Saturday, March 31, 2007

Discombobulation II - the Dumbening

More disturbing signs of a discombobulatory nature are appearing daily, giving me pause to question the optimism of my previous post. Brother Brit exposes the frightening face of an Oprafied daytime media drunk on self-congratulatory excess. Not to be outdone by this brazen performance of idiocy, America's sourpuss herself, Rosie O'Donnell, plumbs the depth of stupidity as only a woman who gained fame as Madonna's gal pal can.

For those of you who can't bear to view the whole clip, here is a transcript (via of the latter part of the conversation where Rosie gives creedence to Truther claims for an alternate cause to the collapse of the WTC on 9/11:

I do believe that it’s the first time in history that fire has ever melted steel. I do believe that it defies physics that World Trade Center tower 7—building 7, which collapsed in on itself—it is impossible for a building to fall the way it fell without explosives being involved. World Trade Center 7. World Trade [Center] 1 and 2 got hit by planes—7, miraculously, the first time in history, steel was melted by fire. It is physically impossible.

Every time I wax optimistic about our future, something like this happens to make me take inventory of the supplies in the bunker.

The Bloody Good Old Days

Are we devolving into a maelstrom of chaos and violence? Can we look to the past for lesson on how to live together peacably? No, says Steven Pinker, we are becoming less violent all the time:
In sixteenth-century Paris, a popular form of entertainment was cat-burning, in which a cat was hoisted in a sling on a stage and slowly lowered into a fire. According to historian Norman Davies, "[T]he spectators, including kings and queens, shrieked with laughter as the animals, howling with pain, were singed, roasted, and finally carbonized." Today, such sadism would be unthinkable in most of the world. This change in sensibilities is just one example of perhaps the most important and most underappreciated trend in the human saga: Violence has been in decline over long stretches of history, and today we are probably living in the most peaceful moment of our species' time on earth.

In the decade of Darfur and Iraq, and shortly after the century of Stalin, Hitler, and Mao, the claim that violence has been diminishing may seem somewhere between hallucinatory and obscene. Yet recent studies that seek to quantify the historical ebb and flow of violence point to exactly that conclusion.

Some of the evidence has been under our nose all along. Conventional history has long shown that, in many ways, we have been getting kinder and gentler. Cruelty as entertainment, human sacrifice to indulge superstition, slavery as a labor-saving device, conquest as the mission statement of government, genocide as a means of acquiring real estate, torture and mutilation as routine punishment, the death penalty for misdemeanors and differences of opinion, assassination as the mechanism of political succession, rape as the spoils of war, pogroms as outlets for frustration, homicide as the major form of conflict resolution—all were unexceptionable features of life for most of human history. But, today, they are rare to nonexistent in the West, far less common elsewhere than they used to be, concealed when they do occur, and widely condemned when they are brought to light.

At one time, these facts were widely appreciated. They were the source of notions like progress, civilization, and man's rise from savagery and barbarism. Recently, however, those ideas have come to sound corny, even dangerous. They seem to demonize people in other times and places, license colonial conquest and other foreign adventures, and conceal the crimes of our own societies. The doctrine of the noble savage—the idea that humans are peaceable by nature and corrupted by modern institutions—pops up frequently in the writing of public intellectuals like José Ortega y Gasset ("War is not an instinct but an invention"), Stephen Jay Gould ("Homo sapiens is not an evil or destructive species"), and Ashley Montagu ("Biological studies lend support to the ethic of universal brotherhood"). But, now that social scientists have started to count bodies in different historical periods, they have discovered that the romantic theory gets it backward: Far from causing us to become more violent, something in modernity and its cultural institutions has made us nobler.
At the widest-angle view, one can see a whopping difference across the millennia that separate us from our pre-state ancestors. Contra leftist anthropologists who celebrate the noble savage, quantitative body-counts—such as the proportion of prehistoric skeletons with axemarks and embedded arrowheads or the proportion of men in a contemporary foraging tribe who die at the hands of other men—suggest that pre-state societies were far more violent than our own. It is true that raids and battles killed a tiny percentage of the numbers that die in modern warfare. But, in tribal violence, the clashes are more frequent, the percentage of men in the population who fight is greater, and the rates of death per battle are higher. According to anthropologists like Lawrence Keeley, Stephen LeBlanc, Phillip Walker, and Bruce Knauft, these factors combine to yield population-wide rates of death in tribal warfare that dwarf those of modern times. If the wars of the twentieth century had killed the same proportion of the population that die in the wars of a typical tribal society, there would have been two billion deaths, not 100 million.

Political correctness from the other end of the ideological spectrum has also distorted many people's conception of violence in early civilizations—namely, those featured in the Bible. This supposed source of moral values contains many celebrations of genocide, in which the Hebrews, egged on by God, slaughter every last resident of an invaded city. The Bible also prescribes death by stoning as the penalty for a long list of nonviolent infractions, including idolatry, blasphemy, homosexuality, adultery, disrespecting one's parents, and picking up sticks on the Sabbath. The Hebrews, of course, were no more murderous than other tribes; one also finds frequent boasts of torture and genocide in the early histories of the Hindus, Christians, Muslims, and Chinese.

At the century scale, it is hard to find quantitative studies of deaths in warfare spanning medieval and modern times. Several historians have suggested that there has been an increase in the number of recorded wars across the centuries to the present, but, as political scientist James Payne has noted, this may show only that "the Associated Press is a more comprehensive source of information about battles around the world than were sixteenth-century monks." Social histories of the West provide evidence of numerous barbaric practices that became obsolete in the last five centuries, such as slavery, amputation, blinding, branding, flaying, disembowelment, burning at the stake, breaking on the wheel, and so on. Meanwhile, for another kind of violence—homicide—the data are abundant and striking. The criminologist Manuel Eisner has assembled hundreds of homicide estimates from Western European localities that kept records at some point between 1200 and the mid-1990s. In every country he analyzed, murder rates declined steeply—for example, from 24 homicides per 100,000 Englishmen in the fourteenth century to 0.6 per 100,000 by the early 1960s.

I'm not sure if nobility has anything to do with it. If I were to cite some factors that might explain the decrease, they would be:

* The consolidation of small tribes and kingdoms into larger states and empires over time, along with the professionalization of the warrior/soldier class. In tribal society every man is warrior. In large states and empires this is impractical and unnecessary. A small military elite supported by a large peasantry or workforce has the time and resources to perfect the art and science of warfare. Thus less lives are put at risk in war.

* The rising status of women and the breakdown of honor cultures based on the control of female sexuality and family status. Honor codes ensure that almost every slight and impropriety, no matter how minor in modern eyes, had the potential to escalate into familial and tribal warfare. Allied with this is the breakdown of the extended patriarchal family and the rise of the nuclear family, marriage by individual consent, and that form of individualism that those nostalgic for the imagined past decry as "atomization".

Stanley Kurtz writes about the Pakistani tradition of cousin marriage and how that practice has slowed the assimilation of Pakistani immigrants to Britain. It is precisely this kind of familial-based honor tradition that has prolonged a culture of violence in Pakistan, and the loss of among Western nations has allowed for the assimilation and coexistence of diverse ethnic and cultural groups.
Pinker's essay gives me some hope to believe that the arrow of progress does exist. As pleasant as it might be to imagine the past as a stable, safe and peaceful time, the facts just don't support it. It's time to give the present its due.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Friday Trivia II

Here's another thought that occured to me after a conversation with "Sara". I asked Sara and another coworker we'll call "Greg" whether they thought my pants were "high water".

Greg: "No."

Sara: "Yes."

Going on the assumption that women are the far keener observers of fashion, I had to conclude that I've been wearing high water pants to work all these months. Which is a terrible fashion injustice perpetrated on me by the clothing industry.

It is not only an injustice, but a stupid business decision on their part. I am a 31" inseam. Off the rack pants come in 30" and 32", but not 31". So I either end up wearing high waters or wearing pants that drag on the floor and get frayed from being trampled on under the heel of my shoes.

Why is it a bad business decision? Because at 5'11" inches tall I am in the fattest part of the bell curve for height for men. There are probably more 31 inseam men than any other single measure. You would think that the manufacturers would offer more gradations in the fat part of the curve than the narrow ends, but the two inch gradations are standard across the entire curve. Is this logical?

Friday Trivia

I start with a disagreement between myself and a coworker that we'll call "Sara", on the occasion that today the manager of our IT department declared it "jeans day" in addition to the fact that he will order pizza for everyone for lunch.

Me: "Wow, pizza and jeans day in the same day, how cool is that?"

Sara: "Very cool, but the jeans day part is the coolest."

Me: "I disagree, the pizza is the coolest part."

Sara: "No it isn't. You can have pizza anyday, you have to get permission to wear jeans to work."

Me: "Yeah, but you have to pay for the pizza and you have to go get it. You're not saving any money by wearing jeans."

Sara: "But it's pizza. It's not filet mignon."

So who has the better argument?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

PostJudd Conspiracy Theory

Was Oro's 'business trip' just a front for his plan to kidnap Peter and David, or what?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Never Say Never

Orrin's ongoing tirade against the A-380 has demonstrated a couple things.

First, never say never, as that is always a trumpeting invitation to being proven wrong. Depending, of course, on the meaning of the word "never."

Second, substituting animus for analysis has a single-minded tendency to obscure what is going on, and why.

The A-380 program is simultaneously a design, a business decision, the implementation of that design, and, ultimately, the design's employment. It is entirely possible for the program to be more or less a failure in some ways, but a success in others.

The issue of the design can be neatly encapsulated by one simple question: Why so bloody big? The answer is not difficult, but does require some conceptual math. In discussing an airplane's size, it is important to remember that the surface area of
the aircraft is proportional to the square of its dimensions, while its volume is proportional to the cube.

In other words, as surface area grows, volume grows faster. This is the primary challenge to building large aircraft. The supporting structure is, to a first approximation, the aircraft's surface. This means the structure has to get stronger as fast as the volume increases, despite being area bound.

Why big, reason one: The larger the aircraft, the less fuel per seat mile. Roughly 60% of an aircraft's drag is called "form drag". It is the consequence of the airplane having to push the air aside, as well as the energy lost pulling air along with the airplane due to fuselage and wing surface roughness. Since that drag is directly related to area, there is less drag per unit volume in a large airplane than a small one. For example, an A-320 and an MD-11 are near contemporaries. A 150 seat A-320 burns roughly 12,000 pounds per hour at altitude. An MD-11 with 300 seats (3-class configuration) burns about 18,000 pounds per hour. Result, twice as many people carried the same distance while burning only fifty percent more fuel.

Why big, reason two: Maintenance costs are proportional to size, but the constant of proportionality is less than one; much less, depending upon the system. An A-380 will require no more engine maintenance than a 747-400, but will carry approximately 40% more passengers.

Therefore, in terms of operating cost-per-seat-mile, bigger is better. Compared to the 747-400, the A380 direct operating cost per seat mile will be 15-20% less.

So if cost per seat mile was the only objective, the A-380 superior to any airliner flying today. As an airplane, any comparison to the Concorde is simply ignorant.

This is where Airbus's business case comes in, and is, also, encapsulated by one question: how many city pairs can be served at a suitable frequency while also filling, on average, a sufficient number of seats to turn a profit.

Unlike the objective engineering analysis, answering this question means dueling with the What-ifs and Maybes. Airbus is betting the farm on passenger miles continuing their relentless increase, and that most of those passengers will get to their destinations via a relatively constant number of hubs.

Under those circumstances, an increasing number of airports will become, a la London Heathrow, "slot bound". This case is particularly lucrative for A380 operators, especially early adopters. The seat prices reflect overall limited supply, but those flying the A380 will be selling 60% more seats, at a higher profit per seat, then the 747-400, its next closest competitor.

The most daunting Maybe, though, is the future of the hub and spoke system. If it remains much as it is today, then there will be a sufficient number of city pairs supporting enough demand to allow at least daily departures while keeping the average load factor above the break-even load factor (which will be lower for an A380 than a 747-400). However, if the number of hubs increases significantly, which is another way of saying more flying will approximate point-to-point, then, all bets are off. Well, all of Airbus's, anyway, since this is Boeing's bet.

There is no need to further discuss program execution here. The A380 program is conclusively proving to everyone, except for those with exceptionally potent evidence-fighting antibodies, that EU has become the French word for "millstone". In this vein, it is worth noting the EU's providing taxpayer subsidies mascerading as loans encouraged what may turn out to be a serious strategic error: focussing entirely on executing the A380 program may very well make Airbus predominant in a niche market, while ceding almost everything else to Boeing. Airbus's most rosy projections for the A380 -- roughly 1200 total sales (current firm orders are 156) -- must come true if Airbus is not to be left permanently weakened.

Finally, there is the matter of operating the thing, and flying it will not be the hard part. Unlike all previous aircraft since the start of the jet-age, the A380 will require substantial infrastructure modifications at those airports supporting scheduled operations. Here is short rundown:

  1. Some taxiways will require reconfiguring to allow opposite direction A380s to pass with sufficient wingtip clearance
  2. Taxiways connecting the ramp to runways will require additional paving on either side (although it need not be load bearing) to prevent the outboard engines hoovering dirt and insufficiently alert rodents.
  3. Unless blocking adjacent gates is tolerable, gates serving the A380 will have to be further apart than the standard spacing.
  4. Bigger aircraft tugs
  5. Existing catering lifts will not reach the A380 service doors.
  6. Multiple access jetways

Substituting analysis for animus, here are my predictions.

As an aircraft, the A380 will be successful. It contains many technological advances that, in addition to the advantages attending size, will result in the lowest per-seat-mile costs by a substantial margin. Adding to this advantage, the A380's range will be 700 nautical miles greater than the 747-400, putting more destinations within non-stop range. Since the A380 is also quieter than the 747, assertions that the A380 will not be allowed to land anywhere voters have a say are silly (particularly since plenty of such anywheres already allow the AN-225, bigger than the A380, to land). The airlines that have a need for such an aircraft will operate it very profitably.

As a business decision, it will somewhere between a serious and catastrophic failure. Airbus needs over 400 sales to break even. Based upon the notion that unit sales are inversely related to size (i.e., there are fewer big airplanes than small ones) I expect 350 sales, of which a third will be freighters. This corresponds to 630 747-400s, of which nearly 30% are freighters. Airbus's estimate of over 1200 total sales makes a glass 1/10th full optimist. Just as bad, maybe worse, it has completely sacrificed development everywhere else, ceding market dominance to Boeing for the next 15 years.

So the A380 will be both a success and a failure: an excellent aircraft that will make lots of money for its owners, while crippling its producer.

And, as opposed to never, it will regularly fly to US destinations. I predict we are in for a new definition of "never".

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Sex Ed and the Radical Left

What's a good definition of a sex radical? Someone who thinks that the Sexual Revolution of the 1960's was never completed. It's a good term to describe Maureen N. McLane who writes a review of three books that describe the ongoing culture war over public sex education in American Schools. McLane is is a lecturer in history and literature at Harvard University, and offers up a typically leftist analysis of the cultural war over sex, which purporting to be "value neutral" and objective is anything but. The first glimpse into the lefty mind is provided by a short bigraphical background by McLane:
Sometime in the mid-1990s I attended a workshop on basic video techniques at the public-access cable station in Chicago. I had come with another sex educator and activist from the Coalition for Positive Sexuality, a direct-action sex-ed group, in hopes of producing public-service announcements. CPS envisioned itself as providing near-peer sex education for teens (though some of us were rather long in the tooth to be near peers). Many of its founding members were very young veterans of Act Up demonstrations; and all were concerned about the lack of a coherent sex-ed curriculum in the Chicago Public Schools. (That the Coalition for Positive Sexuality and the Chicago Public Schools shared an acronym delighted us.) CPS sponsored a number of projects, some officially sanctioned—like sex-ed workshops at local colleges—and some guerilla—like distributing condoms along with a bright-green informational booklet titled “Just Say Yes!” and pasting posters designed by member artists on city streets and in subway cars (“Cum Prepared!”).

I'm convinced that people who renounce war as a solution to any problem end up sublimating their inner warrior by declaring cultural war on each and every social custom and tradition that they can. Why anyone would think that the 1990's represented a time of sexual repression requiring "coherent sex-ed" curricula in schools and guerilla public service campaigns to encourage people to have even more consequence-free sex than they were is truly puzzling, but totally in keeping with the leftist trope of continuing revolution after the war has been essentially won. Talk about piling on! (no pun intended) But maybe Chicago schools were a particularly recalcitrant bastion of reactionary Puritan repression in those days. It's just not a risk worth taking, is it?
For that Saturday video class, people with all manner of commitments had come from all corners of the city, including several women from churches—church programming being a mainstay of public-access cable. When our turn came to identify our project, one of these women nodded approvingly: I hope you’re educating them about abstinence. Well, yes, we replied, we discuss abstinence as one choice among many. That’s what “Just Say Yes!” means—yes to abstinence, or to sex with others, or to sex with yourself—a consensual, reflective, informed, safe-as-possible yes. From the expression on her face it was clear that this was not what she had in mind. Abstinence as a choice among choices was precisely the weaselly liberal (or, even more disturbing, radical) proposal that appalled many conservative parents.

If teenagers made reflective decisions about sex, parents would have no worries. This highlights one of the silliest aspects of leftist projects like this: the unwavering faith in education as a panacea for all social ills. They think that people smoke cigarettes because they were never taught that it is harmful, or that gay men get AIDS because they are ignorant about the use of condoms or the way that the disease is spread. Their faith in the rationality of people in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary is itself a sign of extreme irrrationality.
A number of recent books have charted this transformation, among them Janice M. Irvine’s Talk About Sex, Jeffrey Moran’s Teaching Sex: The Shaping of Adolescence in the 20th Century, and Kristin Luker’s When Sex Goes to School: Warring Views on Sex—and Sex Education—Since the Sixties. All three share the view that the “sex in the schools” dispute is (in Moran’s words) “less a dispute over the curriculum than a ritual dance to signify a broader range of social and sexual attitudes.” Because sex-ed debates are, strikingly, almost always debates about sex ed in public schools—the last notionally communal bastion of American subject-formation—they unsurprisingly reflect conflicting ideas about the place of religion, parents, experts, and curricular reform. Perhaps most important, sex-ed debates allow—or reveal—a rhetorical convergence of fears: about young people and about sex.
Ever since G. Stanley Hall first theorized “adolescence” as a developmental category, in 1904, adolescent sexuality has been giving Americans trouble—or, more precisely, has offered Americans a screen onto which to project their troubles. As Moran emphasizes, the long 20th-century history of sex ed has been inextricably linked to the concept of adolescence: sex ed has always been about young people’s moral and political formation as well as their health. Keen to manage adolescent as well as pre-, non-, and extramarital sexuality, social hygienists early in the last century linked the sexual education of adolescents to public health, equating moral and physical hygiene. This link has persisted in all the permutations of sex ed since.

No, it isn't a ritual dance, it is about the curriculum. And yes, it is about fears about young people and sex. You know that you're hearing leftie speak when they bring out the bogeyman of fear. Fear as a tool to opress. George Bush uses the War on Terror to spread fear. Of course it's about fear. Any parent that didn't fear for their child's welfare related to how and where they will have sexual encounters is not doing his or her job.
The health aspect of sex education is only one consideration. Of course it is an important aspect, but focusing on it alone ignores the very important moral aspect of sexual education. Since many parents cannot agree on exactly how morality and sexuality are intertwined doesn't mean that this intertwining doesn't exist. Which is why a "values-neutral" approach to sex education is not possible. Which is why the job of attitude formation regarding sex belongs to parents and not schools.
In the ’50s, sex ed typically appeared as one small precinct of “family-life education,” aimed primarily at training young people for monogamous, rigidly gendered, companionate marriages in a booming consumer culture. In 1964 Mary Steichen Calderone launched SIECUS—the Sex Information and Education Council of the United States—whose agenda reflected Calderone’s own combination of libertarianism and commitment to family. SIECUS recommended a comprehensive, K–12 sex-ed curriculum, featuring age-graded information about growth and development, reproduction, contraception, masturbation, and sexual response. The founding of SIECUS—along with Roe v. Wade (1973), panic over teen mothers in the ’70s and ’80s, and the emergence of the AIDS epidemic in the ’80s—appears as a watershed in most histories of late-20th-century sexual education.

Is there any need for masturbation education? Has there been a single male born since Adam that hasn't figured this out all by himself? And again with that oppressive word "panic". Teen pregnancy may lead thousands of young girls to welfare dependency, poverty and children who grow up into a culture of underachievement and social pathology, but there's no need to panic.
In her most trenchant remarks, Luker notes the complex intersection of economics and gender in these debates. Her sexually conservative, activist women tend to be those who thought they were in one sex-marriage game and found themselves to be in another. “Revolutions have winners and losers,” Luker writes, “and in this case [the sexual revolution] the losers were women who looked forward to marriage and family as the most enticing and life-affirming future.” Men no longer had to promise marriage to get sex, and the women raised within the old socio-sexual regime found themselves less able to bargain for the lives they wanted. “My interviews indicated clearly the declining fortunes of women who would prefer to be married mothers but who have fewer resources than before to make that happen,” Luker writes. As Luker sums up her own and others’ research, “When a new technology [in this case, contraception and abortion] allows some women to reduce their dependency on (and their preferences for) marriage and intimate relationships, those who can’t or don’t want to are disadvantaged.” The destigmatization of premarital sex, increasing normalization of single parenting, and relative ease of divorce: these in combination have eroded the status of marriage as well as traditional gender roles and expectations. Luker’s research suggests that, in these communities at least, the strongest supporters of abstinence-only curricula tend to be these embattled defense-of-marriage women, as well as the usual run of evangelical pastors.

And these are the women who are having the children who need to be educated about sex. Don't you think they have the major stake in this debate. Do the nontraditional women having no children have any stake in it?
Sex-ed debates are a way of not thinking about sex. The old aim of conservatives (indeed, of most adults) was expressly to minimize the amount of air time, mental space, and bodily energy that youth could devote to sex. Those who opposed any form of sex education—a stance, as we have seen, less common since the late ’80s—opposed such with good Foucauldian instincts: sex ed was simply a way of putting sex into discourse—and thus into minds, nervous systems, and bodies. Discourse is a form of power-knowledge. And one main strand of opposition to comprehensive sex education stems from the conviction that talk leads to action; information stimulates expression; more talk, more sex; earlier talk, earlier sex. Advocates of sex ed have too rarely addressed this concern, yet it seems to me a completely reasonable one: one aim of sex radicals, for example, is precisely to make available, visible, and discussable a range of sexual options and practices that otherwise lurk in the wings or remain invisible. Thus Pat Califia, one of the sharpest, most controversial writers and sex radicals of the past 30 years, made plain in 1980 the implications of a radical enlightenment commitment:

There is a paucity of accurate, explicit, nonjudgmental information about sex in modern America. This is one way sexual behavior is controlled. If people don’t know a particular technique or lifestyle exists, they aren’t likely to try it. If the only images they have of a certain sexual act are ugly, disgusting, or threatening, they will either not engage in that act or be furtive about enjoying it.

This is not the kind of thing to reassure concerned parents, and Califia doesn’t give a flying f***(asterisks mine). Califia flew under bold, anti-normative libertarian colors: “The family, conventional sexuality, and gender are at the top of my hit list. These institutions control the emotional, intimate lives of every one of us.”

Radical enlightenment commitment? No, this is called "posing", something done by a "poseur". McLane's true colors come out of hiding here by endorsing this anti-social fruitcake Pat Califia. To think that someone out to destroy notions of family and gender has any place in a conversation about the sexual education of children and adolescents is deplorable. Here the cloak of values neutrality has been stripped away. McLane want's the state to usurp the role of parents in the area of moral and sexual education by negating the very idea that sexuality has any moral component and to instill in young people the value that sex should be practiced in as many variations as possible. How is it that in a time when sex in all its permutations is practically jumping at young people from every computer monitor, tv, movie screen and grocery store checkout magazine rack that anyone can imagine that there is a dearth of emphasis on sex?
Califia’s infernal trinity—family, conventional sexuality, and gender—are exactly what Luker’s sexual conservatives wish to defend, and indeed what many sexual liberals hold most dear as well. Califia’s writings—reissued in 2000 with a new preface—offer a strong antidote to liberal bromides and to the mainstreaming of former deviance and perversion, most notably homosexuality: Califia had no patience with gay normals, bourgeois sentimentality, womanism, antiporn feminism, or paternalism, and Califia shared with other sex radicals a profound mistrust of the state. No looking for gay marriage here, that is to say, though Califia, like many other radicals, has consistently argued for the equal sexual and civil enfranchisement of all regardless of sexual orientation or gender.

From one angle, Califia’s work—which early on featured defenses of man-boy love—is a gift to right-wingers, full of material and positions so apparently outlandish as to make former Senator Rick Santorum drool. From another, Califia’s sex-positive embrace of critical sexual thinking, wherever it might lead, remains if not a model an incitement.

Califia’s stringent critique points up the ideological blind spots in work such as Luker’s—work that claims to analyze but at crucial junctures reproduces social beliefs and convictions. Luker maintains, for example, that “a key point of this book is that we often don’t know our deepest values.” Her book seems rather to demonstrate that her informants are extraordinarily articulate about their deepest values; what they can’t do is historicize or theorize them, or have higher-order conversations about them.

Why is a Harvard professor giving any creedence to such a dangerous radical in a discussion of sex education? Oh right, she's a Harvard professor. Note the pseudo-intellectual blabby-blab: sex-positive embrace of critical sexual thinking; historicize, theorize or have higher order conversations about sex. These kinds of people want to use children in a socio-political experiment. The highest order thinking about the sexual lives of young people is being done by parents. These academic twits, despite their flighty rhetoric, are firmly in the gutter.

More shameless piggybacking on Brit

Here's my own Google-proof quiz. Unlike Brit's, mine is cheat-proof as well. Enjoy!

1. Who wouldn't open the door for D?

2. Which 2 followed 1 after 33?

3. What GW made GW that AG got AA for IT.


1. This is from a movie directed by the guy who's last movie starred a real life husband and wife.

2. 33 stands for days.

3. The second GW isn't a person. And the idea that GW made GW isn't accepted by all people.

More Clues:

1. This is from a movie directed by the guy who's last movie before he died starred a real life husband and wife.

2. Joe Shropshire guessed correctly that it was Pope JohnPaul II who succeeded JohnPaul I who only reigned for 33 days before his untimely death.

3. GW has another initial that I haven't given.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

British Invasion, take 17

A.A. Gill rats out his fellow Brits taking up residence in New York in Vanity Fair:

The British have colonized Manhattan, acquiring minute rent-stabilized apartments in the West Village that they pass on to each other like hereditary titles. It's hard to spot the women—unless they open their mouths. But the British men can be identified by their cropped hair, which they shave to obscure their genetically endemic premature hair loss. They imagine it gives them a street-hard look. Most Americans think they look like gay Marines with deformed ears. They wear their blue jeans like their school shorts—too high and too tight, leaving them with severe moose knuckle. They will occasionally wear items of indigenous clothing—a baseball cap, a plaid work shirt—just to show that they're not tourists. But they wear them with irony. Indeed, Brits are rarely seen in New York without their magic cloaks of invisible irony—they think that, on a fundamental level, their calling here is as irony missionaries. They bless everything and everyone with the little flick quotation marks, that rabbit-ear genuflection of cool, ironic sterility. How often their mocking conversations about the natives return to the amusing truth that New Yorkers have an unbelievable, ridiculous irony deficiency, which ignores the fact that a city that produced Dorothy Parker, Robert Mapplethorpe, Abstract Expressionism, Woody Allen, and Woody Allen's love life has quite enough irony to build the Brooklyn Bridge.

What's with you Bits and irony? We get irony, its just not an obsession.
Why is it that the English continue to get it all so wrong in New York? There is something particularly, peculiarly irritating about the Brits over here. This is a city that's wide open to strangers, lumpy with a homogeneity of schemers and immigrants, yet the Brits manage to remain aloof and apart, the grit in the Vaseline. Those with the voices like broken crockery, the book-at-bedtime accent, have a lot to answer for. The Brits believe that they have a birth-given sincerity and that it's not what you say but how you say it that matters. And that all silly, gullible Yanks, from policemen to society hostesses, will wave us ahead on life's road when we open our euphonious mouth. In fact, most Americans can't tell the difference between Billy Connolly and Russell Crowe, and why on earth should they? If you really, really want to disjoint an Englishman—ruin his day—then just ask him which bit of Australia he's from.

Or ask him about his dental plan.
If it were just you that the Brits annoyed, I wouldn't really care. What I mind is that they've re-created this Disney, Dick Van Dyke, um-diddle-diddle-um-diddle-I, merry Britain of childish grub and movie clichés, this Jeeves-and-Wooster place of mockery and snobbery, and I'm implicated, by mouth. Made complicit in this hideous retro-vintage place of Spam, Jam lyrics, bow ties, and buggery. These ex-Brits who have settled in the rent-stabilized margins of Manhattan aren't our brightest and our best—they are our remittance men, paid to leave. Not like the other immigrants, who made it here as the cleverest, most adventurous in the village. What you get are our failures and fantasists. The freshly redundant. The exposed and embittered. No matter how long they stay here, they don't mellow, their consonants don't soften. They don't relax into being another local. They become ever more English. Über-Brits. Spiteful, prickly things in worn tweed, clutching crossword puzzles, gritting their Elizabethan teeth, soup-spotted, tomb-breathed, loud and deaf. The most reprehensible and disgusting of all human things; the self-made, knowing English eccentric. Eccentricity is the last resort of the expat. The petit fou excuse for rudeness, hopelessness, self-obsession, failure, and never, ever picking up the check.

Well, the English got stuck with Madonna, so we're even.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

I'm Out

I have a huge do-or-die project to complete, which involves some travel, so I'll probably be incommunicado for about six weeks - I hope to be back by the beginning of May.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Lingua Pranka

When a blogger lacks for inspiration, he piggybacks on his fellow blogger. And so today's topic is borrowed from Bryan Appelyard, as interpreted by the Daily Duck's own dean of all things literary, literate and literal, Brit. Bryan posts this hilarious deleted entry from Wikipedia on the topic of "Voltron":
Voltron is about uber l337 robot felines that join together to fight evil the voltron form, wihch is a big gay manform robot that kills so much. i used to have a voltron coloring book when i was little but i dont know where it went. damit it was nice too, tole the whole voltron story all about action. i even made voltron my msn name cause MTV made a joke about a "voltron of crap" this means like a "super conglomeration of crap" or a "network of crap" like MTV. i hope voltron rapes MTV and sets it all on fire to death. ApoC, 2003. so do I.'

From this simple mangling of language Brit has coined the term Voltronese to describe the emerging international pidgin tongue evolving from the globalization of culture:
One of the arguments I've used against Esperanto as a concept is that even if it was somehow imposed on the world overnight, within a generation or two local differences would mean that Russian Esperanto, English Esperanto, Italian Esperanto, Chinese Esperanto etc would have diverged so far that you would need translators between them.

It could therefore only ever be useful as a worldwide second language, not a first. But then another agument against it is that English is set to become the international second language anyway. But what would happen if English started becoming so important that it became a first language nearly everywhere?

Maybe it would start morphing into these weird 'voltron of crap' local dialects. And these would in turn feedback into the orginal language by a process of natural selection. And thus we would end up eventually with a single, global language after all.

Let's call it Voltron English. You heard it here first.
The question is whether the removal of this isolation by globalisation and the internet will mean that we will end up with a single, hybrid global Voltronese spoken by everybody. And if this happens, will the world have better understanding but fewer souls?

I, for one, am putting my dollars on Babel. But it's an interesting concept. Language has always given in to local context. Do the deinizens of Arizona have a word for "Noreaster"? Do they need one? The hardy Inuit have a jillion words for snow, but not a single word for "turbofan". And African American hip culture constantly evolves new terms to describe two basic, interrelated concepts: "coolness" and "uncoolness". Phat, def, illin, kashizzle, you name it. They are the Inuit of cool.

As Brit has gotten into the word-coining business, I'd like to invite Daily Duck readers to follow along. Comedian Rich Hall coined the term "sniglet" to represent words that should be in a dictionary but aren't. Here are some examples of sniglets from Hall:

# ARG (Audio Retinal Gyration): The act of trying to read the label on a LP record while it's playing on a turntable. (Hall 1985a: 93)
# Blemus: The film that develops on top of some soups and gravies when left unstirred.
# Blivet: to flip your pillow looking for a cool spot (Hall 1984: 14)
# Cheedle: The orange residue left on fingers after eating Cheetos or some other cheesy snack (Hall 1984: 21)
# Execuglide: The act of using your wheeled office chair to move from one place to another. (Hall 1985a: 31)

I've been thinking of concepts that cry out for a word. Here are the definitions, you supply the words:

1, The distance between oneself and a stranger following less than which it would be rude not to hold a door open for, but further than which would make it seem creepily familiar to the other person if you held the door open for them.

2. The art of placing a coin or small object in a hidden spot in a public place with the intent of revisiting the spot many years later to see if the object is still there.

3. The temporary sensation of finding the pronounciation of a common word strange sounding.

4. The act of blaming one's flatulence on a dog.

5. The quality of macho nerdiness displayed by action oriented techie types like the mission control guys in Apollo 13.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Why do we need movie critics?

Peter Bart in describes the disconnect between the opinions of movie critics and the viewing public that has made "300", a historical drama about the battle of Thermopylae, a runaway hit:

Box office data this year suggests that filmgoers seem to be having a great time at the multiplexes. The critics, by contrast, may be shopping around for a new line of work.

In reviewing "300" last week, for example, A.O. (Tony) Scott of the New York Times, said the movie was "as violent as 'Apocalypto' and twice as stupid."

That comment reflected the consensus among critics not only on "300" but also on "Ghost Rider," "Wild Hogs," "Norbit" and the other movie miscreants unleashed on the public since Oscar time.
The reviews of "300" remind us that the literature of disdain is much more fun to turn out. Scott, the Times critic, for example, predicted that the movie would become "an object of camp derision," and would appeal mainly to "devotees of the pectoral, deltoid and other fine muscle groups."

Kenneth Turan"s review in the Los Angeles Times, basically a prolonged wince, also noted that "300" was "Apocalypto" violent," adding, "There is a limit to how often you can see soldiers speared and hacked to death and still stay involved."

Perhaps, but the first week"s "involvement" totaled some $70 million at the box office.

I stopped taking critics seriously after seeing "Pulp Fiction" at their behest. I saw "300" on opening day and thoroughly enjoyed it. It is a gory spectacle no doubt, but it taps into themes that ordinary people crave and critics despise. Themes like patriotism and manly virtue. The main character, King Leonidas of Sparta played by Gerard Butler, is not complicated. He loves his people, his wife, his state, and he will fight to protect them from tyrany and slavery in spite of the objections of priests and politicians. So there is little suspense about how the story will unfold.

The tale is narrated by one of the soldiers at the battle, Dilios, played by David Wenham. The surreal, exaggerated nature of the battle scenes is best understood as a recreation in the imagination of a young Spartan hearing the tale from Delios as he recounts it from memory. The Persian soldiers are bizarre and exotic, their war beasts are enormous. Elephants are 50 feet tall. The King of Persia, Xerxes, is a strangely effeminate giant who towers over Leonidas, both seductive and repellant in his splendid decadence. The movie presents both history and myth, a point that none of the critics grasped.

In that respect it has something in common with another movie that came out this year that did gain much critical acclaim as well as three Academy Awards, "Pan's Labrynth". I also saw Pan's Labrynth and have to say that it is much deserving of the acclaim, which shows that critics can actually get it right sometimes.

Update: John Podhoretz reviews "300" in The Weekly Standard, and echoes some of the same things I mentioned, as well as describing what 300's runaway success portends for the future of Hollywood:
Because the actors are unimportant, Zack Snyder received no pressure from a top-of-the-line star to adjust his script to make his heroes more attractive, more modern, and more politically correct. There's no way that a Brad Pitt could have played Snyder's Leonidas. The part would have been altered to ensure Pitt got to deliver a speech bemoaning the tragic cost of war. No Spartan would have delivered such a speech, of course, but if Brad Pitt is your Spartan, he's going to insist on it.

And here's why 300 is going to be revolutionary. Snyder and his collaborators had the same storytelling freedom enjoyed by Disney and Pixar and other animators whose films are primarily intended for children. They do not have to satisfy the desires of in-demand actors who want always to appear sympathetic, to act in ways that will not offend core audiences, and to get all the best lines and the best scenes in the script. In a partially animated, partially live-action film, the performers are relegated to a secondary status that liberates moviemakers from the Hollywood power structure, in which stars hold the cards.

In animated features, the story is king--and the stories that work are ones with clear moral conflicts in which flawed characters are called upon to sacrifice for the greater good. Stars don't like playing characters with flaws, or characters from different times whose views on social matters don't conform to our own. If semi- animated pictures aimed not at kids but at adult moviegoers now really take flight because of 300's smashing success, the future will not be so bright for Hollywood's star system. But it will give adventurous moviemakers some room to breathe free.

Anything that takes Brad Pitt out of the loop is alright by me.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Conservatism broadly defined

Michael Medved has penned one of the most reasonable definitions of conservatism that I've seen from the current crop of US conservative commentators. I say that mainly because it's the only one that explicitly includes secular conservatives within the boundaries. Here is the key paragraph:

It’s true that most conservatives and Republicans describe themselves as religious and we certainly recognize the value of organized faith, but nearly a fourth of GOP’ers remain proudly secular and there’s no obvious religious basis for, say, backing lower taxes on capital gains.

I'd be interested to know where he got the 1/4th figure from. It seems high in light of surveys that put atheists at no more than 5% of the US population, though I'm sure that it covers people that are functionally secular if not athiest/agnostic.

He does an admirable job of delineating many of the other values that conservatives uphold in a manner that isn't merely a laundry list of current political issues. Here is another sampling of Medved's article:

The essential instinct behind modern conservatism goes beyond a desire for small government or any religious impulses, and animates our approach to politics, culture, foreign policy, family life, child-rearing, the business world and much more.

Above all, conservatives feel impelled to make clear distinctions between right and wrong.

We reject all notions of moral relativism. Though we’re obviously imperfect, and (like all human beings) often fail to do the right thing, we try to draw lines between the beneficial and the dysfunctional, between productive and destructive.

In policy as well as personal life, we seek to differentiate between good and bad behavior, and we want all of society (not just government) to encourage the good and discourage the bad.

In other words, conservatives insist on making distinctions, giving the individual broad latitude to choose, and then recognizing that choices must carry consequences.

A decent society supports and rewards good choices and discourages bad ones.

Read the whole thing.

My Continuing Campaign Against Content

Nothing here but great visuals and shameless self reference.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Richard Dawkins evil twin Mary Grabar, who spews the usual Christianist cant in this hit piece at entitiled "Atheistic Democracy: An oxymoron". I'll spare you a lengthty excerpt, as a few lowlights will suffice to give you a hint about the quality of her argumentative skills:

This of course presupposes the notion of sin, or if you don’t like that old-fashioned word, imperfection. Christianity acknowledges the universality of human sin in addition to the universality of dignity. Therefore the Christian recognizes the limits of government because of the limitations of the (fallen) people who make up the government. The ultimate arbiter is God, not man the Scientist. Who is the ultimate arbiter for the atheist? Sam Harris? Richard Dawkins? Adolf Hitler? To whom will they appeal when they cannot decide their infernal debates?
This is where the idea of forgiveness comes in. The atheistic world view, since it does not allow for sin, does not allow for forgiveness.
But atheists believe in the Power of Their Own Minds and reforming society to bring about a utopia. Their Own Minds have come up with affirmative action, as well as forced euthanasia to “alleviate suffering,” concentration camps, and communism.
I’ve had a student tell me about pagan rituals involving the drinking of human blood. Indeed, stupid atheists are responsible for taking away the spiritual bulwarks against internal jihad in our schools.
But as I stated in my previous column, atheists are stupid. .. Well, the atheists are smart in a limited way. They can function at their technical jobs. But they cannot see or think outside of that box. They cannot do philosophy.

If any of my theist friends can read the full article and find one scintilla of original thought or redeeming argumenation, please point it out to me. Her caricatures are too stiff even to be strawmen.

Friday, March 09, 2007

A Redundant Public Service Announcement


We're practically swimming in the nasty, beastly stuff.

Also, we're not running out of water or mineral ores, and there aren't too many people living on Earth, just far too many living in dysfunctional nations and cultures.

Thank you for your attention.

Only equanimitize

In the spirit of E.M. Forster, Bryan Appleyard invited his readers to share their rules of conduct, learned from bitter experience and humiliation, on how to maintain an even keel, or as he more eloquently put it, maintain a tolerable equanimity. Today Bryan posted the resulting 12 rules, culled from reader submissions and appropriately reworded to suit Bryan's unique tastes. Here is the final list:

1)Do not rely on the good intentions of any cat.
2)Never heckle a man with a microwave.
3)Do not attempt to flush cellophane.
4)Do not interfere with shower controls in the houses of others and do not handcuff a physicist to said shower.
5)The insultee should expend 50 per cent less energy on being insulted than the insulter does on insulting.
6)Starship captains: do not beam aboard strange devices of unknown origin or purpose or anything lizard-like.
7)Walk everywhere, but look where you are going.
8)After 45 do not trouble yourself with people you don't like. Also attempt to do this before 45 but you will fail.
9)Insist you are right at all times except when you are wrong.
10)If right-handed, do not push your right arm through a window.
11)Use latex rather than oil whenever possible.
12)In Germany on Sunday expect nothing.

Of note from the list is the contribution of the Duckian contingent, namely moi and the equanimitous Brit, to three of the final rules. May these rules help all of you to realize the blessings of a tolerable equanimity!

Thursday, March 08, 2007


Taliban Leader Vows to Resist NATO Offensive [Oh please, please, pretty please, do...]

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (March 8) - A top Taliban commander said Wednesday the group has 4,000 fighters bracing to rebuff NATO 's largest-ever offensive in southern Afghanistan, now in its second day. [...]

NATO, meanwhile, announced the capture of a senior Taliban fighter who had eluded authorities by wearing a woman's burqa. Mullah Mahmood, who is accused of helping Taliban fighters rig suicide bomb attacks, was seized by Afghan soldiers at a checkpoint near Kandahar, the alliance said. [...]

Operation Achilles, comprising some 4,500 NATO and 1,000 Afghan troops, is focused on securing lawless regions of northern Helmand - the world's biggest poppy-growing region.

The offensive follows a mission last fall that wiped out hundreds of militants who fought in formation in neighboring Kandahar province, prompting NATO spokesman Col. Tom Collins to say this week the military would welcome a repeat of those tactics. [...]

Mahmood - the Taliban commander caught wearing the burqa - was trying to leave the Panjwayi area of Kandahar province - site of the large NATO battle last fall where hundreds of Taliban fighters were killed.

"Alert (Afghan) soldiers at this checkpoint spotted the oddity and quickly arrested him," NATO said.

"The capture of this senior Taliban extremist is another indicator that a more normal life is returning to the Zhari and Panjwayi districts and a testament to the great work the (Afghan army) is achieving," said Maj. Gen. Ton van Loon, the southern commander of NATO-led troops.

In eastern Afghanistan, Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces arrested a suspected al-Qaida bomb expert and five other terrorist suspects Wednesday...

Thank You, Thank You Very Much...

Reinventing Bollywood
India's film industry is cranking out movies, but has yet to hit the box office jackpot. But that's about to change - and entrepreneurs are seizing the opportunity.

By Jason Overdorf
Business 2.0 Magazine
March 6 2007

[India's] teeming film industry, known as Bollywood, is extraordinarily prolific. Indian filmmakers churn out 1,000 movies each year. Yet the industry grossed just $1.5 billion in 2005, and only a handful of movies made it to first-run theaters overseas. Compare that with Hollywood, which pumped out 563 movies that year and made more than $18 billion at the box office, including $9.6 billion from international distribution. [...]

Bollywood has always been a haphazard affair. Half a dozen prominent families controlled it, but they weren't very businesslike. Movies started shooting with no scripts and little money. Stars disappeared midshoot for weeks at a time to vacation, go home, or work on another movie. Theater owners underreported ticket sales to avoid sharing revenue with producers. It was nearly impossible to figure out whether a movie had made money and, if so, how much.

In addition, Indian story lines did not appeal to many outside the country. To the Western eye, Bollywood movies were chaotic, [surreal]. [...] In a typical plot, the hero sang, danced, fought bad guys, got the girl, found his long lost brother, and wept on his mother's deathbed - for at least three hours.

[Ronnie Screwvala, one of the leading movie producers in India], broke into Bollywood in the late '90s, teaming up with anyone willing to work by his rules. [Screwvala's company, UTV Software Communications], has produced a dozen movies with all the earmarks of professional filmmaking: budgets, marketing and distribution plans, real preproduction, and three-month shoots.

The company distributes them worldwide and milks Hollywood-style ancillary revenue, from product placement to soundtrack rights and video-on-demand. Screwvala has also cut the running times and dumped the disorganized and stale story lines. [...]

[Screwvala compares] his experience to the days when Star Wars and other independent films paved the way for new genres in Hollywood. [...]
This year, along with his Indian films, [Screwvala is] partnering with Sony Pictures and Fox Searchlight on movies starring Chris Rock and Will Smith. [...]
News Corp. and Disney bought stakes in UTV last year. [...]

And its "new" business practices are spurring changes at competing studios. Contracts, budgets, and balance sheets are more common. So are shooting schedules, bigger marketing budgets, and the exploitation of ancillary revenue.

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, Indian films will generate $2.3 billion by 2010...

Now who could have predicted such an unlikely thing, almost exactly one year ago today, on March 1st, 2006...


Oh, right.

More Evidence of Global Warming

Cold weather puts chill on February US retail sales
Thu Mar 8, 2007
By Nicole Maestri

[February] marked the coldest February since 1979, according to weather tracking firm Planalytics...

'Course, the source is Reuters, so caveat scholāris.

And speaking of predictions of global warming, which depend on forecasts from climate models:

Can This Weatherman See Your Future?
By Andy Raskin
August 1, 2003
Business 2.0

[All emphasis added]
[Ants Leetmaa], director of NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory at Princeton, N.J., says it's "impossible" to achieve real accuracy in weekly, long-range forecasts. Leetmaa is a bit of a maverick himself--he's famous for having predicted the El Nino of winter 1997-98 six months in advance. "I said central California and Florida might not be ideal holiday destinations," he recalls. "Boy, did [the chambers of commerce howl]. But it rained for, like, 90 days straight."

Leetmaa explains that forecasters generally rely on either science or history to predict the weather. For short-range predictions, they use physics to model the atmosphere and simulate changes over time. Run on supercomputers like the National Weather Service's new 7.3-teraflop IBM, short-range models have "skill"--meteorology jargon for accuracy greater than flipping a coin--out to seven days. But going even a week out pushes the limits of dynamic modeling. Indeed, in 1963, MIT meteorologist Edward Lorenz, the father of chaos theory, famously asserted that weather is so complex that skill a month out would never be attainable.

For longer-range forecasts, meteorologists depend on statistical models that are less about physics than about historical patterns. Leetmaa's El Nino forecast showed that skill can exist beyond the Lorenz limit, but he was making only broad estimates for average temperatures and precipitation over a full season--in contrast to Planalytics's highly localized weekly forecasts. Then again, it's possible he just got lucky. NOAA's Climate Prediction Center makes year-ahead seasonal predictions every month; on a scale of 0 (no skill) to 100 (right in every region), NOAA's average score is 20...

But we already knew that it wasn't about the science...

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

D'oh !!

Steve Jobs' bad bet
The visionary CEO didn't have enough faith in Apple's future.
By Geoff Colvin
March 5 2007
Fortune Magazine

[Apple is] one of the all-time great business turnarounds and America's seventh-most admired company, [but Steve Jobs, the] great seer of tech trends, had no idea what was coming - indeed, no idea how much his company, or he himself, was really worth. Larger question for investors: If he didn't know, how could the rest of us?

Here's what happened. When Fortune ran a 2001 cover story (by yours truly) called "The Great CEO Pay Heist", we put Jobs on the cover because the previous year he had received a mammoth grant of stock options that we calculated was worth $872 million, making it the largest one-year pay package any CEO had ever received.

Jobs responded with a letter to the editor, which we published, saying we had made a "glaring error." Those options weren't worth anywhere near what we said. "In fact, they are worth zero," he stated, since they were underwater. And he went further: "If I'm in error, and you really do think my penniless stock options are worth $872 million, I will be pleased to offer you the deal of a lifetime and sell them to you for just half that amount. And I also have a bridge you may be interested in buying."

We answered that while his offer was "potentially a good deal, Fortune isn't sufficiently capitalized at present to take advantage."

Jobs wasn't ready to give up on Apple options, though; he accepted another huge grant in 2001. Then, in 2003, with Apple stock deep in the doldrums, he finally abandoned hope and surrendered both options grants, accepting from the board in their place a big chunk of restricted stock. And with that, the matter was largely forgotten until the recent backdating mess brought it all back.

Now, with benefit of hindsight, let's get out the calculator and see how smart Jobs looks. That bag of restricted stock he got in 2003 is today worth about $848 million. Not bad. But what about the options he gave up? His first mega-grant, the one that landed him on our cover, would today be in the money not by the $436 million for which he offered to sell it to us, or even by the $872 million we said it was worth, but by just over $2.5 billion.

The other option grant he gave up would today be in the money by just over $1.1 billion. That's more than $3.6 billion of gain that he traded away for shares that today are worth less than $1 billion. (Apple declined to comment.)

Lessons from this tale of missed opportunity:

* The supremely self-confident aren't always what they seem. Though Jobs is considered one of Silicon Valley's leading egomaniacs, which is saying something, he had virtually no faith in his own abilities. When he wrote us that letter, he knew something the rest of the world didn't: that in a few months he would stand on a stage and introduce a new product called the iPod. Yet he not only insisted his options were worthless but put his money where his mouth was two years later and made a trade that will be immortalized as one of the worst ever.

* Rationally reading a CEO's behavior isn't always the right investment strategy. Jobs was sending the market powerfully negative signals. After all, when he wrote us the letter, those options still had almost nine years to run. It was easy to calculate that if Apple stock simply appreciated for the options' ten-year term at the same moderate rate as over the previous ten years, the options would have been worth far more than we said. Thus, Jobs was telling the world he didn't expect that to happen. Exchanging his options for restricted stock sent the same
message. [...]

* Smart-aleck journalists aren't always smart. "Fortune isn't sufficiently capitalized at present" was a lame excuse. We should have hocked the office furniture, broken our kids' piggy banks, and taken the deal.
From Harold Maass's The Best of Today's Business:

Wednesday, March 7, 2007
Relaxing by working
The United Way and are unveiling a Web site to help tourists find places where they can do volunteer work on vacation. A British company offering similar services said it saw a 300-percent surge in North American bookings from 2002 to 2005, as an increasing number of Americans decided to spend their holidays building houses for the poor, or protecting Pandas in China, or saving sea turtles in Costa Rica... (Los Angeles Times, free registration required)

I can understand this - it's essentially a more-relevant "dude ranch" or "Outward Bound" type vacation.

3.8 percent of the 9 million workers and job applicants given urinalyses by Quest Diagnostics tested positive for drugs last year. In 2005, 4.1 percent of the tests came back positive -- down from a peak of 13.6 percent in 1988, the first year the company began compiling data. (USA Today)

Which almost certainly means that, along with reduced drug use among workers, job applicants have gotten a lot smarter about foiling drug tests since '88.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007
US Airways plans to start selling advertising space on tray tables in first class this spring, after a trial program in coach demonstrated that passengers weren't annoyed by tray-table ads. (The New York Times, free registration required)

This seems way overdue to me. They should also be selling the space at the top of the seatback, and the space revealed when the tray is pulled down.

As much as 5 percent of the rare-vintage wine sold privately or at auction may be fake, according to Wine Spectator. (The Wall Street Journal, no link)

Big surprise. An estimated quarter of rare stamps and half of the sports memorabilia sold is counterfeit. Fake "antiques" abound, as do fashion knock-offs.
Whatever is highly valuable due to intangibles, but which is also easily reproduced, will be. Like currency itself, and even money orders and trading stamps.

Monday, March 5, 2007
Finding oil in the most obvious places
Technology advances are helping energy companies extract more oil from old fields, dramatically boosting forecasts of the world's oil reserves. Until recently, drilling operations only extracted one of every three barrels of oil they found. [Emphasis added] The rest they left behind because it would have been too expensive to pump out. High oil prices have helped change that. Now, drillers can use new processes, such as injecting high-pressure steam into wells, to extract more oil from fields where production had been declining. "It's not over until you abandon the last well," said Chevron geophysicist Steve Garrett, "and even then it's not over." (The New York Times, free registration required)

Which is one reason, among many, why I don't sweat Hubbert's peak, which theory claims that we're on the verge of running out of oil.

Thursday, March 1, 2007
McDonald's plans to introduce iced coffee -- as well as smoothies and other "destination beverages" -- to bring people who aren't even hungry into its restaurants. The giant hamburger chain introduced premium coffee last year, and its coffee volume jumped by 15 percent. (AP in the Los Angeles Times, free registration required)

This, Chipotle (more), the 24hr drive-through hours...
McD's management is on the ball.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007
DaimlerChrysler approved a plan to become the first company to sell Chinese-made cars in the U.S. Chrysler would sell small cars built by China's Chery Motor in the U.S. and Europe. The Chinese government is expected to approve the deal next month. If it does, the vehicles -- which would be smaller than Chryslers tiniest current model, the Dodge Caliber -- could be available in a few years. (USA Today) "The Chinese have shown they can build quality if they have a blueprint," said analyst George Peterson of AutoPacific Inc., "and that's what they'd get from Chrysler." (Los Angeles Times, free registration required)

Monday, February 26, 2007
A web site called will provide hired "friends" to users of MySpace and other networking sites for 99 cents a month each. The business' founder, Brand Walker, said he came up with the idea of selling phony comments and pictures of models as a way to "turn cyberlosers into social-networking magnets." (The New York Times, free registration required)

LOL. I wish that I'd thought of that.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Second Life Tax Debate
Posted by Kristin Edelhauser at 3/6/2007
Entrepreneur Daily blog

Second Life may be a virtual reality world, but there's nothing virtual about the money being made off of the web community. In fact, according to an article on, one user claims [that she has become a real-life millionaire from] the site. In the last 24 hours alone, users have put about $1.6 million into the Second Life world.

In this 3-D virtual world, users create their own Second Life persona and have the chance to buy and sell goods using Linden dollars, the currency of the website. The money made in this virtual world can then be converted into real U.S. dollars.

Because of the success of websites like Second Life, tax authorities will be re-evaluating how online earnings are reported. For example, can a transaction that takes place in Linden dollars become taxable? [...]

What’s the IRS have to say about it? "Any time someone wins a tangible prize or award, the value is reportable as taxable income. An accumulation of 'points' would not result in tax consequences, but redeeming or selling them for money, goods, or services would," says an IRS spokesperson.

Analysts predict that taxes on virtual-only transactions may start appearing in the next three to four years.


Starting a Second Life Business
By Laura Tiffany
January 09, 2007

A million dollars of virtual loot. It's a concept that's difficult to wrap your head around, but in November, that's exactly what virtual real-estate developer Anshe Chung accomplished in the 3D virtual world Second Life, in which users live "second" lives as avatars. When her entrepreneurial success story hit the press, it spread like wildfire, leading many to ask: What exactly are the business opportunities available in Second Life? Are people really turning their love for Second Life into a full-time business?

Marketers have already been exploring the world, with big-name businesses like American Apparel, Starwood Hotels, Scion and Cisco setting up virtual areas for their products--a store for American Apparel, a hotel for Starwood--in Second Life. Even Reuters has assigned a bureau chief specifically to the site.

If you've never visited Second Life--or even heard of it—here's a quick look at it. Second Life is a 3D virtual world where people use avatars to explore and commune with other people. It's often lumped in with such online games as World of Warcraft or Star Wars Galaxies (which insiders refer to as "massively multiplayer online role playing games" or MMORPGs), but it's a different beast. There's no slaying of dragons to level up a character or collecting weapons to prepare for battle, but you can buy and develop online real estate, import images to craft your own in-world creations, or attend a drum circle with avatars created by users from all over the world. Based on the futuristic Metaverse from Neal Stephenson's seminal sci-fi novel Snow Crash, [A novel which is highly recommended by AOG/Susan's Hubby], Second Life aims to truly be a second life for users, with opportunities for both work and play.

It's the work element--the embrace of entrepreneurship--that's perhaps most unique to Second Life. Linden Labs, the creator of Second Life, has welcomed the entrepreneurial inclinations of its community in two important ways. First, Linden dollars, the in-world currency, are easily traded for U.S. dollars at an official currency site. Second, Linden has taken the remarkable step of allowing players to retain the copyright for their in-game creations. [...]

Julian Dibbel, an MMORPG expert who chronicled the year he spend trying to earn an income in Ultima Online in his book Play Money, says Second Life--and not MMORPGs--is the place to look if you want to make a virtual living online. [...]

[A] major issue with multiplayer game money-making, as opposed to Second Life, is that many foreign businesses have cornered the market on entrepreneurial opportunities using inexpensive labor and cheap overhead. Dibbel says this isn't yet an issue in Second Life. "What's not so easily off-shored is the really creative and culturally specific stuff, and that's what you see in Second Life."

What's also interesting about Second Life, says Dibbel, is that while you can be wildly creative, you don't have to be. The aforementioned Anshe Chung (real name: Ailin Graef), who was the first Second Life entrepreneur with a net worth of more than $1 million, made her cash through virtual real-estate dealings. The German resident has even gone real-world with her talents, starting Anshe Chung Studios, a 3D environment developer with offices in Wuhan, China. [...]

In December, Linden Labs reported there were more than 2.3 million Second Life "residents" (avatars that people have created), and that number seems likely to continue to rise. Some have criticized this population figure as not being representative of the true user base because it includes people who visited Second Life only once and never returned, as well as users who have more than one avatar. Regardless, there's no doubting that Second Life's popularity is growing...

Unreal World
The creator of today’s hottest virtual land offers a glimpse into his reality.
By Sara Wilson
Entrepreneur Magazine - March 2007

Everything in Second Life was created by its residents--from houses to clothes to the background music. But this is no game. While they operate under their own economy and use Linden dollars, Second Life businesses are earning real U.S. dollars as well--$15 million worth of goods and services are sold per month.

How I Did It: Philip Rosedale, CEO, Linden Lab
By: Michael Fitzgerald

Second Life seems like an overnight sensation--it drew almost a million new residents in the last two months of 2006, doubling its population. In fact, it began in 1999, when Philip Rosedale quit his job as chief technology officer at RealNetworks to realize his lifelong dream of building a virtual-reality environment. Most people he knew thought he was quixotic and certain to fail. He almost did. No wonder the 38-year-old Rosedale...

[Sez Rosedale]: "An enormous amount of intellectual energy is going to move into [Second Life], and some of what we are doing in the real world will therefore be displaced. You can imagine New York City being kind of like a museum. Still an incredibly cool place to go, but with no one working in those towers because work, creative work, where you are engaging with other people face-to-face, you are going to do in a virtual world. It's going to leave these cities [gestures toward downtown San Francisco] and move into digital worlds. It is easier to do things there."

The Assassination of Character

When Christopher Hitchens and Dennis Prager are on the same side, it must be about something extroadinary. And indeed it is, for both have come out today in defense of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali born woman who defied the Islamic culture she was brought up in to live a free and independent life as chronicled in her bestselling book "Infidel". You wouldn't think that Ali would require defending from the Anglo-American media, but these are very strange and disturbing times we live in. Here is Hitchens in Slate:
Ali's best seller Infidel, which describes the escape of a young Somali woman from sexual chattelhood to a new life in Holland and then (after the slaying of her friend Theo van Gogh) to a fresh exile in the United States. Two of our leading intellectual commentators, Timothy Garton Ash (in the New York Review of Books) and Ian Buruma, described Hirsi Ali, or those who defend her, as "Enlightenment fundamentalist[s]." In Sunday's New York Times Book Review, Buruma made a further borrowing from the language of tyranny and intolerance and described her view as an "absolutist" one.

Now, I know both Garton Ash and Buruma, and I remember what fun they used to have, in the days of the Cold War, with people who proposed a spurious "moral equivalence" between the Soviet and American sides. Much of this critique involved attention to language. Buruma was very mordant about those German leftists who referred to the "consumer terrorism" of the federal republic. You can fill in your own preferred example here; the most egregious were (and, come to think of it, still are) those who would survey the U.S. prison system and compare it to the Gulag.

In her book, Ayaan Hirsi Ali says the following: "I left the world of faith, of genital cutting and forced marriage for the world of reason and sexual emancipation. After making this voyage I know that one of these two worlds is simply better than the other. Not for its gaudy gadgetry, but for its fundamental values." This is a fairly representative quotation. She has her criticisms of the West, but she prefers it to a society where women are subordinate, censorship is pervasive, and violence is officially preached against unbelievers. As an African victim of, and escapee from, this system, she feels she has acquired the right to say so. What is "fundamentalist" about that?

The Feb. 26 edition of Newsweek takes up where Garton Ash and Buruma leave off and says, in an article by Lorraine Ali, that, "It's ironic that this would-be 'infidel' often sounds as single-minded and reactionary as the zealots she's worked so hard to oppose." I would challenge the author to give her definition of irony and also to produce a single statement from Hirsi Ali that would come close to materializing that claim. Accompanying the article is a typically superficial Newsweek Q&A sidebar, which is almost unbelievably headed: "A Bombthrower's Life." The subject of this absurd headline is a woman who has been threatened with horrific violence, by Muslims varying from moderate to extreme, ever since she was a little girl. She has more recently had to see a Dutch friend butchered in the street, been told that she is next, and now has to live with bodyguards in Washington, D.C. She has never used or advocated violence. Yet to whom does Newsweek refer as the "Bombthrower"? It's always the same with these bogus equivalences: They start by pretending loftily to find no difference between aggressor and victim, and they end up by saying that it's the victim of violence who is "really" inciting it.

Garton Ash and Buruma would once have made short work of any apologist who accused the critics of the U.S.S.R. or the People's Republic of China of "heating up the Cold War" if they made any points about human rights. Why, then, do they grant an exception to Islam, which is simultaneously the ideology of insurgent violence and of certain inflexible dictatorships? Is it because Islam is a "faith"? Or is it because it is the faith—in Europe at least—of some ethnic minorities? In neither case would any special protection from criticism be justified. Faith makes huge claims, including huge claims to temporal authority over the citizen, which therefore cannot be exempt from scrutiny. And within these "minorities," there are other minorities who want to escape from the control of their ghetto leaders. (This was also the position of the Dutch Jews in the time of Spinoza.) This is a very complex question, which will require a lot of ingenuity in its handling. The pathetic oversimplification, which describes skepticism, agnosticism, and atheism as equally "fundamentalist," is of no help here. And notice what happens when Newsweek takes up the cry: The enemy of fundamentalism is defined as someone on the fringe while, before you have had time to notice the sleight of hand, the aggrieved, self-pitying Muslim has become the uncontested tenant of the middle ground.

And here's Prager at
In 1932-33, New York Times reporter Walter Duranty reported from the Soviet Union that there was no Communist-induced famine in the Ukraine, indeed, that no one was dying of starvation there. In fact, between 4 and 7 million Ukrainians were starved to death by Stalin's regime. Though Duranty's name has since been synonymous with Westerners who hid the evil committed by enemies of the West and enemies of liberty, he received the Pulitzer Prize for his false reporting.

An unwillingness to identify evil and a desire to hurt those who do confront it were not confined to Western fellow travelers during the age of Communism.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali talks to The Associated Press in New York, Monday, Feb.5, 2007. Her latest book "The Infidel: The Story of My Enlightenment" is an autobiography which gives a graphic account of how she rejected her faith and the violence she says was inflicted on her in the name of Islam. Hirsi Ali is also a writer of the film "Submission," which criticized the treatment of women in traditional Islam, and led to the murder of her friend and colleague, filmmaker Theo van Gogh, on an Amsterdam street.

To cite one contemporary example, we have Newsweek senior writer Lorraine Ali. She recently reviewed Ayaan Hirsi Ali's autobiography, "Infidel," the story of Hirsi Ali's life as a Muslim girl and woman that led her to flee to the West, where she became a member of the Dutch Parliament and recently moved to America. Hirsi Ali is perhaps the most eloquent defender of Muslim women and gays living today. But to Newsweek's Lorraine Ali, the Islamists are not the problem, Ayaan Hirsi Ali is.
But for Newsweek's senior writer Lorraine Ali, Hirsi Ali is no protector of women and gays in Muslim societies. She is, rather, a "bombthrower," and the book is "single-minded and reactionary," written to appease "right-wingers."

To characterize Hirsi Ali -- rather than the people she is fighting in the Islamic world at the risk of her life -- as a "bombthrower" is almost beyond belief. But Newsweek may have hired an Islamist fellow traveler to cover these issues, just as in the Stalin era, Western media had some leftist fellow travelers on their staffs. That is almost certainly why Lorraine Ali wrote in her review, "In describing the 9/11 hijackers, [Hirsi Ali] comes up with an inflammatory conclusion tailor-made for her right-wing constituency: 'It was not a lunatic fringe who felt this way about America and the West. I knew that a vast majority of Muslims would see the attacks as justified retaliation against the infidel enemies of Islam.'"

Apparently Newsweek's senior writer is not aware or does not wish to acknowledge that, according to polls, a great many of those living in Muslim countries do indeed regard 9/11 as "justified retaliation against the infidel enemies of Islam" -- that is, if they even acknowledge that it was Muslims who perpetrated 9-11's terror.

Moreover, note the use of the words "right-wing" and "reactionary" to describe Hirsi Ali and her views. To Newsweek's Lorraine Ali, a woman who is a feminist, atheist, pro-gay and combats the greatest religious extremism of our time is "right-wing" and "reactionary."

Just as during the Cold War the Left was divided between those who fought Communism and those who fought anti-Communism, the Left today will have to decide whether it wants to fight Islamists or anti-Islamists. At least in this instance, Newsweek has decided to go with Lorraine Ali and fight those fighting Islamism, even when those fighting the Islamists are pro-gay, feminist atheists who only care about the greatest oppression of gays and women in the world at this time.

Hitchens and Prager have said everything that I would say, and better. It's time to stand with people of character like Ali against tyrants and their fellow travelers.

More shameless caricatures

I just can't make this stuff up: N.Y. Teacher Fights Modern-Day 'Witch Trial' - Woman Says She Was Fired Because Principal Said She Practiced Witchcraft
(CBS) HAMPTON BAYS, N.Y. A Long Island elementary school teacher is suing the Hampton Bays school district after she was fired because her administrators allegedly believed she was a witch teaching witchcraft to her students. Her lawyer is calling the case a "21st century re-enactment of the Salem Witchcraft Trials."

Lauren Berrios told CBS 2 that she was terminated after she was told that she "entice[d] children into witchcraft and magic through literature."
Even before she was fired, Berrios says her principal removed books from her classroom, including the popular series "Goosebumps," as well as "Harry Potter." She believes books that didn't mesh with principal's religious values, even including African-American literature, were taken out of her curriculum.

Monday, March 05, 2007


Matt White, a journeyman pitcher trying to make the Los Angeles Dodgers, could become baseball's first billionaire player.

It has nothing to do with his arm. He owns a rock quarry in western Massachusetts.

White, who has appeared in seven big league games in nine professional seasons, paid $50,000 three years ago to buy 50 acres of land from an elderly aunt who needed the money to pay for a nursing home.

While clearing out a couple acres to build a home, he discovered stone ledges in the ground, prompting him to have the property surveyed.

A geologist estimated there were 24 million tons of the stone on his land. The stone is being sold for upward of $100 per ton, meaning there's well over $2 billion worth of material used for sidewalks, patios and the like.

– Associated Press

Does Anyone Want to Take a Chance...

On Barack Obama becoming the next President of the United States ?

I will wager that he will not, and if anyone wants to take the other side, I'll put up five books, CDs, or DVDs to your lonely one...

Also, I'll give two to one if anyone wants to back the proposition that McCain will be the next POTUS, and three to one if anyone's mad for Rudy Giuliani.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Coulter Culture

If you haven't heard about Ann Coulter's latest toxic spew, then you probably have a normal life and you're probably not reading this either. But for right wing political junkies Coulter worship has become a serious occupational hazard. What is it about the infernal Miss C which ignites such a passionate response, that confounds any sense of propriety and common sense?

I frankly think she's a bigot, a boor and a crackpot. And the right wing media is starting to come around to the same conclusion. Hugh Hewitt compared her to Michael Richards, and has called on conservatives to keep their distance. But Hugh's stand is generating a lot of heat from the Ann-droids, who have swamped his blog with vile condemnations. Here is a sampling of their indignant ire:
Hooray for Ann
Every movment needs a firebrand, someone who is lude, crude and unacceptable to society. That's Ann's job.
I get tired of Conservatives and Republicans apologizing for bleeding on the carpet after being stabbed in the back.
I get tired of being reasonable and PC when what is called for is a knuckle sandwich.
That's the vicarious pleasure of Ann's outbursts.

I appreciate the point the Ann was making about political correctness run amok. It's incredibly easy it is to send the PC Crowd (Mr Hewitt included) into a hysterical tizzy.

i agree with ann. how long is it going to be before we are allowed to fight back.were at war with the left. we need to kick them in the teeth. hugh (i met you in phx)if you stop carrying her column i'll stop carrying townhall.we certainly can't depend on any high profile republican to defend conservatives

Hugh, you're wrong...
The Leftists are free to say anything and we're to just take it; but we're to muzzle ourselves.

How dimmi of you.

No going silently to the shearer for this sheep. We need more people willing to call a spade a spade...

Lead, follow, or get out of the way.

Coulter was a guilty pleasure that Republicans could afford when they were in the ascendant. But after a disastrous election defeat and staring at the need to hold onto the White House in order to prevent a Democratic sweep of the federal government, they can't afford to drag baggage like Coulter around anymore.

As for the Ann-droids, all I can imagine is that they dared to stare directly at the Gorgon's maw and now their common sense has turned to stone. All this posturing about censorship and re-education camps is beyond bizarre, it's moonbat conpiracy theory territory. If you're going to pick a cult figure to worship, don't choose one from the political realm. Politics is too important. That's why we have Hollywood.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Boom in Athiest Publishing

How does one explain the recent spate of bestsellers by militant atheists? We've had in quick succession "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins, "Breaking the Spell" by Daniel Dennett, and "The End of Faith" and "Letter to a Christian Nation" by Sam Harris. Not to miss out on the boom, Cristopher Hitchens will soon be coming out with his own polemic on religion, "God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything". Has there been a sudden upsurge in the ranks of the unbelieving that hasn't been captured by polls? Are religious Americans becoming masochistic in their reading habits?

I spent the day, between halting attempts to paint the master bedroom, reading Sam Harris' blogalogue with Andrew Sullivan, as well as a four-part debate he had with Dennis Prager. I have to say that athiests need a better class of apologist.

The first thing that strikes me is Harris' lack of diplomacy. If your aim is to win converts to your way of thinking, it's generally a bad idea to start off by calling them liars. But Harris does so in this paragraph:
Of course, people of faith are right to insist that there is more to life than being reasonable-which is to say there is much more to life than merely understanding the world and getting one's beliefs about it to cohere. But we can have ethical and spiritual lives without lying to ourselves and to others and without pretending to be certain about things we are clearly not certain about. Anyone who thinks he knows for sure that Jesus was born of virgin or that the Qur'an is the perfect word of the Creator of the universe is lying. Either he is lying to himself, or to everyone else. In neither case should such false certainties be celebrated.

Way to score points, Sam! Has it ever occured to him that it is possible to have false beliefs without lying? Lying is knowingly spreading a falsehood. If you believe the falsehood, it isn't a lie. You're not going to win someone over by misrepresenting their motives or intentions. This isn't a form of logical deduction, it is a form of fallacy that the ancient Greek logicians called "being a jerk".

There are two other trends to Harris' argument that I find troubling. The first is his insistence that religious moderates are as bad as the extreme fundamentalists. I find this position just irresponsible. If someone supports the same cultural values that you do with regard to respect for individual rights and human dignity, it is just wrong to tar them with complicity with those religious people who disdain those values just because they share a common religious tradition. Sullivan is nothing if not outspoken against the threat of Christan fundamentalism. If anything he goes overboard in ringing the alarm bell over what he calls "Christianist" influences in the Republican party. The only thing that Sullivan could do to satisfy Harris is to give up on his religion. Harris' "my way or the highway" view of religion doesn't represent the kind of reverence for freedom of conscience that he accuses religious people of lacking.

The second trend is this hysterical doomsday fearmongering of what will befall the world if religion is not extirpated in the very near future. With all the crimes throughout history that you can properly place the blame upon religion, and they are many, you can't say that they ever came close to spelling doom for mankind. History is a bloody spectacle, and future history will be moreso, but we will continue to thrive in spite of it. Harris' doomsday scenarios over the continued practice of religion are as plausible as global warming doomsaying. In fifty years, if anyone remembers his books, he'll be remembered as any other false prophet of doom.