Tuesday, March 31, 2009

That Crazy Kansas Market

Forget for a moment that Kate Sebelius didn't pay her taxes--who does!

What I'm mystified by is this: Sebelius writes, "In July of 2006, my husband and I sold our home for an amount less than the outstanding balance on our mortgage."

Wasn't July 2006 just about the height of the housing bubble? How could you sell a house then for less than the balance on your mortgage?

Nothing but the best and the brightest!

Monday, March 30, 2009

On Genius

A lot is being made about the heroic-heretical nature of the NYT's magisterial Freeman Dyson profile. And that's not to be dismissed. But on a broader level, it's always fascinating to see what native genius--real genius--looks like. Read about Einstein or Descartes or that sort of giant and you invariably come across stories like this one from Dyson:

His older sister Alice, a retired social worker still living in Winchester, remembers how her brother “used to lie on the nursery floor working out how many atoms there were in the sun. He was perhaps 4.”

Or this:

On his own in the school library, he read mathematical works in French and German and, at age 13, taught himself calculus from an Encyclopedia Britannica entry. “I remember thinking, Is that it?” he says. “People had been telling me how hard it was.”

Or this:

taking problems to Dyson is something of a parlor trick. A group of scientists will be sitting around the cafeteria, and one will idly wonder if there is an integer where, if you take its last digit and move it to the front, turning, say, 112 to 211, it’s possible to exactly double the value. Dyson will immediately say, “Oh, that’s not difficult,” allow two short beats to pass and then add, “but of course the smallest such number is 18 digits long.”

It's depressing, but important, to realize that actual geniuses are different from mortals. They're simply different creatures.

Netflix = Slightly Evil (cont.)

Not content to charge users extra for Blu-ray discs, Netflix is now raising their Blu-ray premium. Engadget says that Netflix is raising it by 20 percent among pricing tiers, but that's slightly misleading, because that 20 percent is the raise of the total monthly cost. The Blu-ray premium itself anywhere from 100 percent to 900 percent per month, depending on your plan.

That seems, to me at least, kind of outrageous. I balked at even the $1 per month Blu-ray premium when I discovered that only about 3 of the movies in my 75-movie queue were available on Blu.

Living the Dream

This just came in the mail today:

I'm only going to own it for 10 days, but still. I never thought I'd have a copy in my possession for even that long.

How Not to PItch Your Work


The NYT Op-Ed Page

If you've ever fantasized, however briefly, about what it would look like if Steve Sailer had a column on the New York Times's op-ed page, this is probably a pretty good embodiment of that fantasy.

It's got it all: Direct engagement with Dowd; a willingness to talk about racial and ethnic stereotypes; and some actual datapoints with which no one would ever be willing to seriously engage.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The High-Water Mark for 60 Minutes?

Good thing the president didn't have to follow that.

Nintendo's Project Atlantis

Unless you're waaaay into videogames, you probably never heard of Nintendo's "Project Atlantis"--a secret, high-powered hand-held system that Nintendo planned to succeed the original Game Boy, but which never materialized. Like something out of DARPA, Atlantis's existence has long been the stuff of half-rumor. Now Galley Friend M.R. sends us this amazing link to a story on Atlantis which should be of interest even to non-gamers because there are a bunch of business lessons in it:

Presumably [Atlantis] established a baseline for the GBA [Game Boy Advance]; Nintendo president Satoru Iwata mentioned in his keynote today that the company's game design guru, Shigeru Miyamoto, has a tendency to recycle good elements of failed projects years down the road, and that philosophy likely extends to hardware as well. (In fact, Kuwahara showed off a GBA touchscreen peripheral he had worked on that never saw the light of day but almost certainly mutated into the DS.) But the 1996 target date for Project Atlantis and the GBA's 2001 release is quite a gap. Why the delay?

My guess is: Pokémon. Game Freak's socially-driven cockfighting RPG was an unexpected end-of-life hit for the Game Boy, and its out-of-left-field success added years to the fading system's life. The popularity of Pokémon might actually have been the first time Nintendo realized that technology and profitability don't go hand-in-hand. This happy windfall let them subsist for a few more years on the far more lucrative Game Boy Color, whose components were downright ancient by the time it launched -- making for a machine that was very, very inexpensive to manufacture, and thus a much-needed way to soak up money while N64 sales fell behind PlayStation and third parties began to drift away.

That in turn gave Nintendo time to perfect their 32-bit handheld . . .

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Mickey Kaus: Hero

I think that in the past I've said some not-nice things about Mickey Kaus, his cleverness, etc.

I take it all back. All of it.

Kaus has posted a thread from inside Ezra Klein's JournoList. Go read it now, before it disappears. You can't imagine how awesome it is.

Seriously, you cannot possibly imagine the hotness.

But Mickey, I beg you: Unleash the redactedness!

Update: Galley Friend M.L. emails, "Feeling this much pleasure must be bad for you."

Kind of like this:

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Left's Bill Buckley

Ezra Klein, who Ross Douthat calls "the William F. Buckley of movement liberalism," had a heart-felt post the other day about President Obama's historic address to the Iranian people. Said Klein,

There are times when it's hard to believe that this is how my country acts now. That somewhere in government, some young bureaucrat had the idea that the President should publicly honor the Iranian New Year, and that bureaucrat felt that her superiors would also think this a good idea, and, indeed, the thought went all the way to the President, who agreed that a display of engagement and goodwill was consonant with our national values and foreign policy goals.

Of course, as Mark Hemingway notes, President Bush did basically the same thing last year.

The entire thing seems pretty indicative of the problem with having 20-something pundits who don't actually know anything. They feel free to hold forth about the weaponizing of space or getting rid of the Air Force or caucus politics in Nevada without knowing anything more than what was in the major papers that day (and what other bloggers said about those stories).

(Just to be clear, that weaponizing space link isn't a jab at Galley Friend M.G., it's an example of actual reporting taking apart glib pontificating.)
Variety is reporting that the Farrelly brothers are working on a remake of The Three Stooges. If all works out according to their plan, Sean Penn will play Larry, Jim Carrey will be Curly, and Benicio del Toro will be Moe.

While they're at it, how about a score by John Williams, Janusz Kaminski as d.p., with a screenplay by Steve Zaillian?

Dear God--BSG, The Board Game!

Galley Friend K.N. has recently lost her husband to The Battlestar Galactica Board Game. I hadn't heard of it before, but this reviewer's description makes it sound incredibly interesting:

Players each choose a character from the cast of the television series. Each player, on his or her turn:

1. Draws skill cards (which double as action cards),
2. Optionally moves to location on Galactica (or Colonial One, or, as a pilot, through the space around Galactica),
3. Activates a location or plays an action on a card (or, as a pilot in a Viper, moves again or fires at Cyclon raiders and basestars in order to protect the human fleet),
4. Draws and resolves a Crisis Card.

Most crisis cards depict a distressing event (with art and text from the television series), be it a food shortage or a lost scouting party, and offer a choice and/or a skill check to be made to minimize the damage to Galactica or her resources. Skill checks are resolved by players secretly contributing positive (matching color/type) or negative (incorrect color/type) skill cards. In addition, many of these crisis cards also activate enemy ships or move the Galactica closer to making its next jump.

But all that would just make for a typical cooperative game. Each player also receives a secret loyalty card that indicates whether they are a treacherous Cylon (skinjob) or a human. The humans attempt to survive the journey to Kobol (by making jumps that total at least eight units, plus one additional jump to end the game) whereas the Cylons do their best to sabatoge the human effort, either covertly (which involves a great deal of bluffing and secretly tipping the scales via secretly played cards) or overtly (by revealing themselves as Cylons and just hammering at the Galactica with all the tools a revealed Cylon has). Furthermore, halfway through the game another set of loyalty cards is dealt, such that there are a total of two Cyclon players (in a five player game; the number of Cylons and sympathizers varies based on the number of players).

All I'm saying is, it's a good thing Galley Brother B.J. lives on the other side of the country.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Thank You Dr. Emma Russell

Agence France Presse reports that the Navy's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center (SPAWAR) in San Diego has had a significant breakthrough in the development of cold fusion. And boy are those Russians pissed!

Math, Self-Esteem, the Jindals, and the McCains

There's a fascinating aside in Megan McCain's interview with Supriyah Jindal:

Megan McCain: I went to Space Camp twice as a child and wanted to be an astronaut growing up. I am still a fan of hers.

Supriyah Jindal: So what happened along the way that made you change your mind about becoming an astronaut? See, something happened.

Megan McCain: As I got to high school, I was told I was bad at math and got discouraged.

Supriyah Jindal: See, and there is no need for that. I am sure you were great.

I wonder why Mrs. Jindal is so certain that McCain was "great" with math. Isn't math the sort of subject where talent is reasonably easy to spot? It isn't like, say, poetry or political science, where a child's latent genius might easily go under-appreciated. If you're good at math--particularly the type of algebra, geometry, and elementary calculus which is taught in high schools--then don't you tend to, you know, do well in math?

The exchange is so wonderfully revealing. McCain doesn't say that she was bad at math, she says that she "was told" that she was bad at it. And Jindal immediately assumes that McCain was simply the victim of some Larger Force which didn't want the child of a powerful and important man to succeed in school.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Republican party. Good luck in 2012.

AV Porn

If you've gone receiver shopping during the last 10 years, you probably noticed that receivers, like other pieces of home electronics, have gotten cheaper while adding more features--Dolby 5.1, DTS decoding, room correction, etc.

I always assumed that this was an unalloyed blessing; but then, I'm more of a videophile. For me, five-channel sound was always most important, and then in service to movie watching. I very, very rarely listen to two-channel sound, which is where you notice actual sound quality.

Gene DellaSala has an interesting essay about how advances in circuitry and computing power have made it possible to put more features into AV receivers. But DellaSala notices that these advances have come at a price: The non-silicone parts of a receiver, which are responsible for sound quality, have been gradually cheapened.

A must-read for home theater junkies.

Notes from the Undercover

Galley Friend Bob Hamer on Jockeys and a case he worked on race-fixing. Fascinating stuff, including this little perfect study in irony:

Nicknames were commonplace. Among the many I dealt with were Fingers, the Mouth, the Greek, the Broom, and the Printer. It’s a long story and I detail it in my book “The Last Undercover,” but the short version is I managed to the worm my way into the group. One gambler questioned if I was a cop. Thus my name around the track became “Bob the Cop.”

And this brilliant scam:

The investigation did uncover a pretty sophisticated tax scheme. Under federal tax law, any winning wager where the odds are 300-1 or greater require the winner to fill out tax forms prior to cashing the ticket. In track parlance it’s known as a “sign-up.” The track automatically takes out 28% of the winnings before paying off the bet. Thus a winning bet of $10,000 pays only $7,200. Now winnings can be off-set by losses, but that entails keeping losing ticket stubs and preparing tax returns at the end of the year. Most gamblers don’t want the hassle, and many don’t want their spouses to know they spent the afternoon at the track. Thus the “signer” comes into play. For a fee he’ll sign for your ticket, filling out the IRS forms in his name.

Without the help of Turbo Tax, the Mouth took this to a whole level, and I grudgingly admired his ingenuity. Mouth would sign that $10,000 ticket and give you back the $7,200, if not more. He would then gather up losing tickets, often for bets he never placed or losing tickets he shared with other gamblers. Since these losing tickets equaled the dollar amount of the winning tickets, he had off-set all of his so-called winnings. By the next tax season he was collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax refunds…all because those winning sign-ups he claimed to be his were off-set by the losing tickets he claimed to be his. It was a perfect scheme. The track didn’t really care because he was providing a service to those patrons who were winning. The patrons weren’t going to complain because they too were violating the law. The violation was rather difficult and time-consuming to prove so the IRS wasn’t interested in investing the manpower to guarantee a successful prosecution. I got lucky and caught the Mouth. He did my sign-ups. He went to trial, was convicted, and served time in federal prison.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The BSG Series Ender

I didn't like it much. I have a few thoughts, about the final episode, the fourth season, and the series in general, but first a couple caveats: (1) If you did like the finale, don't take any of this as me trying to argue you into unhappiness. (2) The final episode's failures fall to Ron Moore, but my initial inclination is that they don’t significantly diminish his overall achievement and the greatness of the show. That said, there were some things to like, most notably:

* I particularly enjoyed Cavil’s suicide. The spontaneous ceasefire which preceded it was ridiculous. (Cavil gets on the phone and calls off all Cylon forces? What kind of phone is that?) But when the situation goes south and Cavil sees no way out, I like that he chooses suicide. The essence of Cavil is his sadism. Read de Sade and you see that the heart of sadism—more than cruelty, even—is the idea of blasphemy. We’ve been told that they Cylon religion forbids suicide, so for Cavil to off himself is his last fuck you to the God that he insists doesn’t exist, but spends a lot of time and energy rebelling against anyway. Nicely done.

* The CiC as the Opera House felt quite satisfying.

* I liked the idea of Racetrack’s nukes being triggered by accident after her death because it harkens to one of my favorite tropes, the idea of a grenade falling from a dead man’s hand. I’ve been a sucker for that ever since the final confrontation between Kwinn the Eskimo and Dr. Venom.

That aside, there were a great many things that I found troubling about the episode because they either didn’t make sense or ignored what the series had been doing before. I won’t go into all of them, but here are a few, in ascending order of importance:

* That final montage proves that when the Third Cylon War breaks out, we’ll have the Japanese to blame.

* BSG has been, to a large degree, a show about choices. When Helo is wounded, Athena is given a choice: save him or chase after Hera. She chooses Hera, which is the right thing to do. But then Helo survives anyway. As a dramatic device, that’s cheap and out of character for the show.

* The writing of Bill Adama had faltered in recent weeks. The Galley Wife noticed this first. Here’s her spot-on diagnosis:

So much of Adama’s character has always been done with subtext. Side-long glances, a mumbled grunt, a slow stare. For a lot of season four, Adama became more sentimental, less in control, and more wordy. The ur-example was in “Daybreak, Part 1” when Starbuck says to Adama, “I don’t know what I am” and he answers her, “I know what you are. You’re my daughter.”

In the first few seasons, Adama would have simply said, “I know what you are.” And we would have seen the daughter stuff, making it much more elegant and powerful. All that nuance was gone by the series finale.

I completely agree.

* So Starbuck, post Eye of Jupiter, is an angel. Okay. There was a time when I would have bought that. Except for this: BSG has been showing us angels since the very first episode. In that time, they’ve established an (admittedly informal) set of rules for how angels work: They’re seen by people one at a time; they appear and disappear; they can’t physically interact with the world. To then fundamentally change those rules with 10 minutes left in the series is a sign of writerly failure. It’s quite a lot like Buffy throwing away its core concept about slayers (“one girl in all the world”) 10 minutes before the end of its series finale.

* Way back in season 1, the Cylons went to a great deal of trouble to put Helo and a model 8 together, hoping that they would fall in love and manage to reproduce. They did, giving us Hera. But by the end, we had no idea why she was so important to the Cylons. Or the humans. The thing about Maguffins is that while they don’t have to be important to us, they do have to be plausibly important to the protagonists.

* Trusting Cylon Centurions with a basestar while retaining no weaponry of your own is just a “risk you’ll have to live with”? Somehow I don’t think the colonials would be willing to live with that decision seeing as how they fought a civil war to stop from integrating with the skin-jobs.

* This leads to a deeper complaint: The finale turns its back on one of the animating ideas of the series, which was that politics is inherently messy because even in the most dire times, people never agree, totally, on anything.

But here we are on earth, finally, and in 48 hours the colonials decide to abandon all of their technology, destroy their spaceships, and scatter into small agrarian communities? This kind of civilization-changing, irrevocable decision seems like it would spark an enormous political conflict.

* And that leaves aside the more practical consideration: How long do you think small groups of humans with no practical skills could survive trying to live off the land on a foreign planet? They won’t have access to sources of power. They won’t be able to work metals. Or manufacture medicine. Helo and Athena say they’re going to teach Hera how to hunt. With what?

Look, I get that it’s just a TV show and I’m really not trying to pick nits: It just seems pretty clear that if the colonials set down on a new planet and tried to rebuild their civilization starting with all available tech and a single city, they’d have had some small (1-in-20?) chance of survival. By splitting up and trying to work the land in small groups, they’ve signed their species’ death warrant.

* Finally, there’s Moore’s big idea in the finally: his rejection of technology in favor of humanism (and possibly even deism). In fact I’d argue that Moore is actually going even further: By having the colonials settled into small, remote, agrarian groups, he’s rejecting not just technology, but civilization itself. That’s certainly a Big Idea. But without passing judgment on it, qua idea, I just don’t believe that the people we’ve spent four years watching as they tried, at every turn, to cling to the fragile memory of their civilized selves, would suddenly decide that the answer to their problems is to jettison the little civilization they had preserved at such great cost.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Ezra Klein = William F. Buckley?

I confess to knowing little about Ezra Klein (that is, aside from the reports about his keen wit and hard-eyed professionalism). But is he really, as Ross Douthat suggests "the William F. Buckley of movement liberalism"?

Wouldn't a much, much better analogy be that Klein is a liberal Grover Norquist?

Isn't it obvious that JournoList is a pumped-up virtual version of Norquist's Wednesday Morning meetings?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Williams to Paper: "Hey WaPo, how my ass taste now?"

I don't think one first-round tournament win can completely vindicate a coach, but Maryland's Gary Williams has certainly made the Washington Post look really stupid.

Again--I have no dog in this fight. But I do find it curious that the big local paper would launch something approximating a crusade against Williams. Did the institution ever go after Georgetown's John Thompson in a similar manner? Local Hoya fans would know better than I do, but my sense is that they did not. Even during his latter years when Thompson was driving the program into a ditch. And I'd argue that Thompson's Georgetown program and Williams's UMD program were roughly equivalent: clean, up from nothing jobs with several Final Fours and a national championship.

The difference, of course, is that Thompson was, without a doubt, one of the worst coaches ever to work the bigs. Seriously: Has any Div. I coach ever gotten so little from so much talent?

But Thompson was, for a variety of non-basketball reasons, untouchable. When his son was hired, I said to VLM, "I hope he's good. Because even if he stinks, you can't ever get rid of him."

I was (kind of) joking at the time. But now I'm not so sure. This is a serious question for the Hoya Paranoia crowd: Let's grant that it is entirely too early to declare Thompson the Younger a failure. He's already got a Final Four appearance under his belt and even the best coaches how down years. But just for the sake of argument, how bad would the Hoyas have to get for Thompson to lose his job?

Would a string of NIT berths with the occasional first- or second-round NCAA result be enough to keep him ensconced? I suspect that it would. And I'd bet that even with that sort of mediocrity the Post would never dare campaign against him the way it did Williams.

Damn You CBS!!!!!!!!

CBS no longer allows its media player--which delivers all of the NCAA early-round games to your desktop--to work on Macs.

They will, however, allows you to stream the games on your iPhone, provided you pay for their app and are hooked into wi-fi.

Cold comfort, that.

Update: DO NOT buy the CBS iPhone app. It stinks.


Czabe has a Sweet 16 tourney going on, pitting hotness against hotness. The most deadly region? The East Rutherford Models pod, which pits Bar Rafaeli against Marissa Miller in a first-round matchup.

The committee really blew that one.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Carlson-Stewart II

In which Galley Friend T.C. takes apart the only guy on Comedy Central less funny than Dane Cook.

You can dismiss this as payback or whatnot. And that's fine. But it doesn't change the fact that T.C. is, in every particular, dead right.

For instance, on the Cramer ambush:

Stewart summed up the significance of what Cramer had said on the tape: “You can draw a straight line from those shenanigans to the stuff that was being pulled at Bear and at AIG, and all this derivative-market stuff,” he said sternly.

Except that you can’t draw any such line. In the video, Cramer hadn’t mentioned derivates or securitized loans or credit-default swaps, or any of the other exotic financial instruments that caused the fall of AIG and the current recession. There’s no evidence that Jim Cramer had anything to do with any of that, and Stewart didn’t offer any.

Before Cramer could defend himself, Stewart moved on to a new charge: Cramer and his colleagues at CNBC had known that the financial sector was in imminent danger of collapse, but had pretended otherwise—a ruse that Stewart described as “disingenuous at best and criminal at worst.”

This was even more farther-fetched. A ratings-hungry TV network had the scoop of the decade but decided to sit on it? Why? In order to curry favor with soon-to-be-disgraced corporate executives? It didn’t make sense.

On Stewart's real-fake-real journolistic treatment of Democratic presidential nominees:

at times Stewart seems like less a comedian than a courtier to the establishment. In August 2004, a week before the Republican convention, Stewart got an interview with then-candidate John Kerry. At the time, reporters covering Kerry couldn’t get closer than the rope line, so the interview qualified as a booking coup.

Stewart squandered it embarrassingly. His first question (after, “How are you holding up?”) was: “Is it a difficult thing not to take it personally” when your opponents are mean?

“You know what it is, Jon?” Kerry replied. “It’s disappointing.”

Four years later, Stewart had become, if anything, even softer. Over the course of a reverential eight-and-a-half minute interview with Barack Obama six days before the election, Stewart failed to ask a single substantive question, much less venture into policy (though, as with Kerry, he did open with, “How are you holding up?”). Instead, like the cable-news morons that he often criticizes, Stewart stuck strictly to the horserace, at one point even resorting to a sports metaphor.

And he sucked up, hard. “So much of this has been about fear of you,” Stewart empathized. “Has any of this fear stuff stuck with the electorate?”

Facing puffballs like this, Obama coasted through with snippets from his stump speech. The result wasn’t simply uninformative, it was boring. Obama didn’t say a single interesting thing, and Stewart wasn’t funny.

And on the fact--which no one else seems willing to say out loud--that Stewart simply isn't funny:

A serious man needs a serious mission, however, and this is suddenly a problem. With Bush gone and the Republican Party in chaos, most of Stewart’s targets have disappeared. Yet rather than pivot with the times and challenge those now in power, Stewart continues to attack the same old enemies, at this point mostly straw men and pipsqueaks. A couple of weeks ago, he spent an entire seven minutes mocking the crowd at a CPAC conference.

His studio audience loved it, though that isn’t saying much. Stewart’s audience would erupt if he read the phone book, or did his monologue in German, a response that over time is a threat to any man’s soul. During many segments, Stewart’s audience doesn’t laugh so much as cheer, a distinction that would bother most comedians. Stewart keeps them around anyway. Uncritical praise corrupts absolutely.

As Stewart becomes more self-righteous, he inevitably becomes less funny. Sanctimony is the death of humor, and also of innovation. Where a show like South Park challenges its audience’s every conceivable assumption, The Daily Show has become safer than Jay Leno, pandering night after night to the converted."

Seriously: Just give David Brock that time slot. He'd get the same numbers. The only difference would be that the rest of the media wouldn't bother to pretend that Brock was either funny or sage.

Or give Dane Cook the slot. He'd get better numbers with material that might, every five episodes or so, earn an actual snicker.

The Supernote

Galley Hero Bob Hamer has a post up over at Big Hollywood about a North Korean counterfeiting ring and Operation Smoking Dragon, an FBI sting operation that snared the guys passing around phony $100 bills so good that they're dubbed the "Supernote."

It's a fantastic post but the kicker here is that Hamer is the UC agent who ran the operation. Stone. Cold. Stud.

Still More Than Meets The Eye

Variety reports that Paramount and Dreamworks studios have announced a release date for Transformers 3. Not 2, mind you, but 3. Which by then will probably match Autobots and Decepticons with Dinobots, Gobots, Voltron, or Space Giants. My vote is for Space Giants.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Cohen, Cramer, Stewart

Richard Cohen dares to criticize John Stewart, which will no doubt anger Stewart's hundreds of thousands of fans.

But Cohen seems to misunderstand the most vile aspect of the Cramer/Stewart fight: It was prompted not by Cramer's shoddy financial advice, which people who pay close attention to this stuff have been mocking for years.

No, John Stewart only discovered what a contemptible figure Cramer was after Cramer had the audacity to criticize President Obama.

It's not clear to me that there's any foundational difference between Stewart and David Brock, except that people in the mainstream media feel the constant need to genuflect before Stewart.

One Shinging Moment

The Czabe has a nice tribute to the history of the "One Shining Moment" montage--including the first-ever OSM!

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Rob Liefeld Obama

What I don't get is this: Where are the president's pouches?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Fighting Words

Jimmy Akin doesn't think BSG will hold up well:

I don't think BSG will hold up that well: In the effort to make the characters realistic and flawed, it's gone too far.

I think in future viewings, a couple of years from now when the immediacy of the first run has worn off, the characters will too often come across as cartoons of the gritty, profoundly flawed hero type (like Wolverine became in the comics). It won't be possible to take them seriously because they are so over-the-top flawed and are constantly being put in situations designed to milk the maximum amount of emotion out of a situation, no matter how implausible the results.

I'm just trying to get a rise out of you--Akin's post is typically thoughtful and well-considered. For my part, I have no idea how Battlestar Galactica will hold up, but for a different reason: The series is so tied to 9/11 and the West's conflict with (radical) Islam that it's not clear to me how this period will be remembered/regarded in the future and without knowing that, no way to know what lens BSG will be viewed through.

(Important note: I don't think that this is a shortcoming of the series by any means. It's clearly an attempt to seriously grapple with the issues of the day in a serious manner. If that limits its long-term playability, so be it. I'm not complaining.)

You should read Akin's post, though. Very smart, very interesting writerly stuff.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Who Do You Have in Your Final Four?

The Fetish Final Four, that is.

I've got Facials, Tentacle Rape, Robot Sex, and Barely Legal, with Tentacles over Barely in the finals.


(Why Robot? Because it's a 12 seed!)

KSK Does Watchmen

This is sheer genius. Everything about it. I can't even imagine the man-hours it took.

Do yourself a favor: If you only waste five minutes of your time today, waste it on this.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Current Financial Crisis and Cylon Resurrection

One of the potential holes in Ron Moore's Cylon back-story is his explanation for Cylon resurrection technology, which, unless I'm mistaken, goes something like this:

For a very long time, Cylons could not achieve sexual reproduction, so they "reproduced" via download, or "resurrection." Then something happened and Cylons could reproduce sexual reproduction, so they abandoned resurrection in favor of it. They turned their backs on resurrection technology for so long, in fact, that when they needed it again, nobody could quite figure out how to make it work any more. Or rather, it took a group of very smart Cylons working together for a very long time to reverse-engineer the tech.

The obvious problem being, how does an advanced civilization "lose" the ability to create an old technology. It sounds a little contrived; but maybe not.

Today's Post carries an op-ed about credit default swaps by David Smick, which essentially makes the point that we have this giant financial system and nobody actually knows how it works:

I suspect Obama's advisers would like nothing more than to dismantle an irresponsible firm such as Citigroup. They are afraid to do so, for one reason: All the big banks are connected to a potentially lethal web of paper insurance instruments called credit default swaps. These paper derivatives have become our financial system's new master.

The theory holds that dismantling a big bank could unravel this paper market, with catastrophic global financial consequences. Or not. Nobody knows . . .

In addition, Geithner worries that because the troubled insurance giant American International Group (AIG) is a conduit for the banks' use of credit default swaps, a collapse of AIG (as an unintended consequence of dismantling the big banks) could be catastrophic. AIG's more than 300 million terrified holders of insurance-related investments and pension funds, who have investments totaling $20 trillion (U.S. GDP is $14 trillion), could suddenly rush for redemptions -- the equivalent of a run on a bank. Geithner would face a worldwide insurance collapse to accompany his global banking collapse.

Or again, maybe not. Nobody knows.

Maybe resurrection technology looked just as opaque to the Cylons.

Seat licenses?

Adding to what my colleague Mr. Last said back in January in the Wall Street Journal, Ben Casselman keeps the ball rolling in his recent Journal entry, "Luxury Strikes Out". Just one tidbit:

Top-level ticket holders can actually park inside the [Dallas Cowboys] stadium building, then relax in the more than 200,000 square feet of clubs and lounges. The priciest boxes are at field level, with patios just feet from the Cowboys bench. Players will pass through the attached club on their way to the field.

Season tickets along the sidelines at Texas Stadium used to cost $129 a game, compared with $340 a game for similar seats in the new stadium. To earn the right to buy season tickets, fans must buy "personal seat licenses"--a one-time, up-front fee that can run as high as $150,000 a seat.

Dallas-area real estate agent Linda Taylor says she was shocked to learn that the $130-a-game Cowboys seats she'd had for years at the old Texas Stadium would jump to $340 in the new building--and require a $35,000 seat license.

"It just seemed crazy, especially for true fans. It's different if we were a corporation," she says. Ms. Taylor and her family ended up paying license fees of $16,000 per seat for seats that aren't as good as their old ones.

I mean, really? (Needless to say, both Casselman and Last are must-reads.)

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Dr. Manhattan Blue Himself Early

Galley Reader D.H. sends along this suggestion as to how Zack Snyder might have improved Watchmen. If he had been willing to depart from the source material to replace Dr. Manhattan:

With Dr. Fünke:

The dramatic possibilities stagger the mind. For instance, imagine the internal tensions in a god-like figure who nonetheless is compelled to wear cut-offs.

All of that said, I have some thoughts on Watchmen which I'll share at a later date, for reasons that a couple readers already understand.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Revolution Number... 20?!

Thanks to Galley friend A.F., aka The Walrus, I just listened to what is purported to be a recently unearthed Beatles song. Or at least a take of one. Over at Never Get Out of the Boat!, you will find a recording of "Revolution 1 (Take 20)" that runs all of 10 minutes and 46 seconds. The first 4 minutes are rather conventional and are pretty much what ended up on the White Album. Acoustically inclined with a few electrical zips here and there plus the subtle doo-wop ("shoobie-doowop-bop"), "Take 20" then descends into the anarchy and cacophony we saw bits of at the end of "I am the Walrus" and "All You Need is Love" and which ultimately climaxed with "Revolution 9." Yes, I'm just making this up as I go along. In any event, it ends with Yoko Ono saying something to the effect of "you become naked." (Not that any of us should ever picture her naked.)

UPDATE: After telling The Walrus that, not knowing it was Yoko's voice, it kind of sounded hot, he told me to go to YouTube and type in "Lennon" and "hound dog" (the actual link was broken) and ask myself again if I thought so. I am so sorry I ever held that notion. Warning: This link is not for the faint of heart.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

A Look at Fortune, circa 1936

The Pig has some great images from an issue of Fortune from November 1936, hard by the Depression.

The Death of Newspapers

Czabe has a truly radical suggestion: Newspapers should get out of the internet altogether and be print-only.

It's so crazy it just might work! Surely someone should at least experiment with it, no? What's the worst that could happen?

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

How Influential Is Rush Limbaugh?

The carefully orchestrated elevation of Rush Limbaugh to Grand High Muckety Muck of the Republican party is a confluence of interests. It's in the interest of the Obama administration to have Limbaugh as a foil and it's in Limbaugh's interest to be seen as such.

Without taking a side in the question of whether or not Limbaugh fairly represents the face of the Republican party, I'm interested in a notion which everyone involved--even Republicans who object to Limbaugh--seems to stipulate to: That Limbaugh wields enormous influence. Is that true? Does Limbaugh really matter in any important way?

I don't mean to be churlish. My own tastes in talk radio run exclusively toward sports talk, so I've listened to Limbaugh very little. On the few occasions I have listened to him--maybe 30 hours, total--he wasn't my particular cup of chamomile. But really, who cares what I think? He has lots of listeners and plenty of professional radio people seem to believe that Limbaugh is very good at what he does.

Yet I'm not convinced that either of those things mean Limbaugh is influential.

Let's take Limbaugh's large daily audience. I'd argue that raw audience size is a very imperfect indicator of influence.

Consider television. From 1998 to 2005, Everybody Loves Raymond was among the top 15 rated shows on TV. For five of those years it was in the top 10. It averaged 17.4 million viewers. Was Everybody Loves Raymond influential? I would argue that the show left a very small--maybe non-existent--cultural footprint.

If you sift through the Nielsens from recent years, you'll find a number of highly-rated shows pulling in tens of millions of viewers, which were basically invisible after the credits rolled. This is true even at the very top of the heap: CSI and Home Improvement each finished #1 overall and yet, had they been canceled in the middle of their ratings dominance, I doubt anyone would have noticed.

That said, sometimes high ratings are an indication of influence. American Idol has been the top-rated show for the last four years and might be one of the most influential programs in the history of the medium. My point, however, is that it's a mistake to assume that raw audience equals influence. You often see small shows (The Sopranos, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Battlestar Galactica) creating much larger (and longer-lasting) impacts than shows which draw many times their audiences.

So if the size of Limbaugh's audience isn't the determining factor of his influence, what is? Well, I'll assume that Limbaugh can send a crowd of people toward a weblink if he mentions it on his program or his website. But crashing a server doesn't take all that much. Slashdot and Boing Boing can do that, too. Can Limbaugh sell books? I'm not being pedantic--I honestly don't know the answer to this question. But if Limbaugh really is influential, then the mere mention of books he likes ought to be enough to routinely put them high on the NYT's best seller list for weeks, the way Oprah Winfrey's approval does.

But for the purposes of this discussion--political power--we have pretty good recent examples of Limbaugh's influence. I understand that Limbaugh (and other conservative talk-radio hosts) weighed in heavily against the Bush immigration deal. That deal failed. But was this because of Limbaugh? Maybe. But presumably Limbaugh was against a great number of other Bush initiatives that passed--No Child Left Behind, Medicare prescription drugs, the omnibus energy bill, the Detroit bailout. (I'm just guessing here; if I'm incorrectly ascribing views to Limbaugh, I apologize in advance.)

The 2008 primary season provided a particularly good indication of Limbaugh's level of influence. He seems to have supported Mitt Romney. Despite Limbaugh's support, Romney received only 4.7 million votes. The candidate Limbaugh favored least and argued against most--John McCain--won the nomination. Again, I'm not a devotee of Limbaugh's show, but my sense is that Limbaugh made his distaste for McCain very apparent. Republican primary voters paid little heed.

After the Romney flame-out, Limbaugh began promoting what he called "Operation Chaos," where he instructed listeners to vote for Hillary Clinton in Democratic primaries. Limbaugh claimed a good deal of credit for her subsequent victories, but I've never seen any data which suggests that his influence was significant, let alone decisive. To the contrary, almost all of the Democratic primary results--both before and after “Operation Chaos”--fit within a stable racial, socio-economic model.

Finally, in the general election, I presume that Limbaugh favored (to some degree) McCain over Obama. Again, Limbaugh's influence failed to materialize.

I'm open to the argument that Limbaugh is influential; but I don't think there’s a prima facie case for it. On the contrary, I'd argue that the evidence suggests Limbaugh is an expert entertainer in a medium with a small cultural, intellectual, and political footprint. He has very little influence in the world of ideas. And when it comes to actually energizing the masses toward action, his record is, at best, mixed.

Limbaugh’s powers of influence seem more on the level of Howard Stern. At his peak, Stern drew about 13 million listeners, which is in the ballpark with the 14 million or so Limbaugh has drawn through most of this decade. Like Limbaugh, Stern was credited with having a great deal of influence on his listeners. But that influence never really materialized beyond his ability to get people to tune in to a show he was giving away for free. Stern's one attempt at translating his influence to the movies failed--the 1997 Howard Stern’s Private Parts opened to $14 million and grossed only $40 million. And when Stern moved to subscription-based satellite radio, his audience let him go without a second thought.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Netflix Porn

Or is it? Galley Brother B.J. sends word that Netflix stocks an R-rated version of the big-budget porntacular Pirates II.

I understand that porn producers shoot lots of different versions of every film. I think it was in a New Yorker story about the industry a few years ago that a producer from one of the big houses compared, in a very unsettling way, his company to the indians Native Americans, saying that they used every single scrap of the buffalo.

But how do you get an R-rating for material spliced down from hard-core?

Sports Bubble, cont.

The Pig sends along this story suggesting that the NHL is already in trouble. He gives a rundown of the most vulnerable franchises--here's a taste:


This could be a blueprint of how not to operate an expansion franchise. General manager Don Waddell is by all accounts a lovely man but he has become the Inspector Clouseau of the NHL. Despite having prime draft picks every year the Thrashers rank even below the much-maligned Maple Leafs in player development.

The Hockey News recently ranked the Thrashers 23rd in prospects. And, when they did get a solid player, Waddell has lost him. In eight seasons, the team still is looking for its first playoff game victory.

The team's fan base has eroded. Attendance dropped another 7.9% the first half of this season -- second biggest drop in the NHL. It has cash flow problems which hasn't been helped by a collective agreement that forces it to spend at least $41-million.

Nobody really knows if Atlanta would support an NHL team because, in all honesty, it never has had one of NHL calibre.

If the NHL bought out the owners and folded the team it would be considered a mercy killing. Or, if a less desperate solution is more to Bettman's liking: Keep the team; fold Waddell.


A 27 % share of the Predators got tied up in minority owner William Del Biaggio's bankruptcy hearings. Del Baggio has been accused in three lawsuits of providing forged documents to financial institutions to land multimillion dollar loans that he has not repaid. Del Biaggio is just the latest NHL owner being fitted for a pinstripe suit courtesy of the U.S. government. The NHL may lead all of pro sports in the number of owners who could audition for a starring role on Judge Judy.

Meantime, the team can't score on the ice, or with fans. Management revealed it considered buying thousands of unsold tickets so it can qualify for a full share of the NHL's revenue sharing plan. Through 22 home games, the Predators' average paid attendance was 256 tickets short of the 14,000 average required for a full share of the revenue-sharing pool that netted the team $12 million last season.

The plan gives small-market clubs money that the NHL collects from the 10 highest-earning teams. The amount franchises receive falls if certain attendance figures aren't achieved.

Predators lead owner David Freeman made an estimated $50 million selling a medical waste disposal business. So, when it comes to waste you'd think an expert like Freeman would recognize it even if it was disguised as a hockey team. But, he says his reputation as a businessman is at stake, and he wants to make hockey work here. So, as for Jim Balsillie buying and moving the team?

"There is no Plan B," Freeman said.


How bad will things get with pro sports? No one knows. My guess is that, in the median-variant scenario a bunch of minor leagues (WNBA, Arena, MLS, MLL) fold, NASCAR retrenches from its quasi-mainstream status, and the NHL loses a franchise (or two).

One of the things that interests me a lot is what happens to the PGA. I don't know a ton about the tour, but it seems heavily reliant on financial services sponsors. If that's true, then that money should dry up pretty fast and, even in an economic recovery, may not return for some time. What does golf do? Cut back tour stops? Cut back purses as they rely more on TV and gate revenue? Is there enough interest in the LPGA to keep that tour going?

Sunday, March 01, 2009

That Must Have Been Quite a Speech!

I haven't heard it myself, but Hugh Hewitt says that Rush Limbaugh's address to CPAC "will be talked about for years and even decades."

Must be some speech. I mean, there have probably only been--what?--three, maybe four, speeches from the last 35 years that could fit such a description and all of them were by presidents. (I'm thinking Reagan's Goldwater infomercial; Carter's malaise speech; and then Reagan in Berlin. Maybe you have others.)

So its kind of amazing that we get two generational, historic-grade speeches--Obama's opus on race in America and Rush at CPAC--within just a few months of one another.