with just eight percent who went for the headache pills first.

We should, of course, adjust for PR bullshit.

Powered by Blogger Weblog Commenting by
free website counter