Happy New Years

This video serves as a friendly reminder that watching a ball drop on TV is really boring. In a couple of minutes, you won't need that reminder.




We're All Not Americans Now in the near future

A Russian non-expert is getting a lot of Russian media attention for this map, and the predictions he has made surrounding it.

I counter-predict that Mongolia, which spent a total of $23.1 million on its military during the last year for which wikipedia has records, will take over the Irkustk Oblast, that Japan will invade and occupy Sakhalin in order to send a message to the world that it is once again a military power to be reckoned with, and that a secret descendant of King Gustav III of Sweden will lead a newly reunited Scandinavia in an assault on Arkhangelsk, hoping for a repeat of the Second Battle of Svenskund. I believe this is, to a close approximation, equally likely to occur as Igor Panarin's prediction depicted above.




Great Success

Or, alternatively, Brushes With Fame!

I was just (one of) the winners on the Brian Lehrer ShowAnnual News Quiz,” for which I will apparently receive a charming tote bag. I'll try to post the audio for the show, which should be available at that first link in the next day or so, soon after it's added to their website, but in case I haven't gotten around to it and you're really eager to know how funny my voice sounds on the radio (pretty funny, I'd bet) you can listen for a caller “Matt from Manhattan” in the fourth segment, Local News.

The format of the show featured Brian and his guest host for the segment would ask a question of one of the people who were in a queue on hold on the phone. If that caller got it right, they'd be asked another question, and if and when a caller answered three questions in a row correctly, they won. If the caller got it wrong, the same question would be asked to a different caller on hold, and if three callers in a row got a question wrong, that question would be dropped.

The format ended up helping me a lot, because three people in a row missed a question just before I was chosen, and I would have missed that question too. That question was, “What was the name of the escort service which former governor Eliot Spitzer was exposed as using?” If I had been asked this, I would have said: The Premiere Club, the correct answer was: Emperor's Club V.I.P. (the answers are written in white, highlight them with your mouse to read them).

I was first asked how the [name of escort service which was the answer to the previous question] referred to Governor Spitzer on their books. The answer, famously, is: Client Number 9. Second, I was asked what crimes Spitzer was charged with. I answered:Spitzer was never indicted. Finally, I was asked to name two of the charges/topics that a House of Representatives ethics committee is investigating with regards to Rep. Rangel. The two I brought up were: Use of tax shelters in the Caribbean and improper use of rent control or other rent laws for some apartments. The other two are, apparently: soliciting funds for the Charles Rangel Center at City College on House of Representatives letterhead (I'd never heard about this one) and voting in favor of a tax loophole which he had previously opposed after a meeting with an executive of a company that benefited from the loophole and who pledged a million dollar donation to the Rangel Center.

So just think, if you spend absurd amounts of time reading the news, one day you too could make an ass of yourself in public and win a tote bag.

Update: The Brian Lehrer show site is updated faster than I'd imagined, but I haven't figured out how to directly embed the audio. I'm on for around three minutes, starting at about 4:28 in the fourth segment. The question about the name of Spitzer's escort service starts at 3:01. Also, while I know I talk fast, I was surprised to learn that even I wouldn't understand that I'm saying “I'll take advantage of those” in response to Lehrer's mention of bragging rights at a News Year Eve party if I hadn't already known what I said.




Career Opportunities

Lately I've been thinking about, and reading about, Caroline Kennedy. And I've come to the conclusion that people, both those supporting and those opposing her potential appointment as the junior Senator for New York state, are confusing what should be two independent questions, and it's leading them astray.

Here's one question: is Caroline Kennedy doing anything wrong, or otherwise worthy of criticism, by trying to persuade David Patterson that he should appoint her to the Senate?
Here's another question: if David Patterson were to appoint Caroline Kennedy to the Senate tomorrow, how should voters feel about it?

And here are two answers: No, she's not. Less favorable towards him than they presently do.

Now I'll play the “resolve an apparent inconsistency” game. Caroline Kennedy has a really excellent idea of how she'd vote on various bills and which bills she'd want to write or sponsor or otherwise make her priorities, plus anything she'd what to do in terms of the Senate's oversight role. She has a slightly less good, but still pretty good, idea of how she'll interact with other members of the Senate and other key players in and outside of government (I mean this purely in the sense that she can introspect and know how she reacts to other people, though she she probably also has experiential knowledge of how she gets along with particular colleagues from her affiliation with her uncle, current Sen. Kennedy, and the Obama campaign). And, just making an assumption for the sake of argument, she might have a somewhat good idea about how other people who could potentially be appointed by Patterson would do at all these things, and reasonably think she'd do the best job of them. In which case, it's fine for her to try to get the job.

On the second question, I think I've coyly hinted at why my answer was what it was with all my talk above about things Caroline Kennedy knows. The problem is that while she has epistemological access to all that information, voters n general certainly don't, and Gov. Patterson doesn't really either. One good way for people to get a lot of that information about a candidate for office is to watch how they fulfill the duties of another office, but that's not always available, in which case you can learn a lot of it by watching them campaign. So the reason I'm at present bothered by the idea of appointing Kennedy as opposed to someone who has campaigned for and won an office isn't because there's anything so great, ennobling, or wisdom-providing about campaigning for and holding an office. It's because unless she at least campaigns for the office, I can't figure out if she'll be any good at holding office. Answering written questions from the NY Times and two other papers is a good start to this, but it's just a start. She needs to, at minimum give interviews and engage in live question and answer sessions.

One might reasonably respond to all that by asking why she should campaign to the voters, when the choice is Patterson's and Patterson's alone. And in answer to that, the only answer is that Patterson should require her to do so, and he should require her (and anyone else he's seriously considering) to do so because otherwise the Governor is going to piss off more voters than he has to and increase the chances that he'll be blamed for any missteps by whomever it is he appoints.


Right Light, Green Light!

This article on the evolution of Tom Cruise, primarily focused on Risky Business, is good and you should read it. I actually think Mission: Impossible 3 should pose a significant obstacle to the part of his argument about Cruise's decline, because the movie is awesome, but it wasn't considered a box office success. Come to think of it, it's not clear to me that the quality of the movies Cruise has made has anything to do with the argument in the linked article, but I still like it. Finally, the purported problem with Valkyrie has been an issue at least since Vanilla Sky, if not earlier.

Update: The title of this post was intended to be “Red Light, Green Light” in honor of a nonsensical piece of dialog from Mission: Impossible. But I didn't notice the mistake until now, and it's been up too long for me to change it without feeling like I'm covering something up. But I have no idea what the current title could mean, in case anyone else is wondering about it.




New toy II

Click here to compare how many of the IMDB Top 250 Films (as of some date or another, it's not the same as e.g. today's list) you've seen with my results. I wholeheartedly anti-endorse this list, it's far from a good guide to the top 250 films of all time; both in terms of its inclusions and exclusions and, even more so, in it's rank-ordering of the included movies. Nevertheless, interesting to look at.

When I wasn't sure if I'd seen all of something I didn't check it off. In particular, four which I've seen parts of but don't think I've seen the entirety of were: Frankenstein (1935), Planet of the Apes (1968), Gandhi (1982), and Platoon (1986).

Last point: if someone told you that one of the titles listed isn't really a movie, and was just thrown on there as a gag (not that that's the case), which would you pick? My answer to that question, and my percentage seen, which you can otherwise only find out by submitting your own results, are in comments.

I did a somewhat similar post about a very different Top 1000 films list a couple of months ago, in case you think you're experiencing deja vu.


Annals of good predictions

“Lawyers for John Walker Lindh (the 'American Taliban'), who has now spent seven years in prison, are asking President Bush to commute his sentence. Not expecting a lot of agreements. . . . But I think it's the right thing to do.”

I disagree.

In particular, let me note that unless the reason Josh thinks President Bush should commute his sentence has something to do with the relationship between President Bush and John Walker Lindh, rather than purely having to do with the merits of Lindh's claim, it follows that President-Elect Obama should commute Lindh's sentence. This is wrong as well, Lindh, to the best of my knowledge, really did commit serious crimes and then pled guilty to some of them. The elements of his case that potentially merits mercy relate to allegations of mistreatment while in pre-trial custody, I don't think that makes up for his actions.


Progress II

What Louis CK says in this video is right in a lot of ways. I, of course, want to talk about the ways in which he's wrong. But I don't have those thoughts quite worked out yet, so in the meantime you can watch the video and if you're interested in more about it, read the post and comments (all of which agree with the videos sentiment) here, I'll update this post when I'm good and ready. You should not, of course, read the comments at YouTube under any circumstances.

Update: I'm still not sure what I want to say. It's true that technology has made many, many aspects of our lives more convenient and allowed us to do things that previous generations couldn't have. In particular, he's right that communications and transportation technologies have massively improved, and he's not even mentioning the fundamental (though longer term) changes that have occurred as smaller and smaller percentages of human labor have had to be devoted to food production and acquisition, and the more recent change in which large amounts of knowledge have become instantly accessible via the internet.

The first thing to note about this is that it has made impractical valuable forms of social interaction which made many people happy but also depended on their being largely rooted in one physical location without the easy ability to exit. These social organizations also had costs (there's a reason exit is desired), but that's no reason to dismiss their value. The social arrangements I have in mind right now in particular are those described by the Pres. Elect Obama about Kenya before it was a British colony in Dreams From My Father, but those are just fresh in my mind, similar arrangements existed everywhere at different times.

Another thing to mention is that human expectations are very adaptable, we get used to things both good and bad. So once instant communication becomes possible, expectations change so that others will expect you to communicate with them instantly, whether you want to, and pointing out that people used to use rotary phones isn't going to be very persuasive to them, and for good reasons.

Finally, flying being awesome isn't a reason for airlines to make offers to people and the fail to fulfill them.



I'll have a bunch of posts with real content over the next couple days, but as a temporary measure, this is really neat. Say you've digitally recorded your local NBA team's (sorry Seattleites) most recent game, but don't want to watch it if your team gets blown out. One way to avoid this would be to check the score, but that'll ruin the game for you whether or not it was a blowout. That link provides the solution to finding out if it's a blowout without risking finding out the result of a non-blowout game; I'm impressed with the ingenuity (link via TrueHoop).




What's a windstar, anyway?

As I said about my link to the three act play below, not the whole story, but worth mentioning (image from here). In fact, I've mostly bought into the argument that this is an extraordinarily bad time to have all the increased unemployment which would come from a GM bankruptcy. On the other hand, once the choice is made to support GM just to get through one extraordinarily bad period, I worry that there will be a ratchet effect and we won't ever be able to go back the other way. I can't remember who I saw make this point, but one thing to keep in mind is that what's good in terms of keeping the economy from falling further off a cliff in the short term (keeping unemployment under control) isn't the same as what's good in terms of increasing the viability of GM and the rest of the Big 3 in the long term (restructuring and getting smaller, including large lay-offs). This means that if you support a bail out package because you hope it'll control the damage to the rest of the economy, you have to consider whether the bailout package under discussion, or one which could potentially pass, is anything like the one you support in principle.



Via an Eater post on a different topic, I learn that only five New York City restaurants have received ★★★★ from the NY Times. The link doesn't make clear what period of time that's true for, but presumably there are restaurants which at some point in the past received a four star review and are nevertheless not included in the list, either because they stopped existing or because they were reviewed too long ago. Though I suppose I don't know when the Times began using a star rating system, if it's a fairly recent (no more than ten years old) innovation that might truly be all of them. Also interesting (at least to me), all five of those restaurants are localized in one fairly small part of Manhattan, as you can see. If it weren't for Daniel being on the east side, it'd be a much smaller part of Manhattan, but still pretty small.

On a far less appetizing note, the word of the day, because I hadn't heard it before except in its totally unrelated type-setting meaning, is “pica.”




Non-Washington Bullets

  • The above image (and a larger version which you can zoom in on and thereby read) tells a story about the collapse of Iceland's economy, with a few other Iceland facts thrown in as well. From my passing familiarity with the topic, it seems pretty accurate to me, though it's odd to leave out the possibility of market manipulation, unless subsequent reporting has debunked those suspicions. However, I'm not linking to it because of the information, but rather because it's an amazing example of how not to use graphics. If you read it, you'll find that the information contained therein (except for a joke in #10) suggests absolutely nothing about a cycle. It's just an ordered list in which two follows one, three two, and so on. Presenting it as a cycle (e.g. the nitrogen cycle) is fundamentally misleading and people will either consciously or subconsciously come away with a badly mistaken impression of the facts it relates.

  • A brief, witty take on the Big 3's plight. Not the whole story, but a useful corrective to an over-abundance of UAW bashing.

  • Glenn Greenwald worries whether Obama and Democrats in Congress are serious about passing laws commanding the CIA not to torture people. I'm cautiously optimistic, though Greenwald is correct to note retreat by Feinstein and Wyden from their previous statements. Relatedly, I'd like to read this book.

  • It seems to me that either the Israeli or British press publishes a story about Israeli strikes on Iran being imminent every three months or so. Which isn't to say such stories are meaningless, see Blake Hounshell's take on the most recent story. I actually wrote the previous two sentences before reading the most recent story myself, which it turns out isn't particularly alarmist and is more about the fact that Israel is making plans for how it would execute an attack without U.S. cooperation, something it should certainly have plans for and then never do. In the same sense, I hope the U.S. military keeps War Plan Red up to date.

  • Finally, the 1993 William Langewiesche Atlantic Monthly article “The Turn” on the development of the ability to fly an airplane without a visible horizon (in clouds, in darkness, and when coming out of a cloud already in a banked turn), and the obstacles in the way of doing so, is absolutely fascinating and everyone should read it. Comparatively, everything above is crap. This should probably not be the last bullet, since you probably will have stopped reading before it. In case you haven't, and are turned off by the fact that the article isn't properly formatted for readability (if you haven't clicked, it's a far too narrow column of text for an article that long), here's the same article reformatted as a google document.

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    If it's free, it must be good

    I like Roger Ebert's essay on the declining demand for film critics and the various depredations of celebrity culture. But there's something very wrong with an essay which is in large part trying to address the fact that fewer newspapers choose to employ film critics and doesn't even mention competition from high quality free reviews available on internet, and for that the review aggregators metacritic and rotten tomatoes (or the largely forogtten mrqe). It used to be the case that someone looking for film criticism could read it if it was in their local paper, and otherwise couldn't. The facts have now changed completely, and moved in a very different direction.


    Investment advice

    What I'm sure is a verbatim transcript of Donnie Walsh's meeting with Stephon Marbury yesterday, complete with illustrations. As a completely shallow fan, I'm really enjoying the Knicks' “Defense? What's that?” style of play, especially when they're matched up against another team which has never heard of the concept. Or, more accurately, it's a style which seems to fit their current roster's abilities well and is, at least for now, a nice change of pace.

    Finally, if I had easy access to a sportsbook right now, I would absolutely put money on the Knicks to come within 15 points of the Cavaliers tonight. I don't see how there's a 50% chance of the spread being that wide, even with the Cavaliers at home. And take the over, because the Knicks don't play defense.

    Update: The Cavaliers 61-35 halftime lead suggests that I'd lose both bets and that it's a good thing I don't have easy access to a sportsbook. But I will note that teams with huge halftime leads usually will rest their best players and otherwise let up somewhat in the second half, allowing the team behind to reduce the margin by which they're behind. Don't know if that will happen here, but it wouldn't surprise me.

    Udpate the 2nd: And this, children, is an object lesson in why you shouldn't (or at least I shouldn't) gamble on sports. Thank God bodog puts so many obstacles in the way of my setting up an account. Also, I still think the odds of what actually happened happening are less than 50%, but that's inherently unverifiable. Final point: if you wanted to know what actually happened in last night's game with any detail, neither the NY Times, the NY Post, nor the NY Daily News would give you a particularly good idea, but Marc Berman at the Post does the best job.