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)
Saturday, October 29, 2005
Lil' Blair Witches

I forget where I saw this meme...but hold the Blair Witch Project in your mind, and then go here.
Attention Cognitive Science Reader...s?

This has been going around, but more is better: Mr. Angry and Mrs. Calm
For the Love of God, It's Still Daylight Saving Time

Friday, October 28, 2005
Happy Halloween

Body hanging from tree mistaken for Halloween decoration

FREDERICA, Delaware (AP) -- The apparent suicide of a woman found hanging from a tree went unreported for hours because passers-by thought the body was a Halloween decoration, authorities said.

The 42-year-old woman used rope to hang herself across the street from some homes on a moderately busy road late Tuesday or early Wednesday, state police said.

The body, suspended about 15 feet above the ground, could be easily seen from passing vehicles.

State police spokesman Cpl. Jeff Oldham and neighbors said people noticed the body at breakfast time Wednesday but dismissed it as a holiday prank. Authorities were called to the scene more than three hours later.

"They thought it was a Halloween decoration," Fay Glanden, wife of Mayor William Glanden, told The (Wilmington) News Journal.

"It looked like something somebody would have rigged up," she said.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005
The Butt Cancer Treatment Center

The referrer logs show that a lot of people would like to see a transcript of the Butt Cancer Treatment Center ad, and since the people at the standard place haven't gotten to it yet, here you are:

[In a kitchen; Amy Poehler and Jason Sudeikis address the camera earnestly.]

Amy: There's some things men don't like to talk about.

Jason: Like butt cancer.

Amy: Yes. Like butt cancer. Did you know that cancer of the dumper affects one in every forty men? But if detected early, it's often successfully treated.

Jason: If it weren't for the doctors at the Butt Cancer Treatment Center, I might not be here today.

Amy: We owe so much to the Butt Cancer Treatment Center.

Jason: We do. I was so worried about my pooper. Then one of the specialists at the Center fiddled around with my buns, and found the problem.

Amy: That's usually all it takes. They diddle your pooper and then you know.

Jason: Knowledge is power.

Amy: If you're a man over 30 and you're concerned, you should have someone put a finger up your fartbox.

Jason: My butt is clean and free and living the good life.

Amy: Your fudge factory deserves the best.

[Cut to picture of building, with sign: "The Butt Cancer Treatment Center"]

Female voice, v.o: The Butt Cancer Treatment Center. Let us check out your stinker.
Sunday, October 23, 2005
The First Three Words Were Funnier Than The Headline Taken As A Whole

Dead British parrot had deadly H5N1 bird flu
Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?

Catherine Zeta-Jones ["Zzzzzzeeeeta"!] hosted SNL tonight. Her opening monologue, which God knows really needs hi-def screen captures, had her dancing to a number whose premise was that she wasn't worried about screwing up on live TV, because, no matter what happens:

No matter how I do tonight
Sweating out here under the lights
They Can't Take My Oscar Away!

If I blow my jokes and trip and fall
That's OK and that's because
They Can't Take My Oscar Away!

OK...repeat on this theme a few times, remove tearaway dress revealing leotard, tapdance in a full body shot, bring on chorus boys. Fine.

But then...

If I accidentally swear
And let a [shhh!] loose on the air
They Can't Take My Oscar Away!

And you know, considering that news came out this week of Charles Rocket's recent suicide, I think that was a pretty ghastly thing to put in. Either nobody, at any point, realized the connection -- but isn't that only really plausible if the entire staff, from Lorne Michaels on down, had been replaced with people who were 20 years old? -- or nobody cared.

And, mind you, I'm the guy who laughed until I couldn't breathe at the following sketch, a fake commercial for the Butt Cancer Treatment Center, which recommends that if you're a man over 30 you should "get your pooper checked". So you see it's not that I have a stick up my...well, so you see.

Incidentally, Charles Rocket turns out to have a more interesting history than I realized; see this from Jim Emerson, who blogs on Roger Ebert's site.

UPDATE: Rocket at least got one of those still photos with birth-death dates, at the end of Weekend Update.

UPDATE 2: Did somebody say screen captures? (The first two make it seem like she's doing "If I Were a Rich Man"; she is, in fact, tap-dancing.)

Thursday, October 20, 2005
Funniest Lie of the Day
October 20, 2005 ST. LOUIS --Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc. said it will quit marketing a drinking game called "Bud Pong" after discovering that some people were imbibing beer during the game instead of water, as directions specified.

The nation's biggest brewer rolled out "Bud Pong" in July, sending kits to beer wholesalers in 18 states. The bar game is played by bouncing ping pong balls into cups of liquid, with participants taking a drink if they lose a point. Anheuser-Busch suggested players fill the cups with water. A New York Times article Sunday described players using beer instead.

"It has come to our attention that despite our explicit guidelines, there may have been instances where this promotion was not carried out in the manner it was intended," Anheuser-Busch spokeswoman Francine I. Katz said in a statement Tuesday.

And those rolling papers are sold so you can make your own tobacco cigarrettes. Those things in the "family planning" aisle of the drugstore are water balloons. (And, at one time, "sold for the prevention of disease only".) I only read Playboy for the award-winning short fiction. Actually, none of those are as good. Playing Bud Pong....with Bud? You pervs.
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
When Captain America Throws His Mighty Shield

Too good to be true, but:
FRESNO, Calif. --Two climbers on a Sierra Nevada glacier discovered an ice-encased body believed to be that of an airman whose plane crashed in 1942.
Finding bodies preserved in a glacier is unusual but not unheard of, command officials said. Two years ago, the unit recovered the body of a Cold War-era officer who died in Greenland.
I've underestimated: we must have the potential for an entire army of thawed-out super-soldiers.
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
January 2005 Boston "Nuclear Threat": The Story Changes

As I mentioned just recently, the day before the January 2005 inauguration, there was a sudden warning of a possible terror threat against Boston:

"To assure the people of Boston and Massachusetts that it is safe to be at home, I am going to be sleeping in my bed in Massachusetts tonight and I feel perfectly safe doing so," said Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. "In the very remote circumstance that my attention is needed, I will be able to respond on an immediate basis."

The news of the FBI search quickly ballooned into a frenzy of media reports that the suspects planned a radiological "dirty bomb" attack in Boston. But authorities stressed the sketchiness of the information they received.
A federal law enforcement official in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation, said the uncorroborated tip was received by the California Highway Patrol. The tipster claimed the men were awaiting a shipment of "nuclear oxide" that would follow them from Mexico to Boston, the source said.

While the term implied some form of nuclear device, such as a "dirty bomb," there is no such material as "nuclear oxide," giving officials yet another reason to question the veracity of the tip, the source said.

Within a week, it became apparent that there was no such plot:

On Tuesday, the FBI said the chilling tip was a false alarm.

"There were, in fact, no terrorist plans or activity under way," the statement said. "Because the criminal investigation is ongoing, no further details can be provided at this time."

Jose Ernesto Beltran Quinones, one of 16 people sought for questioning about the alleged terror plot, was detained over the weekend in Mexicali, a border town near San Diego. His son, also named Jose, was detained Monday.'s what happened yesterday:

A man wanted for allegedly calling in a bogus terrorist threat that put Boston on high alert in January was arrested yesterday in Mexicali, Mexico, at the request of US officials, who had secretly issued a warrant for him in May, the FBI reported. Jose Ernesto Beltran Quinonez, 34, of Mexicali, is charged in a three-count indictment unsealed yesterday in California with calling 911 and falsely claiming that four Chinese nationals and two Iraqis were smuggling a nuclear warhead into the United States from Mexico and planning to transport it to Boston. The allegation sent law-enforcement officials nationwide scrambling, until the FBI publicly announced the tip was a false alarm.

That's the first I've heard about an outright nuclear weapon being "involved". Interestingly, so far none of the sources I've checked (most of them identical wire copy, anyway) have pointed out that the previous version of the story was very different, even at its scariest. Either the false-threat charge has been upgraded for maximum effect; or the original threat was only half-communicated to the rest of us; or the new reporting is just wrong. Given that I literally lost sleep over this (I live about 5 miles from Boston Harbor), I'd like to know which. Once again, I'll point out that Mitt Romney's "own bed in Massachusetts" turned out to be in the bunker in Framingham, 20 miles from Boston. And yes, I thought at the time that was a little far away from the city for a dirty bomb threat. (See sleep, losing, above.)

Saturday, October 15, 2005
We Honor Duane Thomas

If it's an Infinite Crisis, why are there only 7 issues?
Thursday, October 13, 2005
And While I'm Not Atoning...

Very funny comic: Dr. McNinja. Thanks to Jesse, who would get a link if he had anything to link to, and demands that it be known that he saw it at BeaucoupKevin.

Two percent:

RUSSERT: And Matt, the most astounding number in this: 2 percent – just 2 percent - of African-Americans give George Bush a positive rating for his performance as President. The memories of Katrina very much in their minds.

LAUER: Is that what this is all about? I mean, obviously that is just a startling number, 2 percent of African-Americans. Is this all about the aftermath of Katrina?

RUSSERT: Well, the imagery of that along with the economy and fuel prices and Iraq, but that event, Matt, really did have a searing effect. George Bush and the Republican Party has tried very hard to reach out to African-American voters, but this is a very dramatic setback. I cannot find a pollster who can remember any President ever getting just 2 percent approval from African-Americans.

Two percent.

Evolution of noodles, via Oliver Willis.

Finally: I give up. From now on, it's whatever this Blogger default font is, because yes, it's more readable than what I had been using.

More than finally: This out-of-context BeaucoupKevin graphic ties it all together:

Olbermann on the Timing of Terror Warnings: A Skeptical Response

Keith Olbermann devoted a segment a couple of days ago to the recurrent charge that the government's terror warnings are, more often than you'd expect, suspiciously timed to deflect attention at times of otherwise bad political news for the Bush administration. (Video and transcript available via Crooks and Liars; hat tip to Mark Evanier.) As I've said before, I'm not as sold on this as many left-bloggers are, mainly because the fact is that for a couple of years, the Bush administration has had little in the way of good news (aside from that getting-re-elected thing), so it's hard to get a sense of what would be a counterexample to the theory -- although as a matter of fact there is one big fat one that I'll get to below. (And believe me, I'm not claiming "They would never do that". But I'm also not with the group that thinks that saying "Oh, but they would never do that", with heavy sarcasm, makes a point that has no limits.)

Anyway, Olbermann's list continues to fail to convince me that the case is as strong as he makes out, and his faux-self-deprecating bit about "maybe you could also line up the warnings with Walmart openings, I don't know, how ever could we evaluate this claim? It's beyond me" doesn't make me any more believing. The fact is, here's what you'd need to do: go over every interesting political event of the last few years, and mark each one good or bad for the administration, possibly with a rating to indicate its strength in whichever direction. (You'd want to have a panel do this that doesn't know why they're doing it, so to speak; I don't know that the panel has to be itself politically balanced, as long as we can get a consistent rating across the panel of the relative goodness/badness of the events.) Then you mark the "terror events", formal and informal -- note that you have to exercise some judgement as to what counts. (Olbermann has used a mixture of warnings, formal and informal, and arrests, which suggests that the field to choose from might be bigger than is obvious at first glance.) Also, you need to decide how close and/or far from a "trigger" the "terror event" has to be for it to be a hit -- after all, if you end up with half of the calendar being "a good time for a terror alert", then half of anything's going to count as a hit. Then see what you've got. This is not unlike how you'd evalute the performance of a self-proclaimed psychic, or, less contentiously, that of a weather forecaster or an economic forecaster. There's a reason for the contemptuous saying "[Such-and-such economist or leading indicator] has predicted 7 of the last 5 recessions". Ask yourself this, if you're read lefty blogs at all regularly: how often, in the last year, have you read the comment "Sounds like it's about time for another terror alert"? How often has that comment actually been followed by one? (Yes, I don't know either. Fair point.)

(As a side-shot -- Olbermann refers to the logical fallacy called "post hoc, ergo propter hoc" as if its name is "the Logical Fallacy", which doesn't ring a bell with me.)

Here are some specific objections to some of Olbermann's examples:

In Number Three, he lists Powell's speech to the UN (the one with the later-discredited photos of "bio labs", and the prop vial of biochem weaponry), plus anti-war protests, as an instance of a cause. But Powell's speech wasn't a setback for the administration at all -- at the time it was generally considered a success. If you're going to expand the allowable trigger times to "when the administration was trying to sell the Iraq war", that's at least a six-month window, so any "terror event" during that stretch would count as a hit.
(For that matter, you could also reasonably count all of 2004 as "election year".) Not very impressive in the cause-and-effect department.

Number Five on the list is the big fat counterexample I mentioned above:
December 17th, 2003. 9/11 Commission Co-Chair Thomas Kean says the attacks were preventable. The next day, a Federal Appeals Court says the government cannot detain suspected radiation-bomber Jose Padilla indefinitely without charges, and the chief U.S. Weapons inspector in Iraq, Dr. David Kay, who has previously announced he has found no Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, announces he will resign his post.

December 21st, 2003. Three days later, just before Christmas, Homeland Security again raises the threat level to Orange, claiming “credible intelligence” of further plots to crash airliners into U.S. cities. Subsequently, six international flights into this country are cancelled after some passenger names purportedly produce matches on government no-fly lists. The French later identify those matched names: one belongs to an insurance salesman from Wales, another to an elderly Chinese woman, a third to a five-year old boy.
You'd think, though, that it would be useful to recall when happened 3 days earlier, on December 14th: Saddam Hussein was captured from his hidey-hole. That was probably the best thing that happened to Bush between the fall of that statue in April 2003 and Election Day 2004. And they threw it away -- including the suggestion that "we're safer because we did this" -- to counter the mere claim that the attacks were preventable, the resignation of David Kay, and a legal setback in the Padillo case? I really don't buy that.

Number Six:
March 30th, 2004. The new chief weapons inspector in Iraq, Charles Duelfer tells Congress we have still not found any WMD there. On the 31st, after weeks of refusing to appear before the 9/11 Commission, Condoleezza Rice finally relents and agrees to testify. On April 1st: Four Blackwater-USA contractors working in Iraq are murdered, their mutilated bodies dragged through the streets and left on public display in Fallujah. The role of civilian contractors in Iraq is widely questioned.
Rice agrees to testify? That's a huge setback? How about the contractor murders -- that sounds like it's likely to increase support for the war, under the not-very-logical but tempting theory that it shows that we're fighting against awful people who would do awful things. (Or, the theory of "pre-taliation".) It doesn't make all the sense in the world, but it was (and continues to be) a common pro-war talking point. Note also that we're counting "Rice agrees to testify" as a trigger, but not "Bush and Cheney agree to testify", or either of the dates of the actual testimony. This is my core point again -- too many possible triggers leads to too many "hits".

In Number Ten, I think he may have cause and effect mangled, and missed a good opportunity, by his own standards:
Last Thursday. At 10 AM Eastern Time, the President addresses the National Endowment for Democracy, once again emphasizing the importance of the war on terror and insisting his government has broken up at least 10 terrorist plots since 9/11.

At 3 PM Eastern Time, five hours after the President’s speech has begun, the Associated Press reports that Karl Rove will testify again to the CIA Leak Grand Jury, and that Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald has told Rove he cannot guarantee that he will not be indicted.

At 5:17 PM Eastern Time, seven hours after the President’s speech has begun, New York officials disclose a bomb threat to the city’s subway system - based on information supplied by the Federal Government. A Homeland Security spokesman says the intelligence upon which the disclosure is based is “of doubtful credibility.” And it later proves that New York City had known of the threat for at least three days, and had increased police presence in the subways long before making the announcement at that particular time. Local New York television station, WNBC, reports it had the story of the threat days in advance, but was asked by "high ranking federal officials" in New York and Washington to hold off its story.
If I were making this list, surely I'd include the DeLay indictments as a trigger event; the Rove testimony is one of a series of events that gladdens the hearts of those following the Plame case, but I don't think resonate (yet?) with the general public. (Another reminder that you have to count all the bad events.) And the terror speech should of course be an effect, not a cause. Maybe Olbermann means that, but it's not apparent from the writeup. Note also that it seems that it was NYC, not the Feds, who made the most of this, although I should also mention that there are those, such as Steve Gilliard, who thus hold that this is a perfect example, but of malfeasance of on the part of Michael Bloomberg, currently running for re-election. Also, it may be relevant, as I pointed out earlier, that this event is responsible for probably the only not-completely-made-up terror warning email to be found at

In Number Twelve, it's the terror event that I think is stretching it, rather than the trigger:
May 11th, 2005. Later that day, an instructor and student pilot violate restricted airspace in Washington D.C. It is an event that happens hundreds of times a year, but this time the plane gets to within three miles of the White House. The Capitol is evacuated; Vice President Cheney, the First Lady, and Nancy Reagan are all rushed to secure locations. The President, biking through woods, is not immediately notified.
The first that most people heard of this, the day it happened, was "false alarm at the Capitol". That's not going to terrify anyone. And especially so if it really is unusual that the plane made it so close.

Number Thirteen:
June 26th, 2005. A Gallup poll suggests that 61 percent of the American public believes the President does not have a plan in Iraq...

June 29th 2005. The next day, another private pilot veers into restricted airspace, the Capitol is again evacuated, and this time, so is the President.
Now we're counting bad polls? And the terror event is another immediately-obvious false alarm. Sorry, no.

Finally, here's a final counterexample: on the eve of Bush's 2005 Inauguration, there was a claim that terrorists with "nuclear oxide" were headed to Boston. Governor Mitt Romney left DC and came back to Massachusetts, spending the night "in the state" to show his confidence in the countermeasures, or something. Since "in the state" turned out to be "in the bunker in Framingham, 20 miles from Boston", this was most definitely not reassuring. His inaugural sounds like a moment when an adminstration would not want to remind the country of how unsafe it is, no?

Seriously: run the test as I described it above, with all events considered, and see what you get. You might get something. You might even be able to quantify it. But this particular list isn't doing it for me.

UPDATE: I note that there's a dispute as to originality of this list.

The Prettiest Picture I Ever Got In Spam

Tuesday, October 11, 2005
Cheap Shots at Headline Writers are Always Appropriate

I don't quite want to say that under no circumstances could North Carolina be made to "swing". However, if it can be made to swing, I really doubt that Mitt Romney is the man to make it do so.

(From the Boston Globe's online front page; I don't see a way to make a permalink.)

The Amazing Not-a-Hoax Terrorist Warning Email

Since 9/11, has catalogued probably a dozen emails that make the rounds, warning everyone not to fly on certain days, or the like, because someone's brother who's in Afghanistan says that they captured someone who says...anyway, none of these widely forwarded email have ever referred even to a real warning, let alone a real attack. Of course, an email that referred to a "real" warning wouldn't just be on snopes; it would be on the news.

Like this one:
As some of you know my father works for Homeland Security, at a very high position and receives security briefings on a daily basis. I received a call from him Monday Oct 3, 2005 and it was a brief call and did not contain a lot of details. The only information that I can pass on is that everyone should at all costs not ride the subway for the next 2 weeks in the major areas of NYC, that means Grand Central, Times Square, Herald Square, Union Square areas. I know that seems crazy but do take his advice if at all possible. I am not at will or able to discuss anything more than that. I was not allowed to ask him any questions but he called with grave concern for the safety of myself and Heather. He said I could tell friends exactly what I have said above and that is it.
I have just received a most disturbing call from one of my oldest friends from growing up in Washington, who is the chief of intelligence for the US Coast Guard and the CG's liason to the Office of Homeland Security - a person I've known for 40 years and trust implicitly and who, by dint of his position, has access to the highest level of intelligence "traffic". He called with a very specific caution to not enter or use the New York City subway system from October 7 through the 10th (Friday through Monday) based on information he has received of potential terrorist activity. He was not permitted to provide further information, but did permit me to share this information with friends and family which is what I am doing.
The point being, as snopes proprietor Barbara Mikkelson reports,
Late in the afternoon of Thursday, October 6, 2005, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly announced the FBI had shared a "specific threat" with New York officials against its subway system. According to Mayor Bloomberg, there were indications that a terrorist attack on the subway system was in the works. Chief Kelly said the city "may be the target of a terrorist attack in the coming days," and asked the public to report suspicious people or activities.
Interestingly, the two e-mails quoted in the Examples section above reached our inbox on the mornings of 5 and 6 October 2005 respectively, the first predating the official advisory from New York's mayor and police chief by well over a day, the second by a matter of hours. In the first, the claim was made the information came from a highly placed official in Homeland Security on Monday, 3 October. If so, the danger was known to and being taken seriously by Homeland Security a full three days before news of it was put before the general public.
See, it's the 0.000001% of true stuff that keeps the rumors going. Gaakh.

(Speaking of snopes: these are not pictures of babies made out of marzipan, but if they were, they'd be tasty snack treats.)

Sunday, October 09, 2005
SNL Watch

When you saw this:

Was there any doubt at all this we'd get this?

Also, from the same sketch, message to Darrel Hammond:

You probably shouldn't practice someone's asymmetric tic in a mirror.

Finally, while Googling for the above, I found this, which seems to have been popular with the righties a few months ago, but I think it's something we can all enjoy:

Monday, October 03, 2005

Is there anything Matt Yglesias doesn't know?
John Podhoretz promised to "spend the weekend banging [his] head against a concrete wall" if Bush picked [Harriet Miers]. In my experience, that's a lot less painful than you would think. The front of the skull is actually very hard and it's difficult to generate a lot of forward momentum purely with your neck muscles.
(Plus, "Yglesias" and "analgesic" have far too many letters in common for it to be a coincidence.)
Saturday, October 01, 2005
Final Proof of Sister's Emmy

NBC press release.
How Do They Make Maraschino Cherries?

Lindsay Beyerstein tells us, whether we want to know it or not:
One of my mom's best friends worked in a Maraschino cherry plant in British Columbia. The bleached cherries were shipped from Europe in their brine. Arguably the worst job in the factory was skimming off the drowned rats on arrival.

Annals of Religious Sensitivity

(As The New Yorker would say.)


Boeing, Bell apologize for mosque attack ad
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Boeing Co. apologized on Friday for a mistakenly published advertisement for its V-22 Osprey aircraft showing troops dropping onto the roof of a mosque in what appears to be a simulated battle scene.
...Boeing, which created the ad with partner Bell Helicopter, said publication was a "clerical error" by the National Journal, which ran the ad on September 24.
The ad "did not proceed through normal channels," Boeing said, and despite asking for it to be withdrawn and destroyed, was published in error.

The National Journal, a Washington government and policy magazine, admitted it made a clerical error and said it accepted full responsibility in a statement issued on Friday.

The ad shows troops rappelling down from an Osprey craft to the domed roof of a building labeled "Muhammad Mosque" in Arabic as smoke billows from a burned-out car nearby.

"It descends from the heavens. Ironically it unleashes hell," says the ad, published by Boeing and Bell Helicopter, a unit of Textron Inc., which jointly developed the Osprey.

The aircraft "delivers Special Forces to insertion points never thought possible," says the text of the ad.

Sony pulls "Jesus" advert for PlayStation
ROME (Reuters) - Sony has apologized for an advertising campaign for its PlayStation game console which featured a young man wearing a crown of thorns with the slogan "Ten years of passion."

Some Catholics were outraged by the adverts, which ran in newspapers and magazines to celebrate the product's tenth anniversary.

"This time they've gone too far," said Antonio Sciortino, editor of Famiglia Cristiana (Christian Family), a mass-circulation Catholic weekly.

"If this had concerned Islam there would have been a really strong reaction," Sciortino was quoted as saying in the Corriere della Sera newspaper.

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