I’m That Other Person
July 31, 2009, 11:24 am
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Last night I was visited by friendly aliens. One of them handed to me a super-advanced piece of technology, which he told me was a universal translator (he didn’t say this in English, but the universal translator translated it for me). They let me keep it, and I’ve been playing around with it.

I wasn’t sure how to use it at first (just pressing buttons) and I’ve realized that at first what I was doing was inadvertently translating stuff from English into Alien, and then back to English. I was feeding the thing a lot of political debate from TV and the web (for testing). And funny thing, every time I did this, here’s what came back:

“Other people should be forced to pay for me.”

And sometimes, if it was a two-sided debate, there would be a response, like

“No, other people should be forced to pay for me.”

And then it would repeat, like a broken record.

For political debates, this is what I got back every single time. I thought the thing must be broken. But then I thought about it and realized that actually, it’s working perfectly.

I’m that other person.

July 31, 2009, 1:49 am
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I’m not generally a big fan of tabloid/gossip pages, but aren’t they supposed to be about famous, well-known people whom the reader might find interesting? Lately in shops and grocery stores, when glancing at the tabloids I keep seeing on their covers – repeatedly and over a period of several weeks now – headlines involving someone named (I think?) “Katie”, and her husband, and how they are separated, and who gets the kids, and who cheated on whom, and who is mad at whom, etc., etc., etc.

That’s all par for the course except for the fact that – and I mean this quite sincerely – I haven’t the faintest idea who these people are. They may as well be Joe and Jane Schmoe for all I can tell. But, knowing that she (or he?) must logically be some sort of celebrity – or they wouldn’t be in tabloids right? – for a while I assumed/guesstimated that “Katie” was maybe Katie Couric? But I’ve looked at the photos (after all, these people are in the tabloids every week) and it doesn’t look like her. I really, truly, honestly don’t know who they are let alone why we’re supposed to be interested in their marital troubles.

Yet every tabloid seems to be obsessed with them! It’s so strange and disorienting, like visiting a foreign country and being flooded with their pop stars you’ve never heard of. Did I wake up in a parallel universe a couple months back? A universe in which everyone knows who these people are?

Well I’m going to try a blogging experiment. I’m going to try to do some web-searching to figure out who they are, in the middle of writing this post. I’m come back here with the results and reaction shortly. Are you ready? Let’s go:


Well ok, that wasn’t hard (I just searched for “katie tabloids” and ignored the Couric-related links). They are apparently these people. Stars of some ‘reality’ TV show. How anticlimactic.

Those ‘reality’ TV shows sure seem to screw up the popular culture. Traditionally, celebrities are well-known for a variety of things or for TV/movies that are watched by a wide slice of the country. I doubt this applies to a reality TV show on TLC. I understand that to people who actually know what that show is and have watched it, headlines about ‘Jon’ and ‘Kate’ actually connote something. To the rest of us, though, it’s like being in a foreign, fragmented country.

Fuddy Duddy
July 28, 2009, 5:47 am
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100 Things Your Kids May Never Know About at Wired

This one surprised me:

15. 3-D movies meaning red-and-green glasses.

You mean 3-D movies don’t mean red-and-green glasses? What am I missing?

The Upper Class’s Burning Need For Socialized Medicine
July 27, 2009, 1:51 am
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Matthew Yglesias fell off his bicycle, and to him that illustrates the need for socialized medicine.

Apparently part of the problem he perceived from this event was that, the fall having occurred close to a weekend, he couldn’t go see anyone about his finger the next day, since doctors’ offices are closed. Well, there was an urgent care clinic he could have gone to, but according to him, his insurance wouldn’t have covered it.

Which – obviously – means Matthew Yglesias couldn’t possibly have gone there and just paid out of pocket. Impossible!

Mini bio: Matthew Yglesias is the son of Hollywood screenwriter Rafael Yglesias (Fearless, From Hell, Dark Water) and grandson of novelists Jose and Helen Yglesias. Born and raised on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, he attended prestigious prep school The Dalton School, went on to Harvard, and is now a nationally-known blogger and published author.

Unrelatedly, Matthew Yglesias couldn’t possibly afford paying for an urgent-care-clinic visit to check on a hurt finger out of his own pocket, which therefore left him with literally no medical-care options on a weekend, and this true fact proves that we need nationalized health care, for people like Matthew Yglesias.

Why Socialist Utopia Is For Fine-Print Reading No-Life-Havers
July 25, 2009, 5:01 pm
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Let me try to bypass some of the emotion surrounding the health-care issue and just use a simpler example: Everyone knows that phone bills are too complicated.

Your phone contract – whether cell phone or land line – the “service”, and setup, and whatever, is plagued by a metric-kajillion of special rules, fine print, exceptions, surtaxes, and random fees. The whole experience is completely bureaucratized and kommissared to death, not only because the cell phone companies are trying to be a ‘clever’ as they can about squeezing you (while competing with rivals in the game of tricking you into thinking that they squeeze you less than they do), but because it’s such a big business, and (because it relies on things like phone lines and cell towers) a blatant part of the infrastructure, that the government has gotten its grubby hands on the whole thing in a big way. How much money you pay per month is the result of a giant whirlwind of forces being applied to these companies. Alas, ‘the market’ is only a small component of those forces.

In part this is because, when shopping around for phone service, it is almost impossible for a normal person to figure out if they’re getting a good deal or not. What people do is try to compare and contrast this company with that – find some number, any number, to compare the two – and pick the smaller. But when they do this they are inevitably comparing applies to oranges, because there is no such thing as a single, obvious, bottom-line figure anyone can quote you regarding how much you’ll end up paying. People try to make an educated guess, of course, but are likely to be wrong. After all, that’s how these companies make their money.

Even if every phone company’s bill were as simple as something like (flat fee) + (cost per minute) x (number of minutes used), to actually do the analysis properly you’d have to somehow make a complete statistical projection regarding how many minutes you’re going to spend on the phone throughout the life of your service. But you could always be wrong. The costs of being wrong could be wildly different from one company to the next, which you’d have to take into account. Or you could be right most of the time, but have that one month where you had that giant teary all-night phone marathon breakup with your long-distance girlfriend, which blows up your entire analysis. And to top it off, if you pick wrong at the start, you’re stuck with it, because all these companies have you sign “contracts” that lock you in for a length of time (or charge you a hefty early-term fee). Or maybe they don’t force you to sign a contract – and advertise this as a feature – but to compensate they charge you more for it. Is that worth it? How much is it worth?

So the whole problem becomes essentially the problem Wall Street had analyzing mortgage bonds, only, you don’t have an army of PhD’s at your disposal like they had.

I don’t have the time to do that analysis. So I’m probably getting ripped off on my cell phone service. I don’t have the time to do much about it. See, I have a life. People who don’t have a life, or who don’t value their free time as highly as I do, probably do indeed dig into their phone contracts, shop around, look for deals and coupons and tricks to save money. Some people (unlike me) don’t mind doing stuff like that with their free time (or at least, they have far more free time than I do). These are the coupon-clippers, the fine-print readers, the people who call the 1-800 number. They do these things, they save money, and they’re presumably ok with the status quo, which in part involves me subsidizing the fact that they save money, because I end up paying what amounts to an “I-have-a-life” tax.

A lot of my views on economics come from resentment of having-a-life taxes. There’s no having-a-life tax on, say, books. If I want to buy the latest stupid-ass bestseller by Malcolm Gladwell, I can look at Barnes & Noble or Borders or and look at a bottom-line, flat, transparent number called the “price”. I can compare this “price” directly between one vendor and another. And I can choose the vendor with the lowest “price” if I want. Or let’s say it’s cheaper at one store but it’s farther away, if I buy it at a higher price at the closer store, at least I know how much I’m paying-up for that convenience. There’s no fine print, there’s no special surtax, there’s no ‘contract’. There’s no analysis to be done. I don’t have to set up a spreadsheet and run statistical simulations to get comfort that I’m getting a fair deal. I want a thing, they have the thing, they tell me directly how much money they want in exchange, I can compare that amount to that of other vendors, and on that basis I make the decision whether or not to hand it over.

To a good approximation, my deepest economic wish is for all markets to function like the book market.

Now let’s think about health insurance. In a way, how health insurance works is like how phone service works, multiplied a thousandfold. You have to sign up for a “plan”. It comes (probably) from your employer. You get a giant packet that no one with a life could possibly read. You get a little plastic card that you have to carry around with you. You might lose it.

You have to do stuff on websites and such, to enter your personal information. Pick a “primary” doctor. How do you pick a doctor? Oh, they have a convenient PDF-formatted list of their doctors that you can choose from. Who are they? Names on a list! Now you’ve picked your doctor. How do you see him, and when can you see him, how do you arrange this? Just read the packet! It’s all there! If you need help with any of this there’s a 1-800 number to call…


I. Have. A. Life.

Let’s say I got sick and needed to see a doctor tomorrow. I’m only partially joking when I say that I wouldn’t have the first clue how. I know that I can, because I have “insurance”, I have a “plan”. But as for the mechanics of how? Who I would see and where I would go and what I would have to do and what little cards I would have to dig up out of my giant file folder and what phone numbers I would have to call and what eleven-digit numbers I would have to have at hand? No clue. No clue whatsoever. I could do it if I really had to, mind you. But as you can see, I rarely do. The cost – for me – is too high. My healthcare is essentially being rationed already, by making it so freaking complicated to actually get that I’m only likely to think it worth my while when the blood is already spurting.

This is the result of the insurance system in all its glory. This is the effect it has on people like me. I almost never go to doctors. It’s not because I’m scared of doctors. Not at all. It’s just because it’s too much of a pain in the ass.

I don’t have this problem with buying books, or soap, or getting haircuts. Why is that?

I recognize that there are people not so much like me, for whom none of this is (as much of) a problem. They are the fine-print-readers. They don’t mind or resent, as I do, investing (sinking. wasting.) that amount of their free time in reading packets and pamphlets and instruction manuals. Well good for them. But my point here is that if the health-care market functioned sanely, I wouldn’t have to. Nobody would. There would be a business establishment called “the doctor’s office”. And if I wanted to see him, I would just freaking go there. He’d tell me how much he’d charge to see me, and I’d either do it or not.

The health-care market is not like this. That is part and parcel of why it is not a market. Not really. My point is that it should be. It used to be, and could be, and should be. There is no good reason why it couldn’t be.

Ironically, my annoyance with the insurance system is so high that it actually lessens my opposition to government-run health care. I may not be in favor of government health-care as a matter of principle, but at least if health-care was distributed by state kommissars in state offices where anyone could just freaking go there and get what they needed, there wouldn’t be this whole insurance rigamarole to deal with. You would still have a card, and a number, and the fine-print readers would still be able to deal with the bureaucracy better than I (especially if they know somebody who knows somebody…). But at least the playing field would be a bit more level. I wouldn’t be taxed quite as much for having a freaking life.

In fact, sometimes I wonder if maybe that was the idea all along – make health-care so unendurable that government-run health-care starts to seem like the lesser evil. If so, I think it’s worked.

In Which I Remind You Of Another Totally Real And Not Fake Argument The Left Made
July 23, 2009, 11:22 am
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I was just lamenting the other day how The Iraq War “distracted” us from the Real war on terrorism (which the Left totally cared about fighting). Well, the Left got their wish and ended The Iraq War. (Right? I mean, you don’t hear them complaining/whining about it anymore. So I assume it’s over? Seeing as how, if it weren’t over, why wouldn’t they still be whining?)

So then, now that the horrible “distraction” of The Iraq War is over, I guess that means we can once again “focus” on the Real war on terror ™. Which the Left totally wants to do! After all, they complained so much that we (supposedly) weren’t. Well now we’re free to. The Left got their wish, and let’s not forget, controls the executive and legislative branches of government. I assume this means we’ve been pursuing the Real war on terror with free rein. Which – again – the Left kept saying was what they wanted.


Too Far Away
July 18, 2009, 2:28 pm
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I think I’ve figured out the problem with the Star Wars prequels: none of the main characters are American.

You’ve got Qui-Gon, played by Liam Neeson, an Irishman. Obi-Wan is Ewan McGregor (Scot). Natalie Portman is an American, but Israeli-American, born in Jerusalem, and first rose to fame in a French movie (Leon or “The Professional” by Luc Besson). And Anakin is played by a Canadian guy straight out of Degrassi Junior High who carries himself and speaks with a candence that has that weird creepy off-putting Canadian way all Canadians have.



Anyway, but look at the difference: In the original Star Wars, Luke Skywalker was an all-American whiny boy with a surfer look who wanted to hot-rod but had to stay home to work on the farm, straight out of American Graffiti or of course Corvette Summer. He could have been the high school kid down the street who seems so cool when you’re much younger than he is. Princess Leia was Eddie Fisher’s daughter from the Rat Pack; ok she faked that bizarre British accent in the first one, but by #2 she had dropped all that and was this can-do tough girl with sass (and by #3 she’s in a bikini). Chewie is basically a walking pet dog. All the bad guys are British and all the Brits are bad guys except for Obi-Wan, who is (essentially) Merlin. And then of course there’s Harrison Ford – as American as apple pie. And please let’s not forget his friend Lando!

There’s nothing wrong with the prequels in the effects department or even some of the stories. The problem is the characters. You literally don’t care about any of them, and some of them you wouldn’t mind seeing lasered to bits.

I think it’s because they’re not Americans like in the first trilogy.


Under everyone’s noses the SF Giants are quietly actually having a pretty good season. The other day Jonathan Sanchez threw the first SF Giants no-hitter in over 30 years. With his Dad watching in the stands. Apparently his Dad had never been to one of his major-league games starts before….

Being on the East Coast I had to wake up the next morning to find out about it. I refreshed my browser and the box score I had had open from the previous night still said 0 hits, which I thought had to be a mistake. When I saw that it was for real, I was about as excited as it’s humanly possible to be at 6:15 a.m. on a weekday before your coffee and shower & with everyone else asleep. has edited the game down to a three minute forty-eight second video of pure joy. McCovey Chronicles has a good run-down of the awesomeness.

I defy you to look at the above picture and not be moved. At least a little.

The AIB Anomaly
July 11, 2009, 2:08 pm
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It happens quite often that I revisit some movie I thought was great when I was younger, only to realize now, in retrospect, with my changed tastes and whatnot, that it sucks and is practically unwatchable. (I suppose I probably liked, say, Weird Science or Back To School with Rodney Dangerfield well enough at the time, for example.) Of course there are some gems that were great from the start and still hold up whenever you watch them (think Raiders of the Lost Ark).

But then there’s the curious case of Adventures In Babysitting.

I remember understanding that Adventures In Babysitting was a dumb cheesy ’80s movie even at the time it came out. I was embarrassed by its attempts at humor and turned off by the manipulative scenes of ‘movie moments’ such as when Elisabeth Shue ends up on a club stage and has to improvise a blues song, or the forced/contrived emotions and relationships between the characters that (it was obvious to me even at the time) were like something cookie-cutterish straight out of teen movie-writing 101.

I recently caught part of it again.

Guess what? It was pretty awesome! At once surreal and genuine, a surprisingly good performance by Elisabeth Shue (I’ve still never seen her Oscar-winning turn in Leaving Las Vegas, but I doubt it was any better), an amazingly high number of high-quality classic-rock songs on the soundtrack, unpredictable and just plain weird. This may actually be the only movie in existence that I hated as a kid but like now!

An anomaly. Should be studied by Scientists.

I even like the blues-club scene now.

Notes And Chords Mean Nothing To Me
July 10, 2009, 11:43 pm
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The second-best version of Europe’s “The Final Countdown” that I have ever heard.

July 10, 2009, 11:41 pm
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I was rereading some old posts of mine and realized something: I actually kinda like this blog.

If it were some other blog that wasn’t mine but was written by someone else, I’d totally read it and everything.

Made-Up Labels

Via MR, a good post about how the very term “stimulus” essentially wins the debate before it starts.

After all, who could be against “stimulating” the economy? What, you want to depress the economy?

It’s like “campaign finance reform”. Who could be against it? You don’t want to reform campaign finance?

Almost all our political debates, when you think about it, are plagued by these problems of propagandistic, biased, screwy, or otherwise misleading terminology: health care reform (“single payer”), Middle East relations (“the Muslim World”), the climate (“climate change”), etc.

I guess that having become so disillusioned with politics that I don’t believe any of it anymore, and with an administration whose foreign policy I expect to accomplish nothing good whatsoever, it’s only natural that this has become my latest pet peeve: terminology and how it influences (and in some cases, biases unrecoverably) our debates.

Here’s a more controversial example: “recession”. Everyone knows that we’re “in a recession” right now, right?

Well hold on. What’s a “recession”? Is a “recession” a real, tangible, objective, physical phenomenon? No. It’s just a label we’ve made up to slap onto certain economic states of affairs. It has a definition. The economy meets that definition, so we’re “in a recession”, something that all sorts of smart people have thought it terribly important to take note of. Or when it’s not “a recession”, people start to prognosticate and wonder whether we are, or will be. People actually get in fights about it. That’s how important some people think this label is.

But I disagree. Yes, sure it’s important & noteworthy that the unemployment rate (say) is going up, and all sorts of related economic facts – things that can be measured – are bad. But that would be important whether or not we called it “a recession”. (Would this unemployment rate be ok if it weren’t “a recession”? No!)

These labels we have – “recession”, “depression” – are stupid and screw up peoples’ thinking.

For example, once people become convinced “there’s a recession”, they are suddenly easy to convince to throw all the rules of common sense out the window. In ordinary times, of course, the idea of government spending 800 kabillion dollars it doesn’t have on unspecified pork would be seen for what it is. But last fall, most of the country clearly got freaked out of their minds by so much talk about “the recession” that they said “Sure, go ahead! After all, there’s a recession on! So we should do it!”

Stupid thinking.

As an analogy suppose I studied crime statistics with my free time, and I invented some term, let’s say ‘Alpha-Wave Crime Pattern’ (AWCP). I make a definition for what an ‘Alpha-Wave Crime Pattern’ is, and write it down. (Let’s say it’s: three consecutive quarters of violent-crime increase in at least 70% of the top 15 Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs), along with a jump of at least 15% in mortgage defaults for in quarter #2 of those 3; doesn’t really matter. The point is it’s just some criteria I pull out of my butt and call the ‘definition’ of an AWCP.) Then I set up an Organization dedicated to measuring these crime statistics, and when an AWCP is reached, I make a big grandiose press conference and announce my Official declaration that the crime situation is now, Officially, an AWCP.

So far so good?

Actually, so far, you wouldn’t care. Big deal. Let me make my announcement. But what if there were all these pseudoscientific theories about what AWCP’s meant? Like, everyone who went to college had to study the definition of AWCP’s, and historical examples of AWCP’s, and thus anytime we near the onset of an AWCP (again: a term I made up), people started to get nervous? And ask each other “do you think an AWCP is coming?”, and get in arguments over whether we ‘really’ are or aren’t in an AWCP?

Start to seem silly yet? Well I’m not finished. Now ordinarily there are certain things we all take for granted about crime and crime-fighting:

-people are innocent until proven guilty.
-habeas corpus.
-trial by peers.

Now, suppose that an ‘AWCP’ came along – an Official AWCP, you see – and suddenly a bunch of opportunistic politicians and ideologues started shrieking: “Don’t you understand? We can’t afford to stick with your arcane rules at such a time as this! There’s an Alpha-Wave on you heartless bastard!

And then they rushed through a giant “alpha-wave-fighting” bill through Congress, a bill that none of them read, which

-suspends habeas corpus.
-bypasses criminal trials.
-changes burden of proof to the defendant.

“Because there’s an Alpha-Wave! Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures!”

This whole example seems silly but as a matter of fact it’s exactly what has happened to us in the past 9 months. Just replace “crime” with “economy”, “Alpha-Wave” with “recession”, and “alpha-wave-fighter” with “stimulus”.

Back to reality, here’s a real term people use that, in my view, isn’t actually all that different from “recession”: “three black crows”. You don’t know what “three black crows” is? Why, it’s a term in ‘technical analysis’ of stock trading, a somewhat maligned and goofy but persistent art that involves studying stock graphs to (supposedly) find patterns that can be used for profitable trading. You can read about “three black crows” here. Like “recession”, you see, it’s a human-made-up term that has a definition, and at any given time a stock’s chart will either display a “three black crows” pattern or it won’t.

Now then, I think it’s perfectly clear that when a stock is “in a three black crows pattern”, everyone understands that however meaningful the underlying movements might be, calling it something like “three black crows” is an arbitrary label that people have attached to the stock price. It’s not some sort of law of nature that when a stock gets into a ‘three black crows’ state, that such-and-such will happen. There is no such law. Yes there are stock traders who might think so, but those are conjectures, or perhaps one should say hunches, or hopes, and they may or may not be right – and make or lose a ton of money – at any given time. God be with them.

But certainly if the US President ever began a sentence with, “My fellow Americans, the stock market is in a Three Black Crows pattern, which means [A, B, C], and therefore we need to [X, Y, Z]“, you’d think he was a superstitious lunatic who should keep his chart-reading theories to himself, and perhaps even be more than a little freaked out.

But for some reason he can say “My fellow Americans, the economy is in A Recession, and therefore we need to spend 800 billion dollars we don’t have on whatever-the-hell we can think of”, everyone nods their heads at the wise caring sage. He sure knows what he’s talking about! That’s Keynesian!

Look. The economy is bad, there’s no doubt about that. And to the extent that government can fix it, it should try to do so. But the things done to fix it should make sense on their own terms, from first principles, with real arguments, and not due to barely-better-than-superstitious theories based on these labels we have – “recession”, “stimulus” – which are not helping. Indeed they bypass actual human thought.

I spit on these made-up labels. People who attach too much meaning to them are morons.

  1. Megan McArdle’s review of Bruno made me wonder what she could possibly mean by: “I haven’t laughed so weakly at a movie in years.”

    Does she mean she has laughed harder at all other movies she’s seen in recent years, than at Bruno? What about a depressing weepfest like Million Dollar Baby? Still laughed harder? Or does (as seems more likely) she just mean, of all the movies she laughed at, she laughed the most weakly at Bruno? That would be a weird (if interesting) criticism, because in a way, that’s a hard feat for a movie to accomplish. It’s easy for a movie to have no laughs at all, of course. Or, a cheesy dumb movie could have a moderate amount of pretty big laughs fairly easily, I would think. But how does a movie make you laugh, but more weakly than anything else you’ve ever laughed at? A tricky needle to thread. How weak can a laugh actually be and still be a laugh, anyway?

  2. Matthew Yglesias makes an argument in favor of soda taxes that relies heavily on this deep, advanced governmental concept:

    Think about the case for taxing income, via the income tax and FICA. Why do it? Well, to get the money.

    Yes, government needs to ‘get’ your money. That’s an overriding function of government, to ‘get’ stuff from you. You probably just don’t realize that because you didn’t go to Harvard like Matthew Yglesias.

    The really great thing about his argument is that it can be used, unchanged, to support the following proposal I’m hereby putting forth:

    1. First, let’s make a list of all the things that Matthew Yglesias buys/spends with his money significantly more than the general population does. We’ll make it as particular as possible. If he lives on the 1100 block on his street, and pays rent there, we’ll include “paying rent on 1100 blocks of streets”. If he ever eats Roquefort cheese, we’ll include that. If he likes to buy Rilo Kiley albums, we’ll include that.
    2. Then let’s pass a special 90% excise tax on the purchase of all of those things (but only for people who spend money on, say, 75% of the list’s items).
    3. By Matthew Yglesias’s own argument, this will ‘get’ money from him (which is the most important thing, from the government’s point of view) and will not hurt society as a whole very much (because it’s so focused on Matthew Yglesias’s likes/needs/wants that the tax won’t hit very many other people very strongly).
    4. Therefore, by Matthew Yglesias’s argument, it’s a good idea and should be implemented.

    I’m assuming in the preceding that Matthew Yglesias truly and consistently believes in his own argument(s), of course.

  3. Danny Lemieux at Bookworm’s Room on future shocks and global warming.

    The sad thing is that we are about to find out that these pseudo-scientific hysterias have profound real-life, real-world costs. They are being very cleverly manipulated by demagogues that enrich themselves by cleverly manipulating a future shock population with just enough kernels of truth to satisfy their wildest fears and conspiracy fantasies, the facts be d***ed.

  4. It’s so sad to me that I greet the news of a potential live-action Star Wars production (for TV, presumably) with dread rather than excitement. You know, I’d have never believed 10 years ago that it was possible for George Lucas to have squandered so much goodwill.
  5. Wish I’d said that: Foreign-aid veteran Jacqueline Novogratz quoted at Marginal Revolution: “Philanthropy can appeal to people who want to be loved more than they want to make a difference.”
  6. BONUS: How Terminator came to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Stupid Headline Follow-Up Question
July 8, 2009, 12:17 am
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AP story headline: Poignant service says goodbye to M.J., the man

As opposed to M.J., the _____________?

Movie Geography
July 6, 2009, 10:40 am
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Netflix has a feature called “see what’s popular somewhere else”. This allows you to enter a location (city/state or zip code) and get a list of movies that people in that location are currently renting “much more than other Netflix members”.

I wish I had time to poke around and explore in greater detail because the results seem potentially interesting. Here’s the top 5 for New York, New York:

  1. Rogue Trader (an older B-movie-quality Ewan McGregor Wall Street movie)
  2. The Last Kiss (all I know is this was remade in English as a Zach Braff vehicle)
  3. New York Stories
  4. Next Stop, Greenwich Village
  5. L’Innocente

Wall Street shenanigans, Italian stuff, and movies with “New York” in the title. Predictable?

How about Mountain View, California (home of Google):

  1. Palo Alto (lo-budget wannabe college-angst thing that I couldn’t get through)
  2. A Wednesday (Indian movie)
  3. Die Another Day
  4. The Valet (French Daniel Auteuil movie)
  5. Physics: The Elegant Universe And Beyond (documentary)

So: local interest, nerdy stuff, Indian stuff, and crappy but action-packed (read: international-friendly) James Bond vehicle. Yup, rings true as stuff that might be rented by Google engineers.

What about, for no apparent reason, Ames Iowa?

  1. Iowa (indie meth thriller)
  2. Beverly Hills Cop III
  3. The Final Season (HS baseball movie with Sean Astin from “Rudy”)
  4. K-19 the Widowmaker
  5. Beerfest

Local place in title, sports movies, beer movies, military movies, and crappy Hollywood comedy schlock like you’d pick up for the kids on a trip to Wal-Mart. This rings true as well!

What I find fascinating is how utterly predictable are the movies that filter up to the top of this. You put in New York, a lot of Woody Allen comes up. You put in heartland America, and sports movies come up. And of course having the name of a local place in the title of the movie is a surefire winner.

How about, oh, Ashland Oregon, the granola-crunching home of a yearly Shakespeare festival? “Lefty agitprop, foreign movies and lesbian stuff”, I guessed before even typing it in. And I was right! (#1: Hearts and Minds, Vietnam doc. #2: Foyle’s War, British serial. #13: Three Days Of The Condor, Robert Redford vehicle of “This is about oil isn’t it?” fame. #15: The L Word….)

Are people so predictable? Is geography destiny? Or does culture determine geography?

The next step is for some enterprising programmer to create an app that scans your movie preferences/ratings and uses these lists to compute your ideal location. Where should you be living, purely based on your movie tastes? From what I’ve seen here, the results look as if they might end up fairly robust.

July 5, 2009, 7:50 pm
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After what must be my 10th viewing, I’m starting to think that Barcelona might be my favorite movie of all-time. It’s in the top 10 certainly.

I love its classic riff on The Graduate:

Fred: You think wedding vows are going to change everything? God, your naivete is astounding! Didn’t you see “The Graduate”?

Ted: You can remember “The Graduate”?

Fred: Yeah, I can remember a few things. Apparently you don’t. The end? Katharine Ross has just married this really cool guy – tall, blond, incredibly popular, the make-out king of his fraternity in Berkeley – when this obnoxious Dustin Hoffman character shows up at the back of the church, acting like a total asshole. “Elaine! Elaine!” Does Katharine Ross tell Dustin Hoffman, “Get lost, creep. I’m a married woman”? No. She runs off with him – on a bus. That is the reality.

From time to time I find some reason to say “that’s the reality” in a conversation with someone. I’m always thinking of this clip, and perhaps I give a little chuckle, like I just made an inside joke (which I really didn’t, at least, not a good/effective one). The person I’m talking to, of course, will have had no idea what I’m talking about.

In fact, I drop a lot of inside references to Barcelona in conversations with people. “Every day, in every way, I am becoming a better and better lieutenant junior grade.” “Where are the red ants?” In case you hadn’t guessed, it’s really depressing to find oneself dropping references to a movie virtually no one has seen.

So go see it please!

The Boundaries Of Comedy
July 5, 2009, 3:16 am
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“Never joke about cake, or squirrels.” -M., age 4.75

The Cure For Outrage: Correct Pronunciation
July 4, 2009, 9:58 pm
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I must have read about a dozen blog posts expressing shock and disbelief about the Russian naming of the new Russian-Nigerian joint venture Nigaz, before I figured out what everyone was upset about.

Naturally, being somewhat familiar with Russian, I assumed this was a transliteration of something like “нигаз” and just read this as nee-GAHZ. Big deal. I did think it a little odd because my amateurish Russian was initially inclined to parse this as “not gas”, but then I conjectured that the “Ni” part was probably a “ни” for “Nigeria”, not a “не-” prefix for negation. Anyway, is that what everyone’s so upset about?, I wondered. That they almost named a joint gas venture, in effect, “not-gas”? Maybe that doesn’t make sense, and is a little stupid and unimaginative, but so what? There are plenty of foreign corporate names that sound stupid to English ears (“TotalFinaElf”, anyone? Or one of my favorites that I kept encountering at work, the troubled Icelandic bank “Kaupthing”, which I instinctively mentally pronounce to the tune of that song “Wild Thing”?). Oh well, I shrugged, figured I was just missing something, and let it go.

But I kept seeing post after post on it, and they were talking about things like “racism”, and such, that made absolutely no sense to me. Finally, on like the dozenth blog post, I figured out how everyone else must be reading it.

But this is easily answered: they’re just not pronouncing it correctly. They literally don’t know what they’re talking about. They’re looking at an English transliteration of a foreign word, reading it wrong, and getting outraged.

This reminds me of the whole “niggardly” brouhaha a couple years back. Ignorance, it seems, gives one license to vent the dumbest sort of outrage. And clearly the more ignorant you are, the more opportunities you have to find things to be outraged by. And it increasingly seems as if the ignorant are demanding that everyone else conform to standards of language and thought that won’t even offend the ignorant. So now when you name something, or use a word, you not only have to be careful not to offend normal people who have a minimum amount of intelligence/knowledge and will read/interpret you correctly, you have to also try to imagine all the ways which ignorant idiots could misread/misinterpret/etc., and make sure not to offend them, either.

It’s exhausting.

Side note: not sure if this is related, but it always irks me when the “gangsta” pronunciation of “player” is transcribed as “playa”. Maybe it’s just because I used to live in San Diego, close to Mexico, but every single time I come across this usage of “playa”, at first the only thing I think of is the beach….

Other Ways I Waste My Time
July 4, 2009, 3:44 pm
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For those curious, see me waste tons of time in this Matthew Yglesias thread below a post about how we need more ‘stimulus’.

My take-away lesson from that thread is that I’m on the right track with my bleeding analogy for ‘stimulus’. It really appears to hit home – ‘stimulus’ advocates definitely are bothered by it enough to feel compelled to respond – and yet they have no good substantive response for it, and simply can’t explain how their approach is different from, and more informed by reality than, bleeding-the-patient-till-he-gets-better, which strengthens my conviction that I’m really onto something.

Jedi Master Palin
July 4, 2009, 12:48 am
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I think I’ve figured it out, lefties: Palin didn’t quit. She’s not dead. Feel that empty pink pant-suit…..

….she’s just pulled an Obi-Wan. Haha!

That’s right! She dropped her lightsaber, you’ve foolishly struck her down, and so now she’s more powerful than you can possibly imagine!



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