Don't say they didn't warn you.
Researchers in California say they've developed a new "Fast TCP" protocol. It'll work on existing infrastructure, but apparently enables much higher transmission speeds. The article claims that five-minute feature film downloads and streaming cable-quality television are among the possiblities. I can probably think of better uses of all that bandwith than replicating Comcast and Blockbuster, but you get the picture.
Amidst the usual consolidation mania in this Bob Herbert op-ed, we find reference to a useful report on the Center for Public Integrity's website on media ownership, OpenAirwaves. It seems FCC officials took over 2,500 trips on the industry's dime over the past 8 years... and by "dime" I mean about $2.8 million. Vegas was the most popular destination. What always puzzles me is that folks like Herbert cite these data showing, with embarassing clarity, that regulatory bodies are always captured by the industries they're intended to regulate, that they're subsequently used to protect market incumbents. Then this is offered as an argument for... more regulation.
Continuing the noxious trend of cutesy-acronym legislation, this week saw the introduction of the Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking (PACT) Act, brainchild of Messrs. Hatch and Kohl, which is an attempt to crack down on the booming black market in cigarettes created by sky-high cigarette taxes. Also par for the course, this is being sold as a way to fight terror.
The AP files this interesting report on the effect of ending affirmative action in admissions at the University of Georgia. Two years ago, a federal court barred preferential admissions based on race. As of last fall, black enrollment stood at 5.5 percent, down from 6.2 percent in 1988 (as a state, Georgia is about 27 percent black).
The low numbers come in the face of aggressive recruitment of black students. UGA has been finding it difficult to enroll academically superior blacks, who seem to be choosing to go elsewhere, both for academic and other reasons, including the smalltown location of Athens. Georgia State University, based in Atlanta, doesn't seen to be having the same problems. The story also touches on Florida's experience post-affirmative action, which seems to be working very well.
Author Patricia Hampl, writing in the NYTimes Book Review, suggests that Czech writer Karel Capek isn't as popular among Americans as he used to be, and that "This slippage may ? be proof of the disinclination of an imperial culture to sustain interest in 'smaller' literatures."
The U.S. is "an imperial culture"? Sounds bad. Yet Capek (1890-1938), best known here for the 1921 play, R.U.R. (which gave us the term robot although the play actually featured androids), and the 1937 satirical novel, War with the Newts, seems a strange example of imperial fiction reading. He may or may not be as popular as he was, but then most of his once-popular contemporaries ? including those from Big Lit cultures -- are by now more obscure than he is. Indeed, thanks largely to R.U.R., Capek long enjoyed good standing with an American SF readership that has otherwise shown little interest in translated works. In that sense, Capek's up there with Verne (who reads him anymore?), Stanislaw Lem, and a handful of others.
It might have been reasonable to argue that Capek's technological pessimism has worked against him here, or that his genre readership has long since moved on from "robots," or even that the U.S. tends toward insularity. But where's the hook for a charge of imperialist-induced oblivion? Nowhere, is where. The charge is intellectually mechanical, robotic.
New at Reason: Does the Ghost in a Jar sale represent a whole new medium? Is it a new form of storytelling? Why is teajay101 only selling "to the best of my recollection what was contained in the old journal" rather than the ghost journal itself? Whatever the answers may be, teajay has gotten a better pay rate for his spooky story than he would have made from Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, or even Playboy. Jesse Walker reports on the emergence of a new form of literature.
The Bill Bennett of megastores wants, at least, to be consistent. Since barring FHM, Maxim and Stuff from its shelves, Walmart has decided to cover up the covers of Redbook, Cosmo, and Glamour, among others, with mysterious "u-shaped blinders."
New at Reason: Jacob Sullum reviews the inspector general's report on the post-9/11 roundup of illegal immigrants.
The apparent firing of Howell Raines and Gerald Boyd is a refreshing example of people who screw up being held responsible for their screw ups. Of course, this almost never happens with Federal public servants. Famously Janet Reno "took responsibility" for the bonfire at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco and went on to serve as U.S. Attorney General for another seven years. And FBI Acting Deputy Director Larry Potts received a letter of censure for mismanaging the FBI's attack on the Weaver family at Ruby Ridge. FBI director Louis Freeh was so disappointed with Potts' performance that he recommended that Potts be promoted to Deputy Director of the FBI before the ink he used to sign the letter of censure was dry. Finally, under the pressure of a Congressional investigation, Potts did step down, though Louis Freeh remained head of the FBI until 2001. For the Feds, taking responsibility evidently means that they are very sorry they got caught.
When some Maryland gas stations faced the prospect of new competition, they posed as a grassroots movement to block it.
What ever will we all write about now?
Good news from the Middle East! In Iraq, the Detroit Free Press reports,
no set of wheels is held in higher regard than the large, mostly white Toyota Land Cruiser sport-utility vehicles long favored by government officials, intelligence agents and VIPs from Basra to Kirkuk.
Locals call the vehicles "Monicas," as in Lewinsky, after the former White House intern.
"She's a beautiful girl, and it's a beautiful car," said Ghazi Abdullah Dormari, whose auto-trading lot in the Kurdish city of Irbil features several late-model Monicas.
"They are a very tempting car," said Marwan Shaban, an auto dealer in the nearby northern city of Mosul. "Just as Monica tempted Clinton, they will tempt you."
The good news? Iraqis are naming their cars after a world-famous Jew.
The American Film Institute has released its list of top screen heroes and villains. Topping the good guy charts is Atticus Finch, the protagonist of To Kill a Mockingbird; best villain is Hannibal Lecter. More results and discussion here.
If Jim Leach (R-Iowa) and Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) get their way, credit card companies and wire transfer services would be banned from processing Internet wagers on offshore sites. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz) leads the effort in the Senate. The Justice Department is on board.
[Leach] said he is not surprised by the heavy lobbying. "America's gambling industry is very powerful and a behind-the-scenes player with a large role in American politics," he said.
Millions of American enjoy online gambling. It's a $6 billion industry. Leach and his colleagues in the party of small government want to use their power to end the fun. Maybe the gambling business wouldn't play such a large role in politics if politicians weren't willing to play such a large role in the gambling business.
I don't like to encourage any new categories for the AFI top-100 lists because I never like the results. (Atticus Finch—who cares?) But it seems to me the film institute is at the same time too abstract and too conservative. Where's the list of best mind-fucks? Best ugly duckling makeovers? Best cop-out endings? Best homosexual subtexts in a guy movie? Best "I'm sick of zis damn var" Nazi with a conscience?
And here's one that isn't even hard: Why is there no list of best musical soundtracks? It's obvious, everybody can have an opinion, and it's a sale of both a DVD and a CD. I've already got my top three: Max Steiner's King Kong, Carter Burwell's Raising Arizona, and if adaptations are allowed, Walter Carlos Wendy's A Clockwork Orange. (If not, then Bob Harris and Nelson Riddle's Lolita.)
The Recording Industry Association of America has scored a double victory against p2p file trading and the pesky privacy that makes it hard to prosecute. A U.S. Court of Appeals has rejected Verizon's request to stay subpoenas demanding that the telecom firm hand over information on four users accused of trading copyrighted music with Kazaa. The subpoenas were issued under "fast-track" provisions of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, which allows user anonymity to be stripped away on the basis of allegations of copyright infringement, even absent a pending suit. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has an extensive archive on the case.
The Television Critics Association has nominated The Daily Show for several awards -- including not just Outstanding Achievement in Comedy but Outstanding Achievement in News and Information. No sane man expects justice from an award ceremony, but I'll be quietly pulling for it to win both.
A smart move by the E.U. may prove to be a much needed boon to the beleaguered airline industry. The E.U. plans to seek an all-encompassing �open skies� deal with the U.S. and eliminate the complex labyrinth of air traffic deals between member countries and The States. The final call on deregulation will hinge on whether the U.S. is willing to abandon its protectionist policies on domestic flights.
The JOD's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has released a report on the treatment of the 762 immigrants who were detained in the post-Sept 11 terrorism investigation. Among other problems, the review finds that "even in the chaotic aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the FBI should have expended more effort attempting to distinguish between aliens who it actually suspected of having a connection to terrorism from those aliens who, while possibly guilty of violating federal immigration law, had no connection to terrorism but simply were encountered in connection with a PENTTBOM lead."
No heads are rolling. Instead, "the OIG offers 21 recommendations dealing with issues such as the need to develop uniform arrest and detainee classification policies, methods to improve information sharing among federal agencies on detainee issues, improving the FBI clearance process, clarifying procedures for processing detainee cases, revising BOP procedures for confining aliens arrested on immigration charges who are suspected of having ties to terrorism, and improving oversight of detainees housed in contract facilities."
Link via Metafilter.
New at Reason: Sidney and me.
New at Reason: To the long list of dueling personality-type categories—dog people vs. cat people, bus people vs. train, brown liquor vs. clear, Clay vs. Ruben—let me propose another: There are people who want every person, place and thing in their lives to be explicable by ideology, and people who don't. While the famously broad-minded readers of Reason would never subscribe to the former group, that school of thought is, well, healthily represented out there in the wide world. Today, Reason has two articles representing the other way of thinking. Chuck Freund surveys the way Arabic music "clips" confound or delight viewers precisely because they represent nothing more than entertainers' own styles. Michael Young speculates that the endless dispute over Salam Pax's background and identity really hinged on whether you're willing to believe there's an Iraqi who doesn't fit into any bracket we've got a word for.
"I am sorry to hear that more people have fallen in this sequence of events that I had unleashed," Jayson Blair has written in a strangely worded e-mail statement. "I wish the rolling heads had stopped with mine." Say what you will about Jayson, but at least he's man enough to forgive his former slave master.
If this article is right, Microsoft has just been awarded what amounts to a patent on the concept of video-on-demand, which is... uh... not entirely novel, to say the least.
The Company's core purpose is to enhance society by creating, collecting and distributing high-quality news, information and entertainment.
While Silber focuses on the "creating ... high-quality news" part, I'm struck by the idea that the newspaper's "core purpose" is to "enhance society."
The continuing failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is taking a political toll abroad, and possibly at home. Jim Lobe of the Inter Press Service has written a useful roundup of recent developments.
Shortly after 9/11, we saw a spate of stories reporting renewed interest on the part of students in public service. In particular, various polls showed large segments of people more inclined to consider a job in government. It looks as though many of them have reconsidered. A recent study by the Brookings Institution says that while interest in public service remains high, students want to channel that interest through non-profit groups. Government, by contrast is "seen as less than stellar in helping people, spending money wisely and being fair."
The study's author seems both more surprised and more upset by this than I was. One line reads: "More troubling, seniors do not see government as the best place to go for helping people." Troubling? If you say so...
The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals has struck down a St. Louis ordinance banning the sale of violent video games to minors. The ruling found that video games "contain stories, imagery, 'age-old themes of literature,' and messages, even an 'ideology,' just as books and movies do."
This is good news, though the challenge to the law covered only violence, not sex, both of which were verboten under the ordinance. This reflects a strange tension in public attitudes about what children need to be "shielded" from. Hacking off limbs? Protected. Whipping out the wrong one? Corrupting the youth; get the hemlock!
Ed Rosenthal, the cannabis cultivation expert who was convicted of federal drug charges last winter for growing medical marijuana in Oakland, California, is scheduled to be sentenced today. Most of the jurors who convicted Rosenthal later complained that they were kept in the dark about the details of his "crime": He was growing marijuana in cooperation with the city of Oakland for patients who are allowed to use it as a medicine under California law.
Press reports had indicated that Rosenthal faced a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison. According to the Drug Reform Coordination Network, however, he might qualify for a lesser sentence under a "safety valve" provision for nonviolent offenders.
Still, it's clear that Rosenthal will not get what he really deserves: compensation for his legal fees and an apology from the federal government for interfering where it has no business.
Spiked's Brendan O'Neill has an interesting, contrarian take on the journalistic lovefest directed at Baghdad blogger Salam Pax (for the record, I'm a fan). He argues that Salam is popular among Western audiences not because he gives deep insight into Iraq but because he reflects what those of us in Britain and America already hold near and dear. O'Neill concludes
By all means continue reading the Baghdad blogger, and, if you like that kind of thing, take pleasure in his everyday observations. But don't pretend that he reveals anything to us about the Iraqi mindset or about Iraqi people's hopes and aspirations. Rather, Salam tells us about ourselves - and, as we know, liberal journalists and bloggers like nothing better than to read about themselves.
The FBI has been taking tips from young teens on how to emulate adolescent online lingo when snaring pedophiles. The image of stern agents being quizzed on Justin Timberlake by the Sweet Valley Twins is hilarious enough in itself, but I see potential for further hijinks. Anyone else remember the Times grunge hoax?
At yesterday's congressional hearing on smokeless tobacco as a safer alternative to cigarettes, Surgeon General Richard Carmona announced that he favors prohibition of all tobacco products. After staking out a position more extreme than most anti-smoking activists are willing to endorse, he conceded that "legislation is not my field." Neither is economics, apparently, since Carmona is not worried about the disastrous effects of creating a black market big enough to serve some 45 million American smokers.
The surgeon general also seems to be unfamiliar with the epidemiological data concerning the health effects of smokeless tobacco. According to The Washington Post, "He was adamant in saying there is no evidence that smokeless tobacco causes less harm than cigarettes." That's a claim that could only be made by someone who had not bothered to look at the evidence.
Cell phone bans are all the rage, thanks in part to this mess in Washington. The National Transportation Safety Board is bent on blaming youth (though the driver was 20, not 16) and obsessive cell phone use (for some reason, it is relevant that the driver received 15 calls in the four hours before the crash). In my experience driving through cell-phone-wary and ticket-happy NYC, cell phone bans only add another distraction from the road; between driving and talking, motorists also have to keep an eye out for cops. Of course, if cell phones need to go, so do screaming kids, morning coffee, FM radio and climate control. This AAA report rates cell phones surprisingly low on a long list of more hazardous distractions.
Here we go again. Yesterday, the House approved this amendment to the constitution: "The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States." The vote was 300-125.
It says here that Senate approval isn't likely.
This old column on the topic is as valid as ever.
It's official: Google's page rankings are constitutionally protected speech. Yes, that seems obvious, but one company nonetheless brought suit against the search engine when its page position fell. A federal judge in Oklahoma dismissed the case this week, commenting that "there is no conceivable way to prove that the relative significance assigned to a given Web site is false. Accordingly, the court concludes Google's PageRanks are entitled to full constitutional protection."
The Log Cabin is a slightly lonelier place. New Hampshire state representative Corey Corbin has left the Republican Party for the Democrats. Although the openly gay Corbin's decision was based partly on Rick Santorum's war on buggery, in his announcement, Corbin stressed differences with Live Free Or Die State Gov. Craig Benson. (There's still time to vote in Dan Savage's contest to name a sex act after Santorum, by the way.)
New at Reason: Chris Lehmann surveys wigger cinema in '03.
Freddie Blassie, the villainous old-school professional wrestler known mostly (to me anyway) as the performer of the Dr. Demento classic Pencil-Neck Geek, died Monday of heart failure at age 85. According to the L.A. Times obit, sportswriting legend Jim Murray once described Blassie as "the worst villain since Hitler."
Links via L.A. Observed.
Jesse Walker provides advice for the peripatetic drug user in today's "Doper's Guide to Europe."
The big danger in Monday's FCC ruling is supposed to be that it will reduce the variety of opinions, views and commentary represented in the media, and I'm beginning to think that must be true: Since Monday, all the commentary I've heard about the FCC ruling says the same thing: The move will reduce the variety and opinions represented in the media.
The Reason staff sees things differently. Chuck Freund in the most recent Reason Daily takes a trip down memory lane to a pre-deregulation era when local markets really were cornered by single media companies. Last week, Jesse Walker spelled out some of the flaws in the FCC's decision-making process. Jesse and Jeff Taylor tracked the news of the FCC announcement earlier this week. On Monday I had the privilege of appearing on "Air Talk" with Larry Mantle, to debate Corporateering author Jamie Court, and we spent much of the discussion covering media consolidation; you can hear us puff and wheeze in Real Audio. In an essay for the Los Angeles Times this weekend, Nick Gillespie analyzes how deregulation consistently expands consumer choices.
Who's right: Reason or the Chicken Littles? We'll have to see how the deregulation (or is it "deregulation"?) pans out. That is, if it gets the chance to pan out.
Blow a couple hits today in honor of Ed Rosenthal, the Guru of Ganja, who has been released after serving a one-day sentence for growing marijuana on behalf of Bay Area medical pot clubs. U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer sentenced Rosenthal to three one-day prison sentences, to be served concurrently, and let him go on a "supervised release" program. As Jacob noted earlier today, it's unlikely Rosenthal will get the compensation and apology he deserves.
Stringent requirements for the degree, as listed in the school's application material, include taking one open-book exam, writing a four page paper which will �be referred to as a dissertation," and, oh yeah, ponying up $3,600 cash. Check or money order, no credit cards, please. Callahan is supposed to be in charge of "initiatives such as disaster management and Project SafeCom, a communications network linking first responders."
In a lengthy and useful new report, Amnesty International is calling for the "immediate and unconditional release" of the 75 Cuban dissidents arrested and jailed this March in a series of show trials. (Some of the political prisoners have gone on hunger strike to protest conditions, which include harsh family-visitation regulations.) So as to deflect potential praise from the Amnesty-bashers out there, the report begins with a long throat-clearing that condemns the U.S. embargo, blaming it (rather speciously) for most of the island's ills. But there is also good detail about the legal cases, and a couple of bio paragraphs each on the 75 victims.
Reporters Without Borders has also published a handy guide, entitled Cuba, the World's Biggest Prison, that provides information on the 26 journalists included in Castro's latest crackdown.
D.W. Griffith gets remixed.
Jose Cervantes spent three months in jail for attempting to smuggle almost 200 pounds of marijuana over the U.S.-Mexican border. The twist is that his dealer was the federal government. Cervantes had purchased the car at auction after it was seized by the INS. Neither he nor the feds had noticed the large stash of dope sealed in the car's bumpers.
Yoda and Gollum have both received MTV Movie Awards for their respective roles in Attack of the Clones and The Two Towers. Much as I enjoyed both characters, perhaps it should be a sign that something's off when the best performances in films are being delivered by the special effects.
Their avowed disdain for consumer capitalism notwithstanding, the dumpster-diving Freegans do seem to at least appreciate supply and demand... though maybe not quite well enough. If their primary concern is with market demand for products involving animal suffering, after all, why not create positive demand for products like free-range eggs by shopping at places like Whole Foods?
The rationale for not going this route is supposed to be that the less humanely produced products will just go to waste otherwise. But this ignores some of the positive externalities of supporting more humane products. If the consumption of those who care supports the emergence of an organic market in a given neighborhood, it may well come to be patronized by many people who otherwise would simply have gone to an ordinary supermarket. And the "interconnectedness" argument is just loopy. The Freegan quoted in the Sacramento Bee piece argues that the six bucks he spends on some tofu may itself be respent at McDonalds. Well, fair enough. But if he's earning less because he's consuming less, then the money someone might have paid him for his labor might also go instead to the same business. It's not clear how less economic participation makes matters any better from an animal welfare perspective.
For those who think this is something novel, by the way, recall that Abbie Hoffman covered this ground pretty well about three decades ago.
The authors of the very interesting and worthwhile book, The Trials of Lenny Bruce, are trying to posthumously get everybody's favorite sick comic pardoned for his 1964 obscenity conviction in New York. To that end Ronald Collins and David Skover (with legal work being handled by well-known First Amendment lawyer Robert Corn-Revere) have started a petition that will be go to NY Gov. George Pataki.
An interesting side note: Lenny lost his appeal of this conviction because he foolishly acted as his own lawyer, an undertaking that puts him in some highly dubious but hoolariously entertaining company including Charles Manson, Mumia Abu Jamal, and Jack Kevorkian.
Penn Jillette talks about science, liberty, and the value of a college education.
Katy Johnson is a former Ms. Vermont and author of a series of preposterous, almost self-parodying cartoons pitching Bill Bennett style values in doggerel rhyme. Tucker Max is a full-time Lothario whose website is a catalog of debauchery, libertinism, and conscience-free womanizing. What, beyond being people I'm vaguely glad I don't know, could these two possibly have in common?
Well, according to Max, an ill-fated relationship whose details would make it a poor candidate for the Book of Virtues. When Max posted his account of that relationship, Johnson sued. Not for libel, mind you, but invasion of privacy. This is doubly weird, first because Johnson is unambiguously a public figure, and second because the legal theory behind her suit implies that people can be forbidden from writing accurate memoirs of their own lives.
Johnson both succeeded and failed. Astonishingly, a judge issued a court order requiring Max to take down his story and delete all references to Johnson from his site. But even if that order isn't reversed on appeal, which it almost certainly will be, it hasn't exactly had the intended effect. The story has now been written up in the New York Times, and a mirror of Max's account, in all its seamy detail, has already been posted. Moral of this cartoon: legal bullying to squelch inconveinient speech is ugly, even from a beauty queen.
Today Brad Rodu, a University of Alabama oral pathologist, is scheduled to testify before a House subcommittee about his efforts to promote oral snuff as a much safer alternative to cigarette smoking. Rodu's work is interesting because it reveals a split within the anti-smoking movement between pragmatists open to "harm reduction" and moralists who insist on complete abstinence from tobacco products. Early on he was condemned by the anti-smoking establishment, but his point of view is beginning to gain support in some surprising places.
Depressing and pathetic barely get at a new craze sweeping America: the banning of basketball hoops and other sports equipment that front onto public streets.
The AP reports from Paulsboro, NJ, via Newsday. Here's a snippet:
Citing safety concerns, communities in Kentucky, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon and Pennsylvania have banned the placement of portable hoops in or around streets. Others are shooting to do the same.
No one, it seems, is against a friendly game of two-on-two.
The problem is that portable hoops have become permanent fixtures, according to municipal officials who say they pose hazards to emergency vehicles, trash trucks and the players themselves.
"We all want to be Mayberry, but no government official can look a parent in the eye and say `It's OK for your children to play in the street,"' said Police Chief Kenneth Ridinger.
A new study, available online, finds that public school teachers are paid pretty damn well when compensation is broken down into hourly rates. According to Michael Podgursky, a Univ. of Missouri economist, when you break down teacher salaries that way, K-12 teachers are pulling about $30.50 an hour, which compares favorably to public-sector engineers ($27.71), ) and accountants ($22.08), among others. Then there's fringe benefits, ranging from near total job security and summers off (with the chance to pick up extra dough for teaching summer school to boot).
And then tell a teacher friend to do the same.
New visa rules for potential visitors to the U.S. are being implemented all over Central Europe. According to this Prague Post article, the regulations in the Czech Republic include mandatory interviews on a paid telephone line that costs the applicant 38 crowns per minute (about $1.40), a non-refundable $100 application fee, faxed-in documents, and much more. The paper found a Czech IT director who won a trip to the States on a TV show, but eventually cancelled his tickets after weeks of bureaucracy and expensive phone calls that rarely got through. "It was horrible," he said. Czech Senator Petr Smutny (whose name means "Peter Sad") remarked that "This goes too far." And the head of the Czech Parliament's Foreign Committee, Vladimir Lastuvka, is calling for reciprocal visa requirements to be imposed on Americans. Enjoy that cheap beer while you still can.
Link via PragueBlog.
Two Czech film students have pulled a fast one on their Prague campatriots. For weeks, they advertised the hell out of a new hypermarket to be opened on May 31, called "Cesky sen" (Czech Dream). Billboards, newspapers, magazines, television spots, all promising a "surprise" for the first customers ... they even recorded a little theme jingle, according to Radio Praha's account. Then on opening day, hundreds of burghers trekked out to a field, only to discover that there was no market at all, and that they were being filmed for a Candid Camera-style documentary. Ha ha ha, look at the dumb bargain-hunters!
The students said that they weren't afraid of manipulating the emotions and expectations of people, as they did just the same thing that advertising does. They financed the project with a grant from the state fund for the support of cinematography, and they will return the money if their film makes a profit.
Link via Scott MacMillan.
The Toronto Blue Jays are experimenting with a four-man pitching rotation, the first time a Major League Baseball team has flouted the five-man conventional wisdom since probably 1995, according to numbers-minded baseball analyst Rob Neyer. The move comes just nine months after stat-head Rany Jazayerli authored a wave-making study that declared "the five-man rotation is a failure." More evidence (along with the publication of Michael Lewis' Billy Beane bio Moneyball) that 2003 will be the breakthrough year for the long-marginalized 25-year-old Sabermetric Revolution? Well, it will help if the Blue Jays' four-man rotation fares better than the Red Sox's bullpen by committee.
Ah, to be a boy again. The New Economy has already passed out of fashion, says the Financial Times. But now, the one piece of real evidence that there actually was an Economy that was New—increased productivity—has vanished like the gambler's lucky streak: Reasonably convincing number-crunching shows productivity growth back down to 1973-1995 levels. "If productivity continues to grow at this pace, the new economy will prove to be just a blip in a longer period of slow growth," says the FT. The discouraging numbers could be just a bump on the way to a brighter future, and I remember the nineties too fondly to stop evangelizing for the Golden Age. But I think I'm sounding more and more like Exidor, even to myself.
Here's an intersting & fun piece on Chile and Peru's squabble over which lays claim to the true Pisco, a very tasty liquor made from grapes and, imho, not nearly popular enough in the United States. (For what it's worth, the person who introduced it to me was Chilean.)
These regional product battles have been causing a bureaucratic mess at the EU--in particular, over Parma ham. An EU court has now sided with local producers, deciding that the famed prosciutto must not only be raised and slaughtered but also sliced and packaged in Parma to be graced with the name.
According to the LA Times piece on pisco, "In September, WTO ministers will meet in Cancun, Mexico, to consider a European proposal to enforce WTO-recognized 'denominations of origin' in all 146 member countries."
As everyone predicted, the Federal Communications Commission voted today to revise its media ownership regulations. Details to follow...
Update: You can read the FCC's summary of the new rules here.
"It's like 8am, the audience is filled with the biggest geeks in the world and suddenly with exhausted eyes, they're watching what seems to be teenage children doing a shot for shot remake of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. There was no introduction -- but really...it needed no introduction."
Cognitive scientist and Blank Slate suthor Steven Pinker had a sharp piece on overwrought fears about genetic enhancement in yesterday's Boston Globe Ideas section. "My point," he writes,
is not that genetic enhancement is impossible, just that it is far from inevitable. And that has implications. Some bioethicists have called for impeding or criminalizing certain kinds of research in genetics and reproductive medicine, despite their promise of improvement in health and happiness. That is because the research, they say, will inevitably lead to designer babies. If genetic enhancement really were just around the corner, these proposals would have to be taken seriously. But if the prospect is very much in doubt, we can deal with the ethical conundrums if and when they arise. Rather than decrying our posthuman future, thinkers should acknowledge the frailty of technological predictions. They should base policy recommendations on likelihoods rather than fantasies.
Read Reason's own interview with Pinker here.
The to-hell-with-Old-Europe movement, so popular four months ago, took a blow to the kidneys this weekend when President Bush gave a speech in Krakow about our Special Relationship with the Euro-ingrates:
America owes our moral heritage of democracy and tolerance and freedom to Europe. [�]
To meet these goals of security and peace and a hopeful future for the developing world, we welcome, we need the help, the advice and the wisdom of our European friends and allies. [�]
Europe and America will always be joined by more than our interests. Ours is a union of ideals and convictions. We believe in human rights, and justice under law, and self-government, and economic freedom tempered by compassion. We do not own these beliefs, but we have carried them through the centuries. We will advance them further and we will defend them together.
But, despite Bush�s new "Vive La France" je ne sais quois, he did get off a few good cracks about the importance of being "willing to take up arms against evil," and how Poland should not "be told that you must now choose between Europe and America."
"Governments love to place cameras on street corners to keep track of unruly citizens, but prefer to reserve for themselves the right to take pictures," notes blogger Todd Morman. As a corrective, he posts links to several sites that spell out the rights of private photographers.
Perhaps in a bid to play Norman Mailer in a biopic, actor Sean Penn explained his thoughts on Iraq in a May 30 NY Times advertorial for himself. (News travels slowly to those of us living outside the daily delivery range of the Grey Lady.)
Story and excerpts here.
It's easy--and perhaps obligatory--to mock the rageaholic thespian, but he's putting his money where his mouth is (and where his career used to be).
And his bit here compares favorably to hunky has-been Alec Baldwin's latest bravura performance for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
So says New York Times Magazine correspondent Peter Maass, in an essay at Slate.com. The punchline? Maass didn�t know it at the time, and only found out after returning home. Plenty of funny details in the column, including that the talented Mr. Pax is a fan of Philip K. Dick, The New Yorker, Oasis, and Pulp Fiction.
Dianne Ravitch, former assistant secretary in the Department of Education, has just written a book that lists the 500 sinister words banned from U.S. textbooks. Apparently, the culturally sensitive avoid any reference to polo (elitist), boyish figures (sexist), and blindness (just offensive).
With all the apocalyptic rhetoric around the FCC's "deregulation" decision today, you might expect the new rules to say something really radical, like "We will no longer regulate how many media outlets you can own." Instead, you'll find gems like this one: "In markets with five or more TV stations, a company may own two stations, but only one of these stations can be among the top four in ratings." A reader calling himself Uncle Brian comments: "So if I own two of the five stations in my market, one of them always has to be last in the ratings? Does that mean I have to make it intentionally suck? Do I forfeit ownership if I can't keep people from watching?"
Now, there may well be a reassuring answer out there to Brian's question. If I were writing an article instead of a blog entry, I'd call the FCC and maybe a communications lawyer or two and try to figure out how exactly the new rule should be interpreted. (Being a broadcast-policy geek, I just might do that anyway.) My point is that when a new law sounds absurd on its face and you have to go to a lawyer to make sense of it, you have not in any meaningful sense deregulated anything. In a deregulated realm, the rules are few and simple, not many and incomprehensible.
There's just been sheets of hysterical ravings about the FCC's ownership reg changes, but Tom Shales giving voice to a comparison of FCC chief Michael Powell to a Saddam flunkie is truly twisted.
"If Saddam Hussein had stayed in business, Powell might have made a great minister of information," Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, tells an approving Shales. Yep, disagree on substantive policy issues, and the other guy just might flack for a sadist.
I was of the opinion that the FCC's action was a mistake because I think the FCC is a mistake. I don't want the FCC to be able to do anything or effect any change in the hopes that a fully ossified structure will more quickly collapse in a smoking heap of contradictions, rabbit ears, and yellow legal pads.
But if so many people are so upset, maybe Powell and Co. are on to something.
The United Network for Organ Sharing, the non-profit group in charge of matching donors with compatible recipients on the national waiting list, has come out in favor of financial incentives for organ donation, which are currently illegal. Pending the emergence of full-blown spleen markets, however, you can join LifeSharers, whose members each agree to give transplant priority for their own organs to other members.
Andrew Chamberlain is right: the Visual Thesaurus is quite possibly the coolest thing ever. In addition to being a weirdly beautiful and functional thesaurus in the conventional sense, it looks to have enormous potential as a brainstorming aide.
I can think of a few extensions of this form that would at least rival the thesaurus in coolness, however. Imagine if some service like Lexis-Nexis were to build a comparable tool for modelling and navigating interconnected news stories and legal opinions. One could trace the legal concept of, say, "privacy" as it weaves its way through case law and scholarly interpretation... or Monica Lewinski as she erupts into the zeitgeist and evolves from scandal to punchline.
Six sensor towers have recently been installed atop government buildings in the D.C.-metro area. The goal is to model wind paths so as to predict the dispersion patterns of bio/chem/radiological weapons. Slightly disturbing nugget buried in the piece: they'd previously modeled this using measurements taken at Reagan National, which appear to give results as much as 90 degrees off from actual downtown D.C. wind flows.
I want a copy of the Vatican's new Latin dictionary, which defines "disco," "karate," and other essential terms. My question: "Hippie" is "conformitatis osor," which I assume means "hater of conformity." So how does the Pope define "player hater?" If you don't want to bother with the book, the Glossarium Philosophicum is just a click away.