Friday, July 29, 2005

Demotivational Friday: Indifference

What's hilarious about this picture to me is that the soldier (in Iraq) is in the middle of a warzone, and that the kitten, also in the middle of a warzone, is ignoring the soldier ignoring the war. I also find the picture profoundly beautiful in its own way.

I think I lifted the picture from the brilliant photojournalist Kevin Sites, but I'm not sure. It was a while ago. I'll try and keep better track of this stuff in the future. But I don't advertise or make a single penny off of this site in any way, so I'm pretty sure it falls under fair use laws even if I don't cite it. Meh.


Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Distraction: Bush Jokes

From the brilliant minds at McSweeney:

Although I Like a Good George W. Bush Joke as Much as the Next Guy, Some of them Seem Gratuitous


Q: How many telemarketers does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A: Wouldn't a more relevant question be "How many pounds of cocaine has Bush snorted?"

More brilliance...

A doctor, a lawyer, and an accountant all die and go to heaven on the same day. When they get to the Pearly Gates, they are greeted by St. Peter. St. Peter says, "Scott McClellan is a lying sack of shit and I'd tell him so myself if he weren't going straight to hell when he dies."

- - - -

Q: What do you get when you cross an elephant and a rhino?

A: I'm not sure, but if the answer is "A cure for Parkinson's disease," then Bush will try to stop scientists from breeding them. Because he likes it when people get Parkinson's.

- - - -

This guy walks into a bar carrying a small poodle in one hand and a bowling ball in the other. The guy says, "I'd like a glass of milk for me and a whiskey for my poodle." The bartender says, "Yeah? Well, I'd like an impartial and independent judiciary, but try telling that to Bush, Frist, and the rest of the GOP!"

- - - -

Q: What do you get when you cross a giraffe and a monkey?

A: I'm sorry, I can't think about that right now because I'm too busy wondering why Congress hasn't launched an official investigation into Bush lying to the American public about WMDs and leading us into a war under false pretenses. Tell you what—as soon as I solve that little riddle, I'll get to work on your little genetic experiment.

- - - -

Q: How many eggs does it take to make a good omelet?

A: Three. By the way, Tom DeLay is a hypocrite of the highest order.

- - - -

Did you hear that Bill Clinton hired a new intern? It turns out that his old intern had to go home and spend time with her family after her brother was killed in Iraq.

- - - -

Q: How many golf players does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A: The answer may be locked away in the minutes of Cheney's secret energy meetings. However, conventional wisdom says that the meetings were probably about finding a Cabinet-level position for a pre-scandal Ken Lay or about doing business with the Taliban.

- - - -


Who's there?

Under the Patriot Act, we don't have to tell you that.

- - - -

Hat tip to Wonkette for the link and Jess in Philly for the tip.


Monday, July 25, 2005

Article: AFL-CIO no more

This is probably the biggest news of the year. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU - the union of hospital workers, social workers, nurses, janitors, and others) is leading a succession of many of the biggest and most influential unions out of the AFL-CIO.

The most effective anti-poverty program in the world is a union membership card. A strong labor movement means a good chance at a decent living for working people everywhere. Period. That's why this has such huge implications...

In general, I believe that the union movement has been in decline for the last 30 years (a decline that matches up pretty closely to the overall decline in wages and benefits, as well as the decline in progressive politics), and that this will hopefully spur the type of innovation and competition that the movement desperately needs.

I'll be writing more about this in the coming days. In general, I try to avoid partisan political ranting on my blog, because there are many many many better places for partisan political ranting. But this issue is different. Without organized labor, I'd still be moving boxes for a living in NJ. I owe them my livelyhood, as do millions of others.

I'll be writing about this issue at length over the next few day. If you can't wait until then, check out the "Unions" links on the right hand side of the blog. My favorite is House of Labor.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Demotivational Friday: Apathy

Inspired by the good people at I photoshopped it myself, but I don't know where I got the stormtrooper pic. If it was you, please let me know.


Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Distraction: Go Nats!!!

I opposed the Washington Nationals coming here. I'm not a huge baseball fan, and generally roll my eyes when people can name the roasters of the entire American League but can't name their Senators or Representative in Congress. It’s a huge imposition of new taxes and a drain on government resources in a city that already over taxes everyone while its schools and hospitals crumble. Building a new stadium would have a Godzilla like effect on working class communities. Etc., ad nauseam.

Yet I went to the game Monday night. This has been my third game since they came here. We lost in a nail biter, but it was an awesome experience. It was similarly awe-inspiring the last two times I went. And I want to go again. Soon.

So its time for me to admit the awful truth. When I loudly opposed the Nationals coming here, I was wrong. Very, very wrong. My wrongness is made all the more wrong by the fact that I still agree with the logic of my opposition. But my reasoning is so outweighed by the reality of the situation that it has been crushed into a fine powder.

To understand my wrongness, you first have to understand the experience of going to a game…

On the walk from the Metro to the stadium, you experience something you have never seen before at a sporting event, reverse-scalpers. They’re not cops – they’re people looking for extra tickets, some politely, some loudly, “Extra tickets, anyone got extra tickets, I need extra tickets here!” If you’re not familiar with sporting events in this country, normally the exact opposite is true. You can’t get from the Metro Center exit to the MCI center entrance without being harangued by at least six scalpers trying to push lousy tickets on unsuspecting strangers.

Upon getting into the stadium, you’re immediately stuck by the smell of hotdogs, nacho cheese, cotton candy, peanuts, and beer. In any other setting, this would make you convulse. But here, it smells like the town is throwing a very big, well organized barbeque.

You walk through the tunnel and are somewhat dumbstruck as it opens up into a half globe packed with fans. Later in the evening the Jumbo-tron lets you know that over 30,000 fans are in attendance. 30,000 doesn’t seem like a very big number at first. But it boggles your mind that 30,000 people would come out Monday night on a sweltering Washington evening under a leaden sky. And the stadium is a good hour in traffic from most suburbs, to boot.

And yet despite the high demand attached to them, the tickets were still cheap. $15 for lower deck, right field seats where you have a great view of home plate and can hector the pitchers warming up in the visiting team’s bullpen. Despite the crowd, there are still enough open seats in the upper decks that you feel you could come back any time you want to see another game.

After thinking about it, this makes the reverse-scalpers outside the ballpark even more amazing. It wasn’t clear if they were looking to buy tickets from people (possibly they didn’t want to sit in the nose-bleed seats), or simply hoping to get in for free. They could have bought tickets for the cost of going to the movies, but didn’t, or couldn’t. But what was clear is that they wanted to get in so badly that they were willing to beg from strangers. Wow.

So you sit in your chair and call for a beer man, and fork over the six bucks for some cold swill. Somehow, sitting at the game makes the Bud Lite taste good (which, by itself, is a miracle surpassing the whole water to wine thing). You complain about the price, but then you think to yourself, hmmmmmm, six bucks, that’s pretty much the same price I pay for a beer at the Hawk and Dove if its not happy hour. In fact, I seem to remember paying a lot more for some German thing I didn’t even like at the Brickskeller last week. You know, I think I’ll get another beer after this one, and one for my buddy, of course. And some chicken fingers with fries, or maybe an Italian sausage. And they end up being quite tasty, too. At least living in one of the world’s most expensive cities gives you some perspective.

The crowd itself is a marvel to behold. Chanting, clapping, energetic - but oddly polite and subdued between plays. Some frat boys make an attempt to start “the wave,” which makes its best effort half-way round the stadium and then dies out to laughter. Fans of a dozen different teams (many with hats and other paraphernalia) from all over the country share a good time together, rooting for their adopted home team. Wherever you sit, you get to know the people around you - I sat in front of a truck driver and his kids, next to a lawyer who worked as a lobbyist, and behind a retiree with his son from out of town. I know this because we all chatted with each other during the game, traded jokes, yelled heads up when a foul ball came our way, and was generally treated like a neighbor by perfect strangers.

As a New Yorker, I can tell you that if you displayed this level of comity at Yankee Stadium, you would get sneered at, beaten up, robbed, murdered, and then robbed again for your internal organs. My favorite NY baseball story: At a Yankee/Mets inter-league game, they had “free miniature bat” day. These are essentially police batons that look like small baseball bats. After the game, a fight broke out between fans, where everyone used the bats as weapons. Many injuries ensued. Asked for comment on the situation, then Mayor Rudi Giuliani said, “I don’t see what the issue is. If both sides had bats, it was a fair fight.” I love NY for that reason. But DC is different, and in its way, better then that.

Dozens of kids throng to the rails between innings, hoping to get a practice ball from the outfielders or a ball-boy. They terrorize their parents for ice cream, and rightly so. While generally clueless about what’s going on in the game, you could see the family bonds being formed as dads extol the minutia of the rules to their kids. The trick driver makes a valiant attempt to explain pinch hitters to his three year old son. “They want to make sure that everyone on the team gets a chance to hit.” Bravo.

And then there is the team, our Washington Nationals. This team is a team, not a superstar with a supporting cast. Off hand I can’t remember the name of any of the players. And I don’t have to. No one has to except the announcer. Its fun to watch them play just because they’re players who work together as a team. The hits, though numerous, are not out of the ballpark. But that’s the point - they don’t have to be. There’s no one in the lineup unwilling to make a sacrifice bunt to move a teammate to second – no hubris, no flash, just excellent game mechanics. And because you don’t expect Babe Ruth to step up to the plate and knock one out of the park, you're not ignoring the plate when he's not up to bat, or disappointed by a line drive single. In fact, you’re cheering at a single, thrilled by a double, and jumping up and down and screaming at the top of your lungs when there’s a triple. When the rare home run does occur, it feels like you’re living history, recording the event in your mind so that you can tell (and retell) your friends about it the next day.

But even if you completely ignored my fanboy plaudits, it turns out that I was wrong about much of the logistical stuff as well. The popularity of the team means that it’s making money, and will probably continue to do so. I have no idea why they need to build a new stadium (which will in fact cost at least $440 million in tax dollars), as RFK stadium seems to be doing a fine job. Who cares if they have to paint over the lines from the DC United soccer game the night before? I don’t. But at least the new stadium will be built at the Navy Yard, an economically blighted warehouse district, with few homeowners as casualties. I lived nearby for two years in one of the apartment complexes in SW, and let me tell you, there’s nothing worth saving there. Maybe it can revitalize the neighborhood like the MCI Center did for Chinatown.

DC doesn’t have any Senators, and Eleanor Holmes Norton doesn’t get a vote in Congress, so I guess it doesn’t matter if Washingtonians can’t remember her name, even if for the rest of time they’ll remember manager Frank Robinson.

I read a lot of news and topical books, often every day. I talk to policy makers and drink with the staffers that run (or pretend to run) the most powerful government in history. What I hear and see is almost always bad new – poverty, war, disease, corruption, death. We strive mightily against them - but the day to day grind of it all is a difficult mill to be turning on. So when you find something wondrous, something invigorating about a city, especially in a place you thought you’d see more waste and stupidity, well then its worth pointing out. It’s worth cheering. And like that rare home run, it feels like you’re living history.

Go Nats!!!


Distraction: Fun with Google

By now you've probably already seen this online somewhere else. But if you haven't, check out It maps out the Apollo landings. Zoom in all the way on the map for some beautiful detail.

Not on
But this picture proves that the moon landing was real.

Hat tip to [H]ard|OCP.


Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Meta-blogging: Templates

I'll be screwing around with the blog template in the next couple of weeks as I continue to teach myself html. On my "to do" list:

  1. Find out how to make my links "expandable," like the extended posts in my entries. I've noticed that having really long blog-rolls and lists of links is pretty much useless, while having few-none defeats the purpose of this blog, to be a giant resource page for things I read/do. Hopefully, I'll figure out a way to create some sort of drop down list.

  2. Find out how to create an archive file that sorts my entries by subject. Not sure if this is possible on blogger.

  3. Settle on a style for the blog. Right now I have the red white and blue thing, with some graphics and links, which looks fine to me. But I have the visual acuity of a cave fish, so I have no idea what "good" looks like, only a vague feeling that things could look better.
Anywho, if you have any tips on how to do any of this, or if you have trouble viewing my blog, please email me. Short post here


Update#1: Got the blog entries to expand across the length of the screen. Yeah.

Update#2: Learned the Javascript to collapse links. Should be much easier to navigate the right side of the page now.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Distraction: Restaurants

Ate at Cubano's in Silver Spring this weekend with an old friend from NYC. Here's my two cent review...

Good Stuff:
  • Service was excellent, polite, and promt. It also had a family-owned feel to it, which is always a plus.
  • The food was good, though nothing astounding. I had the garlic chicken, my friend had some sort of pulled pork dish. Both were tender and tasty, and came with sides of beans and rice.
  • Prices were moderate. Dinner for two with desserts and drinks was $60.
  • Decor was nice but not formal. Suitable for a business lunch, date, or dinner with the family if you leave the children that scream at home.

Bad stuff:
  • The sangria was lousy. It tasted like cheap merlot, had no fruit in it, and was warm. However, a carafe of it got me buzzed enough to make the Fantastic Four movie enjoyable afterwards.
  • It was too warm in the restaurant as well, and they had several fans trying to make up for it (but failing). Message to management: The DC area is a swamp in the summer. Plan for it.
  • While quite good, the food had a blandish, non-authentic taste to it. It might be our menu choices, but it also might be that the restaurant is in Silver Spring, and not Columbia Heights or Brooklyn.

Overall I reccomend the aptly named (or stereotypically named) Cubano's.

As a side note, to anyone who hasn't been to Silver Spring lately, you should go. I lived there for a while four years ago, and the changes have been dramatic. There are now dozens of restaurants, movie theatres, stores, apartments, clean streets, the works. Some of it has that antiseptic Bethesda like feel to it (for instance, the corporate Borders bookstore next to the Ben and Jerry's, next to the paid parking lot, etc.) But for the most part, the changes have been hugely positive and well planned. Check it out.


Friday, July 15, 2005

Demotivational Friday: Persistence

I'm not sure where I found this on the internet. If it was you, please let me know and I'll give you credit.


Thursday, July 14, 2005

Meta-blogging: Economics Blogs

I set up a new list of links on the right hand side. This set is for economics...

I shamelessly stole these links from my fellow Terrapin Max Sawicky (of MaxSpeak), and I'll be adding others as I find them. They are (in no particular order):

Jonah Gelbach
Brad DeLong
Angry Bear
John Quiggin
Crooked Timber
Mark Thoma
Adam O'Neill (the Lowest Deep)
Robert Waldmann
General Glut
Adam Hersh
Nouriel Roubini
John Irons/ARGMAX
Tom Bozzo
Barry Ritholtz
Tom Walker
Daniel Davies, a.k.a. D-Squared
Dean Baker
Andrew Samwick
Dan Drezner
Arnold Kling
Marginal Revolution
Kevin Brancato
Dead Parrot Society
Steve Verdon
Steve Antler
Jim Glass
David Altig
Tom McGuire
The Corner

Some of these are liberal, some are conservative. I'll leave it to you to draw your own conclusions.

I read MaxSpeak, Angry Bear, Dead Parrot Society, and Marginal Revolution on a pseudo-weekly basis. Most of the others I've read once or twice. I have almost no formal training in econ, but, like statistics, I find it to be one of the most useful fields of knowledge to understand if you want to understand how the world works (on a macro level, at least).

The main reason I have this blog is to serve as a mental architecture - to remember the things I read and write and store them so that I can always go back to them. (My mental RAM can only hold so much). If you have a website that you think I should read/know about, please email me to let me know. If I find it useful, I'll probably add a link to it on this site.

Also, I'll be building out the other sets of links, especially statistics and politics, in the next couple of weeks. Again, thanks to MaxSpeak for the links.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Computers: Firefox

Mozilla has a brand new Firefox 1.0.5 update posted. If you have Firefox, you should be able to download it automatically through your options, if you haven't already (I generally keep auto-updates off because I like to read the documentation before I download anything). If you don't have Firefox, you should download it now.

In case you live in a cave, Firefox is a web browser like Microsoft's Internet Explorer or Netscape's Navigator, with the important difference that it doesn't suck.

Get Firefox!

Hat tip to [H]ardOCP for the news.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Books: Freakonomics

I read Freakonomics this weekend. It took me all of 8 hours, and I'm a slow reader.

The subtitle of Freakonomics is:
A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything

Sadly, this is not the author.

Here's my two cent review...

First, if you have no interest in economics or the social sciences, then don't read this book. It doesn't make things that are inherently uninteresting to most people (numbers) magically interesting.

Second, if you have a very strong interest in economics or the social sciences, don't read this book. I have a double major in Poli Sci and Sociology, and spend a great deal of my time working with statistics, but lack any advanced degrees. I had previously read about 90% of this book in other places, mostly news articles and scholarly papers. It was sort of interesting to see them all in one place and written in plain language, but there was nothing earth shattering.

Third, if you are poor and have an internet connection, don't read this book. By simply doing a google search, you can read excerpts or good summaries of most of the book for free (for example, here, here, here, here, or here. Or if you are lazy, I will give you my copy for free if you live in DC or want to send me the money for shipping.

Having said all of that, if you have a moderate interest in economics, and have an afternoon to kill, it was a pretty easy and enjoyable read. I disagree with a lot of his findings, but at least they're interesting and go against conventional wisdom. If you do read Freakonomics, skip the self serving introduction and examine everything with skepticism. Enjoy the ride, but don't think that you're really going anywhere.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Distraction: Harry Potter

Unlike virtually everyone I know, I don't read Harry Potter. I have nothing against it, and thought the movies were pretty good. I just never got into it.

But oddly, I enjoy occasionally reading about about Harry Potter, because I enjoy occasionally reading about Jungian meta-myths, archetypes, symbolism, etc. And lets face it, I'm a dork, and magic is cool.

The ideal pet for most Potter fans.

So via the Chicago Tribune I learned of, an impressive fan site that is designed and run by a 19 year old. Enjoy.

Hat tip to bizarreness for the picture of the griffin dog (I think I'll call him McGriff).


Statistics: Divorce

In my ongoing struggle to compile realevant and usefuls statistics, I present the excellent paper by Raley and Bumpass, The Topography of the Divorce Plateau. Normally I'd reprint the entire thing here, but its a pdf file, so I'll have to settle for the link.

Here's my summary...

Since the 1980's, the probablility that a marriage will end in divorce has been about 50%. But as I've blogged before, that number is overstated because its based on a lousy estimate (the raw number of divorces divided by the raw number of marriages). Other research has shown that its most likely to be closer to 40%.

Raley and Bumpass estimate it to be about 50%, and believe that current statistics don't show the true level of maritial instability that's occuring in the U.S. They use some sophisticated demographic techniques to prove their point, which I won't go into right now. The caveat is that their data is based on marriages in the 1980's, based on data published in 1990. Divorce rates has been slowly but steadily declining since then, so I'm inclined to believe that the more accurate divorce number is nearer to 40%.

However, the far more interesting story is the wide range of divorce rates among different groups.

As you can see, the chances of getting divorced if you marry at or after the age of 30 is only 31% over the course of 30 possible years of marriage. The chances of getting divorced if you marry and are black are 70% over the course of 30 possible years of marriage. That's a huge difference.

Looking at these numbers, its clear that divorce varies widely by demographic group. But its important to look at the details behind the numbers.

First, its important to keep in mind that coorelation in not causation - being black doesn't necessarily cause you divorce more often, any more then having a college degree causes you to have a more successful marriage - but black people as a group share some set of factors which lead to a higher divorce rate, and educated people as a group share some set of factors which lead to a lower divorce rate. What are those factors? I don't know. But this data suggests some possibilites of where to look.

Second, (and this is not reflected on the chart) only 1-2% of all divorces occur after 30 years of marriage. Reading this chart naively, you may conclude that the older you get, the more likely you are to divorce. The opposite is true. Each year, there is a risk that a married couple may divorce. That risk decreases each successive year of marriage - the longer you've been together, the less likely it is that you'll break up compared to a couple that has only recently married.

But the cumulative chances of divorce increase each year. It works the same way as calculating mortality:

Let's say that out of 1,000 children, 10% die of malaria between ages 0-4. Well, of the 900 children that are left, 9% of them die of malaria between ages 5-9. By age 10, we have 819 children left, which would appear on the chart as being a 18.1% chance of death (819 divided by 1,000 equals 81.9% chance of survival, or 18.1% chance of death) by malaria for children age 0-9, even though the chances of any individual child surviving increases as they get older.

There's a lot more interesting data in their report, and I'll blog about it when I get the chance.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Demotivational Friday: Motivation

Inspired by the good people at I'm not sure who I stole the press conference from - its been sitting on my hard drive for awhile, waiting for inspiration. If you did it, please let me know and I'll give you credit. Optimus Prime 2008 - Leadership for the Future!


Thursday, July 07, 2005

Distraction: Free Music

Via the Dead Parrot Society, I'm pleased to present over 250 free, legal, mp3s. All of them are from local Washington bands (ok, so its Spokane, Washington - not Washington, DC - but nobody's perfect). My hard drives crapped out on me a few months ago because of a massive Windows faulure, and I lost ten years of accumulated music (including the glory days of virtually every song in the world being available on the U Maryland LAN and free uncensored Napster. Sigh). So if anyone else has links to free music, please email them to me or post them here in the comments.


Distraction: Current Terror Alert Level Raised to Ernie

The current Department of Homeland Security threat level has been raised from code yellow to code orange, in response to the horrible bombings in London. I'm disappointed that has yet to raise its public notification of this from Bert (yellow) to Ernie (orange), most likely because we've seen so many inconsequential changes that NO ONE EVER PAYS ATTENTION!!! I've sent an email off to geekandproud, so hopefully it'll be updated.

The idiocy of a color coded system is self evident - I take mass transit to my job, from which I can see the nation's Capitol. I spend my holidays in NYC with my family. I am one of the most likely people in America to be hit by a future terrorist attack. (I was within view of the towers on 9-11). I also pay the closest attention to such matters, work for the government, have family serving in active military service (including Iraq), and read about 2-3 hours of news a day.

And yet there is no way I can alter my behavior based on this warning. Neither do local police or military officials, since they are well aware of local and national security risks without the Muppet Alert System, and react accordingly long before the people at Homeland Security have their staff meeting to decide whether or not the level should be raised/lowered. The only purpose of the color coded system, and the publicity it receives, is to make people paranoid or lull them into a false sense of security. The time has come for whoever the political appointee who oversees this to grow a pair and admit that it doesn't do anything productive, or at least take down the system and let it quietly slink away.

Update: Geekandproud have changed their alert to Ernie!!! I guess they read my email. Yeah internet.

Update #2: It's somehow morphed into a Bert with Orange for mass transit? WTF does that mean? Should I walk home, or just lear racistly at foreigners when I take the Metro?

Update #3: Turns out that Homeland Security raised their terror alert level to orange, then lowered it back to yellow, except for mass transit. Again, WTF? Props to the heroic people at geekandproud for coming up with the appropriate graphic.

Terror Alert Level

Labels: ,

We are all Londoners

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Metablogging: Extended entries

I've taught myself the html to write extended entries. And by "taught" I mean "blatantly stole another person's hard work." That person is Chublogga! (what a wookie!)

You can now click on "...full post" to get the full post when its a very long post, which I will be denoting with an ellipses, like this one...

See, "...full post" works!!!

Friday, July 01, 2005

Demotivational Friday: Spam

Inspired by the good people at, the cs_office map on Counter Stike, and my old Hotmail account (20 times more spam then mail - God I hate Microsoft and love gmail), but made by me with MS Paint.