Friday, March 01, 2002

Happy Fun Weekend Feature: Berkeley Watch!

I had to make a quick trip up to UC Berkeley last weekend... and the Happy Fun Cameras were rolling. "Now here'll be some grist for my mill", I thought, "a photo-essay on Flake Central." I got so excited, I even recorded a theme song!

So that's the bad news. The worse news is: I couldn't find a friggin' bumpersticker anywhere around the campus, or at least nothing less innocuous than "Keep Tahoe Blue". I have a number of deeply prejudiced explanations why this was the case:

  • It was Saturday. Campus activists are too cool to be on campus on the weekend.
  • Bicycles don't have a bumper to stick to.
  • I was around the "science" end of the campus, populated by people who don't have time for politics 'cause they're busy learning stuff
  • "A bumpersticker on my Mercedes? Puh-lease!" (I'm not kidding, either. There are a lot of shiny expensive cars and SUVs around the People's Republic of Berkeley)

    However, before I gave up (and after I copied the gene expression papers I needed) I hit some paydirt on the cafeteria bulletin board. So what are they exercised about at Berkeley these days?

    They're having the G8 conference at Kananaskis? Daaay-im, there's some serious high-level international golfing gwan git done that week. Also, Kananaskis is a bit out of town... has the G8 found an anti-protestor strategy in holding the conference well away from the nearest "anarchosyndicalist organic hemp collective and record store"?
    Raise your fist to stop the giant black bird of capitalism from devouring the farm workers! Higher, brothers and sisters, higher, and --- hey, is that an Eddie Bauer backpack?
    The head quote is
    for the anarchist, there is no difference between what we do and what we think, but there is a continual reversing of theory into action and action into theory.
    Unfortunately, what with all the constant reversing and the theory and the action and the glaven, we haven't discovered any good anarchist desktop publishing programs.
    War --- what is it good for? Not keeping the cap on the ink jar, evidently. I think this is supposed to be a guy on horseback leading a column of soldiers and a flock of --- samoyeds? sheep? --- into a Rorschach test.
    Being an activist means never having to clean the glass on your photocopier. I wish I could tell you what the picture is of. My best guess is a junk shop proprietrix wearing a bustle.

    Endnote: I was also disappointed that the Berkeley 7-11 wasn't a little more, y'know, bohemian... some reuseable hemp spoonstraws would've been nice. The worst I can say is that they didn't have Coke slurpees. Damn hippies.

    Postscript: I feel better perpetuating stereotypes since I sent some green to help the Berkeley Republican student group reprint an issue of their newspaper which was stolen. Sounds like they've got enough dough to reprint it now; hopefully they have a buck or two left over to hire some goons to deal with the newspaper theft Soprano-style.
    Is Music Swapping Killing the Record Business?

    On the Grammy awards the other night, Michael Greene ranted for an eternity about how music swapping was killing the record industry. He pointed out that record sales are down over 10% this year, and blamed the downturn on file swapping networks.

    But then we find out that Grammy viewership has hit a six year low. Hey Michael, does file swapping explain this? If the kids today are swimming in music, why aren't they tuning in to the Grammys in record numbers to see their favorite acts?

    I have an alternate theory for the downturn in record sales: THE MUSIC SUCKS. You know something is very, very wrong when Barry Manilow is on top of the charts with a moldy greatest hits collection instead of caterwauling at the Tick-Tock Inn for tip-jar money.

    You want to know why the kids aren't buying your music? How about because you package two or three 'good' songs along with 8 other pieces of complete crap, call it an album, and sell it for $20? How about because you cancel record deals with great artists like John Prine or Warren Zevon so that you can make more shelf space for the latest focus-group packaged boy band or pyrotechnic female singer with big hooters but no soul?

    You screw over the artists by making back-room deals with politicians in order to slide midnight riders into unrelated bills, depriving artists of their performance rights without giving them a chance to plead their case. Then you have the nerve to get on your high horse and pretend that you are defending musicians rather than your own pocketbooks. In the meantime, your royalty accounting practices would make an Enron accountant blush.

    I've got a radical idea: How about improving your product and lowering the price? How about embracing technology rather than hiding from it? Put kiosks in malls where people can plug in their MP3 players and download a song for a buck or two. Put a CD burner in a kiosk and let people burn their own mix disc of favorites for five bucks. You save the packaging and distribution costs and the record store's markup, and make about as much money. Plus, your back catalog will get a lot more sales, making up for any potential profit loss on the front. In the meantime, protect yourself against copying by moving content to DVD-Audio, which requires far more bandwidth but produces much better sound. Package a couple of videos with the DVD, and sell it at a reasonable price. Provide enough extra content that downloading becomes prohibitive. Instead, you try to impose copy protection on CD's, which lowers the quality and removes the last advantage CD has over MP3. Brilliant move.

    Organizations like the RIAA and the MPAA are driven by suits instead of engineers. Like Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer, our new-fangled technology confuses and frightens them. They huddle in boardrooms, fearful of leaving in case a security camera should steal their souls.

    They are also apparently incapable of learning, since they have done the same litigation song-and-dance with cassette tapes, VHS tapes, Minidisc, and DVD's. And every time, they eventually had to give up and embrace the changes instead of fighting them. And when they did, their profits always soared to new levels.

    Still, they refuse to learn. What they don't realize is that they no longer have a choice. You cannot keep the technological genie in the bottle forever, nor can you maintain a monopoly on music distribution in an era where artists can make good sounding albums in their basements and sell them directly over the internet. They will have to adapt or die. But in the meantime, they are creating havoc in both the music industry and in consumer electronics. That needs to stop.
    Sgt. Stryker on a Roll

    I always enjoy reading Sgt. Stryker's blog, but the last couple of days have been particularly outstanding.

    Here's Stryker on "Bill Jones", the spam king of the Republican party:
    Bill Jones, the Spam King!

    Incidentally, Bill Jones selected me as well, based on 'voter demographics'. That makes perfect sense - who needs California Republican campaign information more than a Canadian? I'll bet Osama got one of those, too.

    Word is, Jones used an open relay overseas to send this spam, a quasi-legal and unethical technique employed by the company he hired. This company uses the same technique in its main line of business - spamming for porn merchants. Oops.

    Come to think of it, I'd have rather had the porn.

    Faith Makes You Smart?

    David Brooks is a big weenie. There. I said it. Exhibit A for the prosecution? This article in the Daily Standard: You Gotta Have Faith.

    A while back I ripped Wil Saleton at Slate a new one for suggesting that Bush was successful as a wartime president because he is stupid. Now I get to do the same thing to David Brooks, for claiming that a defining element of intelligence is a faith in God. See, Bush isn't that smart, but he has faith. Apparently, that makes you a great wartime leader. I have a two-word rebuttal to this line of thinking: Jimmy Carter.

    Why do people have to keep searching around for bizarro reasons for Bush's success? I mean, I expect this from the left. They are shocked any time someone from the right can manage to dress himself in the morning. But David Brooks should know better.

    Bush's success is no great mystery. First of all, he's not stupid, despite what everyone seems to keep repeating. He has a Harvard MBA, his SAT scores put his IQ somewhere in the 120 range, he scored in the top 10% on his officer's candidate test, and he managed to learn to fly fighter jets. Not to mention a meteoric rise to the pinnacle of American politics.

    And why do we keep assuming that you have to be a super-genius of Wile E. Coyote stature in order to be an effective president? The skills that make a good chief executive are not the same ones required by a nuclear engineer or particle physicist.

    What makes a good president? A reasonably high intelligence, coupled with a clear vision for the country. Add to that the skill of being able to find excellence in others, and the self-control to delegate authority to them. Bush has all of that in spades. He has natural talent in these areas. And should anyone be surprised that the first president with an actual MBA might run the White House more efficiently than one who never gave a rat's ass for procedure or scheduling? I'm looking at you, Billy.

    Another thing that makes Bush effective is his natural pragmatism. This drives ideologues on both sides of the fence nuts, but Bush is naturally skilled in the ability to hone in on critical issues, and seek a pragmatic solution to them. You see that all over the war on terror in the way that he has re-aligned old relationships with countries, abandoning the useless ones while pulling the valuable ones closer. You see it in his education bill, in the tax bill, and his other legislative successes.

    Finally, Bush is a great schmoozer. Let's face it - the guy can work a room. Look at Ted Kennedy: At first, Kennedy wanted to go all Chappaquidick on Bush's ass, but a couple of lunches later and Teddy comes away with a new nickname and a new pen pal. That's the way Bush works - Machiavelli said, "Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer". Bush applies that to his dealings with Congress magnificently.

    So there's your answer. Bush is a great president not because he's stupid or because he believes in God, but because he has the kinds of skills necessary to be a great president. Is that so tough to understand?

    Thursday, February 28, 2002

    Money and Politics

    Okay, here's what I never understood about the Enron fiasco: Everyone is up in arms over who took how much money from Enron, but why is that any more relevant than receiving contributions from other companies? Is it only bad to be influenced by companies that subsequently go bankrupt? If Enron turned out to be a great company, would it then be okay for them to influence government?

    It seems that as usual, reporters are ignoring the much bigger story, which is that many politicians are acting almost directly at the behest of major campaign donors, and often against the interests of the people.

    Take for example, this new bill that would impose digital copy protection on pretty much everything. Very few people outside of the record and movie industry think this is a good idea. Yet, Fritz Hollings keeps coming back to this issue like a pitbull on crack. This isn't the first time he's tried something like this, and it won't be the last. I wonder if this money could have anything to do with it? Among the PAC contributions to his campaign in the current election cycle: $5,000 from the National Association of Broadcasters, $3,000 from the MPAA, $1,000 from Time-Warner, $500 from ASCAP, and tens of thousands from a large number of content providers who would stand to benefit from such a law. In the last election cycle the numbers were quite a bit higher, because we're still in the middle of this one. For example, last time around, Time-Warner gave him $11,000.

    This time around, Hollings has a co-sponsor, Republican Ted Stevens of Alaska. Here are his PAC contributions. Some of the highlights: The National Association of Broadcasters at $9,000, Walt Disney at $5,000 (he's in Alaska, BTW. Huge Disney state, that...), National Cable Television Association PAC - $5,000, the MPAA - $3,121. Sony Pictures - $2,000, Universal Studios - $1,000, Time-Warner: $1,000. In total, telecom and communications providers and content authors gave him $96,121 in the current election cycle.

    Who cares about Enron? At least they are gone and can do no more damage. The fact is, almost every politician in Washington is so awash in special interest money that they are not free agents. If Hollings and Stevens repudiate this bill or refuse to sponsor it, they both know that the special interest funding that keeps them in office will dry up. The claim that this money does not influence them is a farce, and everyone with half a brain knows it.

    The solution, however, is not campaign finance reform. You will never be able to 'reform' politics to prevent special interest influence, unless you adopt restrictions on liberty so severe that the remedy is worse than the disease. No, the proper solution is to reduce the power of the federal government, so that they are unable to meddle in these areas. You want to get rid of the influence of powerful dairy farmers on government? Fine. Take away the government's ability to regulate dairy production. That's the only real answer.

    As long as government has power, money will flow to it. The cost-benefit equation for both industry and government officials is just too strong. Attempts to legislate this problem away are doomed to failure.

    Wednesday, February 27, 2002

    Happy Birthday, Dexter

    Dexter Gordon

    Feb. 27th 1923 - April 26th 1990

    "Joy is more joyful, given a tune."

  • Satan Watch For Feb. 27

    (via ExpatPundit) According to Arab News, a European kid studying Islam stabbed a Yemeni traveller, thinking the latter was the Antichrist.

  • Compare that story to this one. Advantage: Happy Fun Pundit!
  • The cosmology of this incident is baffling, to say the least. The article implies that the Euro-kid was a Muslim. That being so, why would he get exercised about the Anti-Christ? Shouldn't he save his knifings for the Anti-Mohammed or something?
  • The stabber (not to be confused with the Blue Raja from "Mystery Men") had a vision of the Anti-Christ in a dream: "a one-eyed man sporting a long beard". We should send this kid after Mullah Omar. Either that, or we should get him together with Jocelyn Elders.
  • "Hi back at ya, Hill... hey, remember when I was campus hero?"

    Megan McArdle nails Bill Clinton perfectly, glues in little wooden plugs to cover the nail holes, sands it all down smooth, and puts on a nice semi-gloss finish:

    ... Clinton reminds me of the football stars at the college reunion. They just can't believe the magic's gone. . . those vanished days when no action was too outrageous, and their smallest gesture was greeted with intense adulation? Rather than settling down to become a damn fine stockbroker or medical parts salesman, they try to recreate the magic of old by repeating, verbatim, the same stunts that were popular when they were eighteen and immortal. At the fifth reunion this is amusing. . . at the tenth, tiresome . . . at the fifteenth, irritating. . . and by the twentieth there he is in the bar, drunk and vehement, palling up to people whose names he didn't know in college so that he can tell them how unfair it all is . . . he was cheated . . .

    I've got a high school twenty year reunion coming up in a few years... I anticipate telling certain parties how much they remind me of Bill Clinton, and leaving them wondering what the hell I'm cackling about.
    "Hi, Bill!"

    Is it just me, or did Hillary pass up a great career holding a "John 3:16" sign at golf tournaments?
    Castro Blames Gravity on 'American Conspiracy'

    Fidel Castro made a long rambling speech in which he claimed that the US had made dozens of biological attacks on his country. Pressed for details, the Cuban dictator eventually admitted that the sole basis for his accusation was a jar of plum jam that went moldy. Castro later added, "Also, somebody took a whiz on my welcome mat."

    The speech marks the first time that Castro has appeared in public wearing his tinfoil hat, which keeps the gray aliens from stealing his thoughts.

    Bioethicist Minds Own Business!

    Following the announcement yesterday of the birth of a baby from a egg selected for its freedom from a genetic marker for early-onset Alzheimer's disease, the world was rocked by a second announcement that one bioethicist had nothing to say about the matter. Robert Loquato, a bioethicist at California's Larches-Sinai hospital, upon hearing of the baby's birth, just shrugged and went back to watching "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", the new one where Riley comes back and he's married and wears black all the time. Other bioethicists have generated approximately 1.2 Gbytes of commentary (a Gbyte is 1,000,000,000 bytes, or approximately 200000 different ways of making sober passive-voice statements like "Questions have been raised as to the appropriateness of this activity"). An additional half-Gbyte was added when news of Loquato's non-response broke; as one bioethicist put it, "Questions have been raised regarding the appropriateness of one wise guy making the rest of us look like a bunch of blowhard busybody philosophy majors who need this bioethics gig."

    Other more mainstream commentators said things like:

    "The differences between these two interpretations of ethical responsibility are stark, but both rest on assumptions made about reproduction -- is it a privilege or it is an unquestionable and inalienable right?" they asked.

    The latter. Now piss off.
    Since Everyone Else Is Too...

    Okay, I went and took the 'Who is your favorite dead philosopher'? quiz that's all the rage. Here are my results:

    1. Rand (100%)
    2. McNalley (91%)
    3. Miller (75%)
    4. Benson (73%)
    5. Epicureans (72%)
    6. Calvin (66%)
    7. Hobbes (66%)
    8. Aquaman (65%)
    9. Bluto (63%)
    10. Groucho (57%)
    11. Hume (54%)
    12. Cronyn (46%)
    13. Ockham (45%)
    14. Prescriptivism (43%)
    15. Astigmatism (42%)
    16. Kant (40%)
    17. Cantoo (36%)
    17. Geraldine (34%)
    18. Frink (33%)
    19. Shinola (24%)

    Don't ask me what it means.

    Tuesday, February 26, 2002

    Super Fine Asses!

    While perusing our stats today, I discovered that the latest Google search to hit us was 'super fine asses'.

    This brings up several important questions:

    First, how did Google know? There is a serious invasion of privacy issue here. I mean, it's flattering to be included in the panoply of super fine-ass websites and all, but is this the kind of thing we want our search engines doing? One shudders to think of the flood of hits we'll get from such search terms as, "beer-stained t-shirts on webloggers", or "webloggers with bodies hidden in the basement."

    Second, there is the subjectivity issue - given that Google is probably programmed by young computer geeks, having a 'super-fine ass' probably means that I have a freakin' Vulcan Pon-Farr tattoo or something back there. I guess that's what happens when you let your wife come near you with the woodburning kit after you've fallen into a coma induced by three gallons of cheap beer and two bags of Cheetos.

    Finally, having looked in a mirror fairly recently, this reporter needs to ask, "Is Google on crack, or what?" (Sorry, couldn't resist a bad pun). On the other hand, rumor has it that Steve has an ass that is not only both super and fine, but is capable of reproducing the entire drum solo from the live version of 'Inna Gadda Da Vita". If you ever get a chance to see his performance, I recommend the balcony.

    (Frightening Update: "Webloggers with bodies hidden in the basement" turns up three sites on Google. Ah, those nutty webloggers, always killing people and disposing of the remains in easy-to-find locations.)

    Happy Fun Pundit: Proud to be your official Super Fine Ass Website.

    Monday, February 25, 2002

    Interview Control 101

    There is an excellent interview with Don Rumsfeld here.

    It's a fascinating look not just at the war, but at how Rumsfeld has managed to keep reporters at bay and even on his side, while completely controlling the direction and theme of an interview.

    See, there are two sides to being tough and honest. On the one hand, a journalist with a stupid question gets ridiculed mercilessly (and I'm all for ridiculing journalists mercilessly when they deserve it). But on the other hand, it makes praise from your interview subject all that more powerful when you get it. These days, an 'atta-boy' from Rumsfeld to someone in the press corps is likely to make the reporter wriggle like a puppy getting a tummy rub.

    Remember, journalists compete with each other as well. I imagine it gives CNN's John King a little bit of pleasure to see, oh, Sam Donaldson spanked like a schoolboy with his hand in a candy jar for wrapping a political statement around a question, or for making a vague claim about the opinion of 'some in Washington' without having specifics to back it up. And wouldn't it be just the best if the guy who torched Donaldson would throw a nice comment King's way? So the next question is likely to be softer, perhaps even supportive.

    Read the interview above. Rumsfield has four hardened journalists peppering him with questions, but the tone changes rapidly, and by the end they are such good buddies that you expect them to start genuflecting. And yet Rumsfeld was sometimes sarcastic, sometimes critical of the reporters' own country, and always apparently honest.

    Note in particular how he wraps Sir John Keegan around his finger after Keegan brings up their shared experience in Beirut, and Rumsfeld turns Keegan's own experience into a wider metaphor for the war. It's like, "Oh, you and I are a couple of old veterans. It's a good thing we both can see the larger picture that less experienced people miss." Who's going to argue with that? Rumsfeld even seals the deal by throwing some compliments towards the British embassy.

    Then there is the way he turns David Wastell's question about the treatment of Guantanamo Bay prisoners around. When asked about it, rather than just give an answer Rumsfeld says, 'Were any of you there?. What did you think? Would you do it any different?' The reporter, caught off-guard, admits that he hasn't been there. Another reporter, Tony Harnden, was. And he admits that they were treated pretty well. Good boy, here's a biscuit. Reporter wriggles.

    Don't let his straight-shootin' ways fool you - Rumsfeld is a master at this stuff. He is like Yoda with better skin and smaller ears (same squint-and-grin, though). Any day now I expect him to say, "No! There is no try. Only do, or do not. But there is no try."

    Sunday, February 24, 2002

    You Give Rock a Bad Name

    Okay, let me set the scene here. I'm sitting down to a lovely evening of relaxation after putting my daughter to bed. Glass of port at my side, remote control in hand. The closing ceremonies of the Olympics are underway, a worldwide spectacle which only comes around once every four years. So I switch the tube on, and there in full rock regalia is Jon Bon Jovi, wrapped in an American flag, with tens of thousands of people screaming his name. What, was Springsteen washing his hair? Was R.E.M. off in the great beyond somewhere? Bon Jovi was the BEST they could come up with?

    Flashback to several months ago - I sit down to watch a musical tribute to the fallen heroes of New York City. And there he is, on one of the most watched programs in history. Yes, it's Jon Bon Jovi, singing one of his two hits.

    Clue me in here, people. Did I miss something? How does this guy manage to make all the big gigs? Look: It's not as if his music is awful, it's just that it's not very good. And sure, he seems to have said the right things and has been suitably patriotic. But come on -- Bon Jovi's most endearing trait is that he KNOWS he's not that damned good. This is the guy who let Triumph the insult comic dog congratulate him on stage for landing a part in a movie as a vampire, "because you finally found a job where you are supposed to suck."

    But I am now deathly afraid that Jon Bon Jovi threatens to become the spokesman for my generation. This is a horrifying thought. I don't want to have to go around wearing a buckskin jacket and fighting for my right to party. And I'm not feathering my hair. Ain't gonna happen. So let's not get carried away with the Bon Jovi thing, okay? I mean, at least Bob Dylan is incoherent and has horrible stage fright. So he just writes great songs, sings reasonable facsimiles of them, then shuffles away to write more. I like that in my rock stars. I think Rain Man would make a great rock star. But Bon Jovi LIKES this stuff. He is the prototypical stadium-rocking fratboy. We should not encourage him, lest he decide to go all Bono on us and think he has something important to say.

    Because I am fairly sure that he doesn't.
    Plagiarism Scandal Widens

    Amidst reports that Doris Kearns Godwin ripped off more of her book on the Kennedys that previously thought, the co-author of one of the world's best-selling books is now claiming that the authors of other chapters in the book used material from his work without attribution.

    A Jewish fisherman known only as "Mark" says that his fellow gospelists, a Greek physician and a Hebrew scribe, borrowed substantially from his gospel, then claimed divine inspiration as a way of circumventing copyright laws. "It's just appalling that these educated men steal from a working stiff, and then do the whole, 'oh no, God whispered it to me' routine. A scribe, I can maybe understand, 'cause he's always copying stuff, but the Greek guy has no excuse." The accused plagiarists have not been named pending legal notification, but all indications point to Matthew and Luke Perry, who have long since made the transition from apostlehood to TV stardom.

    A press release by Mark cited many examples which he claim show that the other writers had his gospel in front of them as they worked:

    John The Baptist

    Mark: John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

    Matthew: In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."

    Luke: In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiber'i-us Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Iturae'a and Trachoni'tis, and Lysa'ni-as tetrarch of Abile'ne, in the high-priesthood of Annas and Ca'iaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechari'ah in the wilderness; and he went into all the region about the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

    Mark notes: Blah blah blah tetrarch blah blah blah big Greek word blah blah. I guess Luke had a slight case of verbal diarrhea that day.

    The Twelve Apostles

    Mark: And he appointed twelve, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach and have authority to cast out demons: Simon whom he surnamed Peter; James the son of Zeb'edee and John the brother of James, whom he surnamed Bo-aner'ges, that is, sons of thunder; Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

    Matthew: The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zeb'edee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

    Luke: And when it was day, he called his disciples, and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles; Simon, whom he named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

    Mark notes: This is my brother Judas, and my other brother Judas, and my sisters James and James. And of course, you know Simon and Simon from their TV series.

    Mark had no comment on allegations that the apostle Shemp was edited out of all three gospels.

    In response to the accusations, spokesmen for Luke said that the former Beverly Hills 90210 star may have been confused by his note-taking system, where he chiseled words into big flat rocks. He has since switched to berry-juice-on-papyrus, and places attributions in the text.

    Matthew, who has struggled with weight and substance abuse issues for years, was unavailable for comment because he was busy making another crappy movie.