When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

30 December 2007

Greenwich Village Idiot, 12-30-2007 Edition

Special guest host Chap, of Chapomatic, brings us a special end-of-2007 edition of the Greenwich Village Idiot podcast (MP3 link, 93 MB.)

ArabicPod.net podcast
Gang of Four - Anthrax - FAST Records version
Price Is Right - someone opened the wrong door
Bob Dylan introduces the guy who made the Cadillac Ranch
Dynamics - Seven Nation Army
Frank Sinatra - Pontiac shill
MDID - Mysterious Ways
John Rydgren - Butterfly Doing Pushups (from Silhouette Segments)
Dooce - On The Alamo and Basements
Lord Melody
Otis Sez Stay In Sckool
Shelley Manne and his Men - Checkmate
Himself - Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
England TV test card - Three Rivers Fantasy
Katie Lee - Will To Fail
Slim Gaillard - Slim's Jam

Direct download: Greenwich Village Idiot podcast, 12/30/2007 (93 MB MP3)

Greenwich Village Idiot - the enrevanche podcast

Hugh Massingberd, R.I.P.

The man who essentially reinvented the obituary in English newspaper journalism has died a young, untimely death; Hugh Massingberd of the Daily Telegraph passed away on Christmas Day, aged 60.

His fellow obituarists around the world, not just at his home paper, have pulled out all the stops:
Everyone has a favorite story. The New York Times, for one, felt obliged to educate its American readers:

To dispatch his subjects, Mr. Massingberd used the thinnest of rapiers, but also the sharpest. Cataclysmic understatement and carefully coded euphemism were the stylistic hallmarks of his page. Here, for the benefit of American readers, is an abridged Massingberd-English dictionary:

¶“Convivial”: Habitually drunk.

¶“Did not suffer fools gladly”: Monstrously foul-tempered.

¶“Gave colorful accounts of his exploits”: A liar.

¶“A man of simple tastes”: A complete vulgarian.

¶“A powerful negotiator”: A bully.

¶“Relished the cadences of the English language”: An incorrigible windbag.

¶“Relished physical contact”: A sadist.

¶“An uncompromisingly direct ladies’ man”: A flasher.

He will be missed.

29 December 2007

Yes, that about covers it

Radley Balko reacts to the news that Bill Kristol's new gig will be writing op-ed pieces at the New York Times:
A pretty uninspiring choice. It means the Times op-ed page will be well-represented by big government liberals (Krugman, Herbert), big government moderates (Friedman, Kristof), and big government conservatives (Brooks, Kristol). I do believe that just about covers the full range of acceptable political opinion, doesn't it?
Radley Balko: Failing Upward (Hit and Run blog, 28 December 2007)

99 problems but a rat ain't one

Got the cat patrol on the rat patrol (with apologies to Jay-Z):
They are the homeless of the domestic animal world -- colonies of feral cats that roam residential neighborhoods and lurk around office buildings and commercial garages, scavenging for food.

Unlike other strays that might rub up against a leg hoping for a crumb or a head rub, these felines are so unaccustomed to human contact that they dart away when people approach. Feral cats cannot be turned into house pets. When they end up in municipal shelters, they have little hope of coming out alive.

But one animal welfare group has figured out a way to save their lives and put them to work in Los Angeles. The Working Cats program of Voice for the Animals, a Los Angeles-based animal advocacy and rescue group, has placed feral cats in a handful of police stations with rodent problems, just as the group placed cats in the rat-plagued downtown flower district several years ago -- to great effect.

Six feral cats were recently installed as ratters in the parking lot of the Los Angeles Police Department's Southeast Division, and another group will be housed at the Central Division early in the new year.
LAPD enlists feral cats for rat patrol (LA Times, 29 December 2007)

For more information: The Working Cats Program of the Voice for the Animals Foundation

28 December 2007

Possessed of a tragic sense...

...“Would you pledge to the American people that Iran would not build a nuclear bomb on your watch?” Russert asked the assembled Democratic contenders. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards played the old survival game of running out the clock, and then came Biden. “We talk about this in isolation,” Biden said. “The fact of the matter is the Iranians may get 2.6 kilograms of highly enriched uranium. But the Pakistanis have hundreds, thousands of kilograms of highly enriched uranium.” Given that Pakistan already has missiles with nuclear warheads, capable of reaching India and Israel, Biden argued, it would be a “bad bargain” if an attack on Iran caused the government of Pakistan to fall. “What is the greatest threat to the United States of America: 2.6 kilograms of highly enriched uranium in Tehran or an out-of-control Pakistan?” he asked. “It’s not close.”

Biden is not immune to the charms of his own intelligence, but in these bewildering days following the murder of Benazir Bhutto it is hard not to recall his moment of clarity and his grasp of historical complexity—the recognition that political decision-making is not a matter of raising three fingers and making a scout’s pledge. Whatever his weaknesses as a candidate, he seems, after thirty-five years in the Senate, possessed of a tragic sense. In this, he presents a helpful contrast to, say, Mike Huckabee who, in his various blithe displays of global ignorance during the campaign, has served to make the man he hopes to succeed seem the incarnation of Talleyrand.

States of Emergency: Bhutto and the Candidates (David Remnick, "Talk of the Town," The New Yorker, 7 January 2008)

26 December 2007

"Better not to come."

MEXICO CITY -- Lorenzo Martinez, an illegal immigrant who has lived in Los Angeles for six years, has a message for his kin in Mexico's Hidalgo state: Stay put.

The steady construction work that had allowed him to send home as much as $1,000 a month in recent years had disappeared. The 36-year-old father of four said desperation was growing among the day laborers with whom he was competing for odd jobs.

Sporadic employment isn't the half of it. Martinez said anxiety also was running high among undocumented workers about stepped-up workplace raids, deportations and increasing demands by U.S. employers for proof that they were in the country legally.

"Better not to come," Martinez said of anyone thinking about crossing into the U.S. illegally. "The situation is really bad."
The undocumented hesitate to enter a less-alluring U.S. (Los Angeles Times, 26 Dec 2007)

25 December 2007

I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.

2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David)

5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
Gospel of St. Luke, Chapter 2, verses 1-14 (King James version.)

Happy Christmas, one and all!

24 December 2007

The Year in Newsbreaks (The New Yorker)

Noted in the nation's press in 2007... this time, from The New Yorker.

Advertisement in the Battle Creek (Mich.) Enquirer.
Full service hotel looking to expand its existing food operation with a quality Sioux chief. Salary range 25KO, commensurate with experience.
The place must serve a lot of buffalo burgers.



From the Washington Post.
After he was exposed, Lambton told an intelligence officer that he had thrown himself into a “frenzied” round of “gardening and debauchery” to get over the fact that he had lost a three-year battle over the use of his father’s title.


From an advice column in the Lansing (Mich.) State Journal.
For fun and to try to mix this up a little, you two might develop a verbal or visual cue that is subtler than simply asking for sex. For instance when one of you mentions Vice President Cheney, that’s your code.


From the St. Helena (Calif.) Star.
St. Helena urologist Dr. James Woolley will present the facts on basic bladder health, and Glenn Ratterree from Steves Hardware, will present advice on the basics of do-it-yourself plumbing during a free course in basic home maintenance and a lesson on the challenges of midlife bladder control.

Merry modernist Christmas

Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpiece of modern design, Fallingwater, realized as a gingerbread house.

(via Serious Eats).

23 December 2007

Ahead of his time

J. Edgar Hoover founded the Federal Bureau of Investigation in its modern form and was, amazingly, Director for almost 50 years, spanning the presidencies of Calvin Coolidge through Richard Nixon.

It has recently emerged that, in 1950, at the outbreak of the Korean War, Hoover advanced a plan to suspend the writ of habeas corpus and consign 12,000 people, the vast majority of whom were putatively disloyal American citzens on whom the FBI had been keeping very close watch, to indefinite terms of imprisonment:

Hoover sent his plan to the White House on July 7, 1950, 12 days after the Korean War began. It envisioned putting suspect Americans in military prisons.

Hoover wanted President Harry S. Truman to proclaim the mass arrests necessary to “protect the country against treason, espionage and sabotage.” The F.B.I would “apprehend all individuals potentially dangerous” to national security, Hoover’s proposal said. The arrests would be carried out under “a master warrant attached to a list of names” provided by the bureau.

The names were part of an index that Hoover had been compiling for years. “The index now contains approximately twelve thousand individuals, of which approximately ninety-seven per cent are citizens of the United States,” he wrote.

“In order to make effective these apprehensions, the proclamation suspends the Writ of Habeas Corpus,” it said.


The prisoners eventually would have had a right to a hearing under the Hoover plan. The hearing board would have been a panel made up of one judge and two citizens. But the hearings “will not be bound by the rules of evidence,” his letter noted.

The man was a visionary. Of course, he did have the template of the Palmer Raids to work from.

Sadly for our existentially threatened country, Harry Truman was a complete wuss, and he didn't go for this idea, and so, you know, the Communists took over and stuff.

Oh, wait.

Hoover Planned Mass Jailings in 1950 (New York Times, 23 December 2007)

22 December 2007

Of course, the thirty-six hours of wakefulness exacts its own price

The most expensive drink you can order at a Manhattan Starbucks:
A 13 shot venti soy hazelnut vanilla cinnamon white mocha with extra white mocha and caramel. It cost a total of $13.76 (with tax).

A working class hero is something to be

Across the city, delis and bodegas are a familiar and vital part of the streetscape, modest places where customers can pick up necessities, a container of milk, a can of soup, a loaf of bread.

Amid the goods found in the stores, there is one thing that many owners and employees say they cannot do without: their cats. And it goes beyond cuddly companionship. These cats are workers, tireless and enthusiastic hunters of unwanted vermin, and they typically do a far better job than exterminators and poisons.


But as efficient as the cats may be, their presence in stores can lead to legal trouble. The city’s health code and state law forbid animals in places where food or beverages are sold for human consumption. Fines range from $300 for a first offense to $2,000 or higher for subsequent offenses.

“Any animal around food presents a food contamination threat,” said Robert M. Corrigan, a rodentologist and research scientist for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. “And so that means anything from animal pieces and parts to hair and excrement could end up in food, and that alone, of course, is a violation of the health code.”

To Dismay Of Inspectors, Prowling Cats Keep Rodents On The Run At City Delis (New York Times, 22 December 2007)

Because, of course, it's much healthier to have the rats and mice in the store. Thank God our tireless city government health inspectors are trying to rid us of the feline menace.


Just another instance where I'm speechlessly grateful that city government is so goddamned inefficient... if I were getting all the New York City government I'm paying for, I doubt I could stand it.

Related: Working Class Cats (a blog about store cats in NYC)

...but where's step 2?

With reference to this post, commenter Mike asks, "But where's step 2?"

Mike: exactly.

For the uninitiated, "Step 3: Profit!" is a meme from Metafilter... someone notices a phenomenon (Step 1), skips over step 2, where you figure out how to monetize it--ideally by listing Step 2 as a placeholder with a question mark--and goes directly to step 3, where we're all on Easy Street.

(It apparently has its origins in a joke from an early episode of South Park about the business plans of the Underpants Gnomes.)

Before you dismiss this entirely, please consider that this was the entire business model that won billions of dollars in VC funding during the last dotcom boom.

20 December 2007

Music as a trigger for memory

She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called petites madeleines, which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim's shell. And soon, mechanically, weary after a dull day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate than a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place…at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory…”

— Remembrance of Things Past, Volume 1: Swann's Way (Marcel Proust)
Proust's petite madeleine became so famous that "madeleine" is now cultural shorthand for anything (usually a sensory phenomenon) that triggers deep and involuntary recollection of memories.

As I'm getting older and have a constantly increasing reserve of stored memories to tap into, I'm finding that this phenomenon happens to me more and more, and especially with the senses of taste and smell. (Google "olfaction and memory" and you'll be paralyzed by the volume of current academic research on smell as a memory trigger.)

Yesterday it happened to me again. This time, music was the trigger.

I had stumbled across a good sale at a music store online and bought, among other things, copies of "Murmur" and "Reckoning", R.E.M.'s first two full-length albums on I.R.S. Records.

As a good alternative rock fan who was in high school and college down in North Carolina in the early 1980s when these records first came out -- compact discs were new, people; we still bought and played these things on vinyl -- I literally wore out more than one copy of each record.

But I hadn't listened to these songs straight through, in album order (as I must have done countless times in various altered states) for years and years.

When I did -- yesterday morning, in my office, as it happens -- twenty-five years melted away in an instant.

And I was, just for a moment or two, no longer sitting in an office in a high-rent Manhattan skyscraper.

No. I was perched on the old couch in my crappy little apartment on Rosemary Street in Chapel Hill, with a glass of cheap Portuguese wine in my hand, surrounded by long-absent friends, in the fullness of deep and involuntary memory.

Meet the Beatnix

via John Scalzi, a very funny amalgam of Led Zeppelin and The Beatles.

Country-punk band Dash Rip Rock sometimes performs a Lynryd Skynyrd/Led Zep mashup, creating the ur-song of my youth spent listening to album-oriented rock stations in the American South: "Stairway to Freebird." Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be YouTube video available.

Updated and bumped: Stairway to Freebird (mp3), via WFMU's Beware of the Blog (thanks, Chap!)

19 December 2007

I suppose this means that Donovan is just mad about me

As friend Scott says, "these online quizzes are always right!"

Note: The above may be the only safe-for-work link currently on Scott's site. :-) You have been warned.
Your Score: Saffron

You scored 100% intoxication, 25% hotness, 75% complexity, and 50% craziness!

You are Saffron!

Those other spices have nothing on you! You're warm, smart, and you make people feel really good (and with no side-effects!). You can be difficult to get to know and require a lot of those who try, but you're so totally worth it. *Sigh*
Link: The Which Spice Are You Test

18 December 2007

The history of the human race in 60 seconds

  • First, tribes: tough life.
  • The defaults beyond the intimate tribe were violence, aversion to difference, and slavery. Superstition: everywhere.
  • Culture overcomes them partially.
  • Rainfall agriculture, which allows loners.
  • Irrigation agriculture, which favors community.
  • Division of labor plus exchange in trade bring mutual cooperation, even outside the tribe.
  • The impulse is always there, though: "Kill or enslave the outsider."
  • Gradual science from Athens' compact with reason.
  • Division of labor, trade, the mastery of knowledge, plus time brought surplus, sometimes a peaceful extended order and, rules diversely evolved and, the cooperation of strangers - always warring against the fierce defaults of tribalism, violence, and ignorance.
  • No one who teaches you knows what will happen.
Alan Charles Kors, George H. Walker Endowed Term Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania

via Mark Hurst @ Good Experience

Stagflation on the way?

I've been one of those on the stagflation bandwagon, deeply concerned about the weakness of the dollar, the likelihood of the Fed continuing to reduce rates in the face of locked-up credit markets, rising food and energy prices and persistent and rising deficits. This is a toxic macroeconomic cocktail I've written about and which has been the source of much worry. And to add insult to injury, a rash of economic statistics were released last week that generated articles this weekend that only served to reinforce my Droopy Dog attitude towards the US economic landscape. So I'm here to share the pain.
Information Arbitrage: My Gloomy Thesis Is Playing Out (18 Dec 2007)

16 December 2007

Dreaming of a white trash Christmas

We'll decorate the mobile home.

(Thanks, Tarus.)

Step 3: Profit!

The secret to generating a huge number of comments on your blog: Write about Robert Heinlein and fanfic in the same week; each entry is at about 450 comments. By concatenation, this means writing an entry concerning fanfic about Heinlein books would come close to 1000 comments, and that writing erotic fanfic featuring Heinlein and Ayn Rand would generate so many comments that the entire power grid east of the Mississippi would collapse under the load. Given the severity of the weather at the moment, I am loathe to do that. We’ll save it for summer.
Whatever: "Just In Case You Were Wondering" (John Scalzi) - 16 Dec 2007

15 December 2007

We will string them up by their Hermès ties!

More "socialism is so over" news:
A video of a Gucci- and Louis Vuitton-clad politician attacking capitalism then struggling to explain how his luxurious clothes square with his socialist beliefs has become an instant YouTube hit in Venezuela.

Venezuelan Interior Minister Pedro Carreno was momentarily at a loss for words when a journalist interrupted his speech and asked if it was not contradictory to criticize capitalism while wearing Gucci shoes and a tie made by Parisian luxury goods maker Louis Vuitton.

"I don't, uh ... I ... of course," stammered Carreno on Tuesday before regaining his composure. "It's not contradictory because I would like Venezuela to produce all this so I could buy stuff produced here instead of 95 percent of what we consume being imported." The video clip (www.youtube.com/watch?v=aDsdXkY4UlE) had been viewed more than 15,000 times on Thursday, a day after it was posted on the YouTube Web site.
"Vuitton-Clad Venezuealan Minister Spouts Socialism," Reuters, via Hit and Run

You don't need to speak good Spanish to appreciate Sr. Carreno's discomfiture here... or the amused reactions of the other folks in the shot.

Communism: *really* over.

“Did you see it? Did you? Go home and look!” she sputtered. “It’s starts out totally normal and boring, with the Chinese-looking bride graduating from some American university with a technology degree, and the wedding to the American at some trendy resort with a Baptist minister. But look further and it turns out the bride’s father was a head of the People’s Liberation Army of China. Mao must be turning in his grave!”

“I looked at the announcement,” Miriam continued, “and said, ‘This is it. The child of a commander of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army makes it into Weddings in the New York Times. What else is there to say about The New World Order?’”

Debbie Nathan: Grace Paley, Edward Said, Mao in “Sex and The (Yiddishkeit) City”

via Hit and Run

Appearing tonight in the leading role: nobody you've ever heard of

If, as is increasingly the case, stars cannot be relied on to commit to a long run, or show up for eight performances a week, month in and month out, producers may exclusively pursue material that doesn't require a particular personality to put it across. ("We are much closer to doing theme-park shows than we ever were," as Mr. Azenberg puts it.) The problems that bedeviled the producers of "The Producers" in trying to find suitably starry replacements for Mr. Lane and his co-star Matthew Broderick underscore the point. While it's still a major hit, the show lost altitude once its marquee stars departed, and will probably not match the marathon runs of the biggest Brit shows. At the same time, revivals may soon be exclusively entrusted to visiting television and movie names with varying musical abilities, like [Brooke] Shields (great comedian, so-so singer) and Hugh Jackman (full marks on all counts).
Charles Isherwood, "Broadway's No-Show Business," The New York Times

13 December 2007

We regret the error

Regret The Error's list of the top 2007 corrections in the MSM is out, and it doesn't disappoint.

In an article in Monday’s newspaper, there may have been a misperception about why a Woodstock man is going to Afghanistan on a voluntary mission. Kevin DeClark is going to Afghanistan to gain life experience to become a police officer when he returns, not to shoot guns and blow things up. (The Sentinel-Review - Woodstock, Ontario)


In the May 25 “Explainer,” Michelle Tsai asserted that an eight ball is about 10 lines of cocaine. While the size of a line depends on personal preference, most users would divide an eight ball into more than 25 lines. (Slate)


Reuters, the reigning back-to-back champ in [the Typo of the Year] category, didn’t win but did come in second place by calling the Muttahida Quami Movement the “Muttonhead Quail Movement.”

12 December 2007

HOWTO: Screw up your PC

Here's one of the better correction notices I've read recently.

Money line: If you follow the original instructions in the newsletter, you could end up deleting all the files in your C drive.


I hope anyone who tried to follow the directions in the newsletter had a recent backup.
IMPORTANT CORRECTION to December 10 edition of WXPnews: Don't try to delete those files!

A small slip of the fingers can make all the difference in the world, and in the last edition of WXPnews, I slipped up bigtime. The instructions for deleting the contents of your spam folder (or any other folder with a large number of files) in the XP Question Corner section (titled "How can I fix Windows Explorer Lockup Problem?") contain a potentially disastrous typo in line four, where "CD" was omitted from the line you should type.

If you follow the original instructions in the newsletter, you could end up deleting all the files in your C drive. The correct instructions are:
  1. Click Start and then click Run
  2. In the Run dialog box, enter cmd and press ENTER
  3. In the command prompt window, type cd \ and press ENTER
  4. In the command prompt window, type CD C:\SPAM and press ENTER
  5. In the command prompt window, type del *.* and press ENTER
  6. You will be asked if you're sure you want to delete all the files in the folder, type "y" (without the quotes) and press ENTER.
Be absolutely sure that the command line shows you're in the right folder (for example, SPAM). The command window should say something like: C:\>SPAM (or whatever the name of the folder is). If it just says C:\>, do not type the DEL command.

We apologize profusely for this error and hope it hasn't caused problems for anyone. When I saw the incorrect instructions, you can bet that I was completely mortified.

'Til next week,
Deb Shinder, Editor feedback@wxpnews.com

11 December 2007

Comedy is hard

Albert Brooks notoriously tried and failed to find comedy in the Muslim world.

He should have checked out metro New York:
Maysoon Zayid, a stand-up comedienne, has her work cut out. "Your typical female comic is walking on stage talking about being fat, having her period, boy problems or being a lesbian," she explained to me. "In general I'm talking about Israeli soldiers and what it means to be a virgin at 30—things that people haven't heard before."

On the beer-stained stages of New York comedy clubs, she is a rare presence. "I'm a 30-year-old Palestinian-American virgin from New Jersey with cerebral palsy. And if you don't feel better about yourself, maybe you should." This is the sucker-punch that usually begins her set. There is usually a surprised pause, and then a lot of laughter.

More Intelligent Life: The 30 Year-Old Virgin

Young jobseekers, take heed

Wisdom from Indexed.

That must have been some really good General Tso's Chicken

The final will of a widow who left £10 million to the owners of a Chinese restaurant was upheld by the High Court yesterday - despite claims by her family that she did not know what she was doing.

A judge held that Golda "Goldie" Bechal understood the effect of the will, made in August 1994, in which she left almost her entire fortune to her long-standing "best friends", Kim Sing Man and his wife Bee Lian Man.

The court rejected a challenge by her five nephews and nieces - Sandra Blackman, Barbara Green, Laurence Lebor, Louise Barnard and Mervyn Lebor - who claimed that they were entitled to inherit her estate.

The case -- which, if the newspaper report is accurate, sounds like it was decided correctly -- features one of my favorite parts of the British system of jurisprudence:

If you sue somebody and lose, you pay the winner's court costs, including all legal fees.

The nephews and nieces who challenged the will were ordered by Mr Justice Rattee to pay the Mans' costs of £450,000.

Now there, by God, is tort reform for you.

Daily Telegraph (UK): Family loses £10m will to Chinese restaurant

09 December 2007

Check the box, save a life

[R]esearchers found that simply having the doctors and nurses in the I.C.U. make their own checklists for what they thought should be done each day improved the consistency of care to the point that, within a few weeks, the average length of patient stay in intensive care dropped by half.

The checklists provided two main benefits, Pronovost observed. First, they helped with memory recall, especially with mundane matters that are easily overlooked in patients undergoing more drastic events. (When you’re worrying about what treatment to give a woman who won’t stop seizing, it’s hard to remember to make sure that the head of her bed is in the right position.) A second effect was to make explicit the minimum, expected steps in complex processes. Pronovost was surprised to discover how often even experienced personnel failed to grasp the importance of certain precautions. In a survey of I.C.U. staff taken before introducing the ventilator checklists, he found that half hadn’t realized that there was evidence strongly supporting giving ventilated patients antacid medication. Checklists established a higher standard of baseline performance.


If someone found a new drug that could wipe out infections with anything remotely like the effectiveness of Pronovost’s lists, there would be television ads with Robert Jarvik extolling its virtues, detail men offering free lunches to get doctors to make it part of their practice, government programs to research it, and competitors jumping in to make a newer, better version. That’s what happened when manufacturers marketed central-line catheters coated with silver or other antimicrobials; they cost a third more, and reduced infections only slightly—and hospitals have spent tens of millions of dollars on them. But, with the checklist, what we have is Peter Pronovost trying to see if maybe, in the next year or two, hospitals in Rhode Island and New Jersey will give his idea a try.

Annals of Medicine: The Checklist (Atul Gawande, The New Yorker, December 10, 2007)

Marriage as a freedom of contract issue

It's no accident that the state began restricting and intervening in the marriage contract at the same time as it was restricting and intervening in economic contracts. It was of course the evil Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. who dissented in Lochner v. New York and who also upheld forced sterilization laws in Buck v. Bell (writing that "three generations of imbeciles is enough.") Economists don't like to talk about social externalities but the connection between economic and social regulation is very clear in the progressives.

I think it's time to restore freedom of contract to marriage. Why should two men, for example, be denied the same rights to contract as are allowed to a man and a woman? Far from ending civilization the extension of the bourgeoisie concept of contract ever further is the epitome of civilization. Our modern concept of marriage, for example, is simply one instantiation of the idea of contract.

Alex Tabarrok, "Laissez-Faire Marriage," at Marginal Revolution (30 November 2007)

...yes, I'm just now catching up on blog-reading, thanks for asking.

There are some rather ancient concepts of marriage that are explicitly tied to the idea of contract law, of course. When Carrie and I got married, we both signed one of these.

Claude Rains, call your office

Your Superpower Should Be Invisibility

You are stealthy, complex, and creative.
You never face problems head on. Instead, you rely on your craftiness to get your way.
A mystery to others, you thrive on being a little misunderstood.
You happily work behind the scenes... because there's nothing better than a sneak attack!

Why you would be a good superhero: You're so sly, no one would notice... not even your best friends

Your biggest problem as a superhero: Missing out on all of the glory that visible superheroes get

We're all over New York these days, it seems

Now Give Me Your Wallet

Tourist guy: You're from North Carolina. You've got that Southern charm thing going on with the, 'Hey, y'all!'
Tourist chick: Yeah, I'm real damn charming.

--TKTS line

Overheard by: Jess McGins

via Overheard in New York, Dec 9, 2007

Scientific American: The secret to raising smart kids

Emphasize and praise effort and persistence, not ability:
  • Many people assume that superior intelligence or ability is a key to success. But more than three decades of research shows that an overemphasis on intellect or talent—and the implication that such traits are innate and fixed—leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unmotivated to learn.
  • Teaching people to have a “growth mind-set,” which encourages a focus on effort rather than on intelligence or talent, produces high achievers in school and in life.
  • Parents and teachers can engender a growth mind-set in children by praising them for their effort or persistence (rather than for their intelligence), by telling success stories that emphasize hard work and love of learning, and by teaching them about the brain as a learning machine.
Scientific American Mind: The Secret to Raising Smart Kids (December 2007)

08 December 2007

Cheery thought for the day

“As technology becomes more complicated, society’s experts become more specialized. And in almost every area, those with the expertise to build society’s infrastructure also have the expertise to destroy it. Ask any doctor how to poison someone untraceably, and he can tell you. Ask someone who works in aircraft maintenance how to drop a 747 out of the sky without getting caught, and he’ll know. Now ask any Internet security professional how to take down the Internet, permanently. I’ve heard about half a dozen different ways, and I know I haven’t exhausted the possibilities.”

- Bruce Schneier, from Secrets and Lies

Gato on guard duty

Been a while since we've had any Mister Gato photos around here. Time to rectify that.

Our menagerie includes not only one irascible tomcat, but two Chow Chows.

An important part of a Chow's job description is to always be between you and the front door. They were bred as guard dogs, and those instincts run deep. Chow Bella and Chow Fun trade off on door-guard duty as a general rule.

But now that Mister Gato is a full-fledged member of the household pack (and universally acknowledged feline badass) he takes regular shifts guarding the door too.

Gato Guards The Door_scaled
Mister Gato on door duty.

Of course, he's not without backup. Here's a little more context on that photo:

Bella Backs Up Gato scaled
Chow Bella has Mister Gato's back.

Be sure to check out The Modulator's Friday Ark for other pictures of bloggers' pets... and the Carnival of the Cats, this Sunday, at Bad Kitty Cats.

If you listen carefully...

...you can hear the soft hiss of a casus belli, deflating.

Original post date 12/4

Update, 12/8: Bumped because Chap has written a lengthy and really worthwhile article over at his place on interpreting "intelligence."

A balance of fear among tribes

For more than 230 years, Americans have assumed that because we have had a happy experience with democracy, so will the rest of the world. But the American military has had a radically contrary experience in Iraq. And Iraq may be but prologue for what our troops may encounter in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

Iraq has had three elections that have led to chaos. Bringing society out of that chaos has meant a recourse not to laws or a constitution, but to blood ties. The Anbar Awakening has been a rebuff not only to the extremism of al-Qaeda, but to democracy itself. Restoring peace in Anbar has been accomplished by a lot of money changing hands, to the benefit of unelected but well-respected tribal sheikhs, paid off with cash and projects by our soldiers and marines. Progress in Iraq means erecting not a parliamentary system, but a balance of fear among tribes and sectarian groups.
Robert Kaplan, "It's the Tribes, Stupid!", The Atlantic, November 2007

Barnett's Esquire articles

Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett has been writing for Esquire lately.

Boy, has he! And they're all worth reading.

1) The Pentagon's New Map (March 2003)
2) Mr. President, Here's How To Make Sense Of Our Iraq Strategy (June 2004)
3) Mr. President, Here's How to Make Sense of Your Second Term... (February 2005)
4) Old Man in a Hurry (July 2005)
5) The Chinese Are Our Friends (November 2005)
6) The Monks of War (March 2006)
7) The Country To Watch: Egypt (October 2006)
8) The State of the World (May 2007)
9) The Americans Have Landed (July 2007)
10) No. 40: Sea-Traffic Control (September 2007)
11) The Next Five States (September 2007)
12) John Robb: Keeping up with Terrorists (November 2007)

The last story--the one that references John Robb--is just a book review... but if you click on nothing else, please click on that one.

Related: Global Guerrillas (John Robb's blog)

07 December 2007

El jamón de reyes

A foodie friend and colleague sends along the following link:
"The ultimate Xmas gift for the foodie in your life..."
Yow, y'all. That's a $1500 Spanish ham... the $199 is just the deposit.

Rather more affordably, can I offer you something in a North Carolina country ham?

Elder-care nightmare

Seven years ago, Barbara Clark pleaded guilty to stealing more than $5,000 from a 90-year-old man at the Durham retirement community where she worked.

A judge gave her a suspended sentence and ordered Clark not to work anywhere she would have access to elderly people's property or possessions for three years.

On Thursday, Clark was charged with first-degree murder, accused of fatally beating a 92-year-old woman who had hired her as a housekeeper. The woman had asked Clark to come to her Fearrington Village retirement center apartment to discuss stolen checks.

Doretta Walker, the assistant district attorney who prosecuted Clark after her 2000 arrest, saw her on the news Wednesday night.

"I prosecuted that lady and told her not to work with the elderly, there she goes killing an old lady," Walker said. "When I saw her on TV last night, I said, 'I know that lady.'

"You should have seen my face."

Clark is accused of beating Margaret Murta to death, and seriously injuring her long-time friend Mary Corcoran, 82, and their neighbor Rebecca Fisher, 77.

Suspect was ordered to avoid elderly (News and Observer, 7 December 2007)

From now on, when people ask me why I don't trust the State of North Carolina or home-health care agencies to perform adequate due diligence on their certified nursing assistants, and why I personally run criminal background checks on any home-care aides who help take care of my Mom, I'll just point them to this article.

Oh, and a big "attaboy" to the criminal justice system for giving Barbara Clark a get out of jail free card suspended sentence on felony larceny and felony exploitation of an elderly or disabled person seven years ago.

Stealing from the weak and vulnerable is *exactly* the kind of thing where leniency is called for, don't you think?

United Hollywood

United Hollywood is a group blog written by striking members of the Writers Guild of America.

03 December 2007

Five will get you ten he'd just come from gawking at the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center

NewsFlash: Man Asks Directions. Scientists Baffled.

Tourist: Excuse me, can you tell me how to get to 37th Street?
Hipster: Seriously?
Tourist: Well, I'm visiting...
Hipster: Look, man... You're on 42nd Street now. Walk that way, and if the sign says 43rd Street, you're going the wrong way. Turn around and go the other way. When the numbers go down, you're going the right way.
Tourist: So, the streets are numerical.
Passerby #1: Jesus Christ!
Passerby #2: Oh, you people stop it! He didn't know there would be math on his trip to the city.

--42nd & 8th

via Overheard in New York, Dec 2, 2007

02 December 2007

Jesus and Mary on a flapjack

For those of you not of the Southern terroir, Raleigh News and Observer columnist A.C. Snow has some useful thoughts on Protestant Christianity below the Mason-Dixon Line:

There's no doubt but what Southern religion has a distinct flavor, more emotional, and, as skeptics argue, more irrational. It is deeply rooted in unquestioning faith and the power of prayer.

For example, while we were visiting our Florida family at Thanksgiving, the St. Petersburg Times reported that a woman in nearby Port St. Lucie had been flipping flapjacks made from a $1.25 package of mix from Wal-Mart when she noticed the image of Jesus and Mary on one of the pancakes.

Promptly posting the pancake on eBay, she soon had an offer of $338 from an Alabama woman who wanted it for a going-away gift to her husband being deployed to Iraq. When the deal fell through, an Illinois man snapped up the pancake for $29.

Could this happen outside the South?

(Well, as the secondary buyer was in Illinois, I'd argue that it *did* happen outside the South in part, and that believers have been seeing images in inanimate objects for untold centuries all over the world, but let's not quibble.)

Snow goes on to observe, however:

Author Flannery O'Connor once aptly described the South as a "Christ haunted land." How true. It still is and will probably remain so. However, pure "Southern religion," as we have known it, like Southern charm, is on the wane.

The South's burgeoning population is becoming more and more diverse, forcing people to accommodate different religious beliefs and forms of worship and, let us hope, leading to a greater degree of religious tolerance.

Southern religion in "Christ-haunted land" (A.C. Snow, The News and Observer, 2 December 2007)

Oil at $100/bbl focuses the mind wonderfully

Congress agreed to raise fuel-economy standards by 40 percent for cars and light trucks by 2020 in a move described by lawmakers as a historic step toward cutting U.S. oil consumption and curbing global warming.

The new rules would require the U.S. to set mileage standards for each type of vehicle to meet a national average of 35 miles per gallon. In exchange for a higher benchmark than automakers had wanted, the industry would continue to get credit for making vehicles that run on alternate fuels such as gasoline blended with ethanol.


The current standard is 27.5 mpg for passenger cars and 22.2 for light trucks.


Congress established the so-called CAFE standards in 1975 in response to the 1973-74 Arab oil embargo that caused shortages at U.S. gasoline stations. New car-fleet economy, set at 12.9 mpg in 1974 according to the Congressional Research Service, was ordered to reach 18 mpg by 1978. Light trucks were required to achieve 17.2 mpg by 1979.

NHTSA set truck standards for subsequent years and imposed fines for noncompliance. Attempts by legislators to raise mileage goals from the early 1990s through 2006 were defeated.

Bloomberg: Congress Agrees To Increase Fuel Standard to 35 MPG

The 35 MPG standard doesn't take effect until 2020.

Which makes it, what, only 30 years too late?

01 December 2007

Quantum Hoops

There's a new documentary out, "Quantum Hoops," about the Caltech men's basketball team.
Caltech, as a school, simply does not have the wherewithal to take sports seriously. For these students, basketball will never be anything more than a diversion. The basketball coach can try to recruit players, but he can't expect any breaks from the scary high standards of the admissions office.

As a result, a fair chunk of the basketball team (last season, all five seniors, for instance) did not even play high school basketball. The Caltech basketball team has more valedictorians than high school basketball players.

But they play real deal NCAA Division III basketball.

And, predictably, they get killed.

Night after night. Week after week. Year after year.

At the time this documentary was made, the team had not won a game in 21 years.


What we are used to as college basketball is really basketball as a college major, or in many cases instead of college. Not basketball as an activity.

The version at Caltech puts stuff like health, education, and love of the game first. I can't speak for basketball, but I think a lot of colleges would be better off with that kind of athletic presence on campus. Maybe all the professional development of basketball players should take place somewhere else -- somewhere that is not supposed to be about academics.

ESPN: Nerd Squad: The Tale of Quantum Hoops

via kottke