The Answer Guy Online

Providing information to unwitting victims on a "don't-need-to-know" basis since 1974.

Thursday, August 29, 2002

It rained, finally. I was wondering when that was going to happen. Not that this does much for the drought.

I feel guilty for feeling vaguely smug about the fact that people in the city and immediate vicinity still have plenty of water while the folk in the outer burbs, who expanded faster than they could build an infrastructure to support the population growth, are either under draconian water restrictions now (Fredrick County, MD) or will be in the very near future (Loudoun County, VA). And then I remember that those people are the ones who turn our highways and byways into one big parking lot 5 days a week, and I feel less guilty.

Looks like the 2012 Olympics aren't coming here. I have no problem at all with this. Imagine the traffic, the insane security, the wasted taxpayer money...OK, for those of you in DC, imagine the World Bank and IMF muckety-mucks coming to town and staying for two weeks. It would be kind of like that. Speaking of the World Bank/IMF, there's another meeting scheduled for late September. I just hope the quiz team hasn't scheduled a tournament at GW for that weekend.

The only election that matters in the District of Columbia will be on Sept. 10, and it's going to be a huge heaping truckload of fun. DC politics is starting to bear an uneasy resemblance to GW student politics. The next piece of drama will come on Election Day, when, dear readers, you get to find out whether Answer Guy votes Republican for something for the first time in his existence. But if this person or this person is the Democratic nominee, I'll have little choice. How weird is it that the two most recognizable names on this list (Mayor Williams and Reverend Wilson) are the write-in candidates, while the Lyndon LaRouches and Harold Stassens are the ones whose names will actually appear on the ballot (not literally - neither is a candidate for DC mayor.) It's enough to make me think that the whole petition drive thing is unnecessary bureaucratic nonsense, and if it results in a crackpot (if not a crackhead) mayor I for one will start a petition drive to get the process repealed and you can be rest assured that I have to make up phony petition names, they will not include Martha Stewart, Tony Blair, Kofi Annan, Donald Rumsfeld, or Osama bin Laden.

There. Now I can sleep.

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

They say the end (of baseball) is nigh.

I sort of want them to strike. I wish I could make a declaration like "If they strike, I'm not ever coming back. Good riddance." It would feel so satisfying, so cathartic, such a big weight off of my shoulders. No longer would I waste valuable time and brain power following this dying sport. (Not to mention that it'd put a merciful end to what looks like another late season collapse by the Old Towne Team.)

But I realize what a lie that would be, and you'd all be laughing at me next June. The Red Sox will be in another pennant race I'll be doing routine maintenance on four fantasy baseball squads. Just watch. (This of course assumes they will be playing then.)

It's hard for me to side with millionaires over billionaires, or vice versa. I do have opinions on this topic but haven't the spare time to put them on here (perhaps if they strike, I will write at more length on this topic.) Most of baseball's problems could be summed up in one sentence, and pardon the obscenity:

They're making it far too easy to not give a shit.

If I can barely give a damn anymore, I can't imagine what the casual fans are thinking. Many of them are making declarations like the one I refuse to make about never coming back. Does Major League Baseball really want to know how many of them mean it?

Monday, August 26, 2002

And now for the eighth installment in an occasional series..
Tim takes random web quizzes!

Take the Purrsonality Quiz!
The only associations I have with Siamese cats are the malevolent beings found in “Lady And The Tramp” and the inoffensive little Siamese my across-the-street neighbors had growing up. Not sure how my test came out this way. Anyway, time for sleep, dear readers.

Sunday, August 25, 2002

Is the media biased?

Ask a conservative activist, and he’ll say the media is stacked against him. Ask a leftist, and he’ll say the same thing. It’d be kind of silly for me to conclude that the media was perfectly objective and neutral so I won’t even try. I think at some level it is biased, but that its biases defy easy categorization.

There certainly is a widespread perception of a liberal media, egged on by conservatives who get lots of airtime to complain about it. Which in and of itself should tell you something.

I think the media is biased in ways that respond to consumer demand or at least to perceived consumer demand.

Why is talk radio conservative?
I’ll read some people’s blogs, or columns written by people who are on the political right. I’ll come away from some of them with thoughts. Even if they failed to persuade me of anything, I see arguments and honest (if sometimes misinterpreted) premises laid out in support of those arguments.
And yet talk radio, frankly, is usually the ignorant talking down to the even more stupefyingly ignorant. The arguments they put forth are usually rooted one of the following:
• A fundamental misstatement or misunderstanding of relevant facts (America by world standards is not generous with foreign aid. Divorce and teen pregnancy rates are not higher in the allegedly decadent coastal cities and are actually higher in the so-called “Bible Belt” than anywhere else in the country. There are not “just as many global warming skeptics as there are believers” in the scientific community. Immigrants are not a massive drain on the economy. Aristotle was not Belgian. The central message of Buddhism is not “every man for himself.” And the London Underground is not a political movement. Those are all mistakes. I looked them up.)
• Crass stereotypes and caricatures. (Feminist women are ugly and can’t get a good man. Liberals are whiny and hate America. Poor people are lazy.)
• Rigid religious and/or nationalist dogma.
At their best, these hucksters like fast food purveyors, sloganeers spinning slick sound bites for easy consumption but of no nutritional value. (“If you disagree with me, you are a traitor” is not a valid or useful argument for or against anything.) It’s mostly people railing against countries they couldn’t find on a map, engaging in dumb name calling, and the occasional weird conspiracy theory, usually involving the U.N. and/or black helicopters. If the conservative point of view had anything resembling a good argument for or against much of anything, it’d be hard to find it on talk radio. But it feels good to be in a group of people who share your values – it is self-affirming and reinforces those values. (Heck, I’ve been known to listen to Pacifica every so often, even though I sometimes find its content as frustratingly alien as I do with right-wing talk radio.) Good feelings, however, do not inform by themselves, and rarely if ever do they advance a debate.

Why is National Public Radio liberal, to the extent that it can fairly be described that way? Educated, culturally sophisticated people are poorly served by commercial TV and radio, for two reasons, namely that there are fewer of them and they tend to be harder to please. To paraphrase John Stuart Mill, it’s not that all conservatives are ignorant by definition, it’s merely that the ignorant among us skew conservative by default. The people left to consume NPR content would therefore tend to skew liberal.

Why is the New York Times liberal? The clientele of the Times and Washington Post is, both in the Greater New York and Greater Washington markets and the world over, people who think it’s important and worth their time to follow world events. (There are conservative types like this too – that’s what the Wall Street Journal is for.) This crowd tends to skew liberal. Local newspapers in smaller markets, whether for midsize cities like Richmond or for those kinds of papers people only read to see who died, who got arrested, and high school football highlights, actually tend to endorse more Republicans than Democrats. (In New Hampshire, for instance, the leading newspaper is the incredibly hard-right Manchester Union-Leader. People of the liberal persuasion in that state tend to read the NYT or the Boston Globe.)

And even those outlets don’t give much space to voices offering fundamental questions about American society or policy. Lots of ink and airtime are spent on abortion and school prayer and other hot-button-type stuff.

For some reason conservative media are more upfront about their bias. You can listen to NPR for hours at a time and only be dimly aware of its liberal leanings. You can read the Washington Post and, if you avoid the house editorials, only detect subtle hints of where their bias lies. The Washington Times can’t publish a news article without an astute reader concluding that it was orchestrated by conservatives. If I were in a charitable mood, I’d say the right was more honest about their biases, but I’d say they weren’t even exerting the slightest effort to present anything that wasn’t filtered through the own spin on the world. (Not to mention that the big newspapers always employ right-of-center columnists; good luck finding a liberal syndicated column in a right-wing rag.)

But, conservatives ask, what about the reporters? Study after study has shown that reporters on average vote Democratic and are liberal, particularly on social and cultural issues. The Bill O’Reillys of the world have lots of fun with this. Why would this “bias” be so?

Journalism is a profession that requires a good deal of education. Compared to other professions that require a measure of education at least, it doesn’t pay especially well. These two factors alone would suggest the profession is more attractive to people on the left. Well-educated people who are nonetheless not high income are among the likeliest to believe the priorities of the market economy we live in are in some way wrong, unjust, or unhealthy; the opposite, people without much education who are nonetheless well-rewarded are the likeliest to like things the way they are.

The very creed of a modern reporter –always check and recheck your sources and always look for more sources, taking nothing on blind faith and always being wary of authority – is in many ways at odds with deep religious faith. People inclined to defer to established authority, whether spiritual or temporal, don’t tend to make good reporters. (Or good artists, but that’s another article.) Those most inclined to look through pretty facades and veneers to find often ugly skeletons in the closets, sometimes to a fault, are likelier to find journalism attractive. Whereas the people who complain that there’s not enough good news in the paper or on TV would make lousy reporters.

In the course of a journalistic education, or any other education worth its salt for that matter, one would tend to get to know people from different backgrounds, which all else being equal, would make one more tolerant. For instance, if you know actual Muslims, it’s harder to hold to the idea that all Muslims are murderous, bloodthirsty terrorists who hate Jews and Americans or even simply backward fanatics afraid of modernity. Which makes it harder, in turn, to think all Muslims are the enemy. If you know actual gay men, especially if it’s more than one, it’s harder to wish the whole group ill or to believe they are all amoral, sex-crazed, or self-indulgent. A group of people as diverse in many ways as America itself is far easier to sympathize with than a small group of militants who are doing everything in their power to offend the rest of the nation, which is the picture that the rank and file in the Bible belt conservative movement have of gays.

And lastly, places where there are more reporters in this country are also, not coincidentally, major media centers such as New York, Washington, and Los Angeles. This cities, as well as secondary media centers Boston, San Francisco, Atlanta, and Chicago, tend to be magnets for people of liberal persuasion due to their diversity, cultural amenities, and communities of interest to them.

So among reporters, people who like living in big cities, who distrust authority, received wisdom, and the powers that be, will tend to be overrepresented compared to the population at large. While there are conservative-leaning types like that, -and you can find them in droves in right-leaning media outlets - more often than not, in this society those are attributes skew left of center.

Not that I have much of a problem with this. I don’t think the media has any obligation to give equal time to “Let’s nuke all the sand monkeys and take their oil” or to give jobs to people who think that way. If there weren’t journalists willing to depict, for instance, the upheavals of the civil rights movement in the 50s and 60s in the South, or was intent on espousing to some degree the segregationist point of view, we would be living in a very different country, and probably a worse one.

However, media can only really be as left-wing as the businesses that own them want them to be. Big media is big business, and every year there are fewer and fewer corporations that own the media.

And when it comes to financial and economic issues, the press is much more inclined to favor either the status quo or a climate even more favorable to Big Business than to give serious airtime to critiques of the economic order.

They take the religious right far more seriously than they do critics of corporate-driven globalization. And if you think it’s just a matter of numbers, than how does one explain the lack of coverage of critics of “free trade” generally; listening to mainstream media, you’d think there was near unanimity for NAFTA, GATT, etc, whereas Congressional votes and especially public opinion polls would tell a dramatically different story.

Coverage of the bankruptcy reform bill that’s about to become law has been portrayed almost universally in a positive light by mainstream media. Voices charging that the bill is a giveaway to the financial services industry that will have the unintended effect of creating a credit crunch during a recession have largely been pushed to the side.

It gets even more skewed when it comes to the increasing concentration of media in the hands of a small handful of corporations. The silence is deafening.

The columnists in most newspapers and people on the opinion shows on CNN (never mind explicitly right-wing Fox News) there to represent the “left” generally offer no serious criticisms of conservative economic orthodoxy. Sure they will speak up for abortion rights, gay rights, and some types of environmental protection. You will hear support for gun control or affirmative action, and even the occasional critique of capital punishment. But you won’t hear much challenge to fiscal policy, and the only opposition to “free trade” comes from hard-line anti-China conservatives.

Outstripping all this bias, however, is what I like to call the “stupid” bias. Based on the perception that people have an ever-shorter attention span and no interest in world affairs, everything is dumbed down to suit a presumably dumb audience.

So we get vapid saturation coverage of vapid celebrities and their vapid lives. Who’s with J. Lo now? What is Britney Spears up to? What’s the latest on Russell Crowe? Who’s in rehab this week, and who got caught with his or her pants down?

And, of course, don’t forget the Scare of the Week. West Nile virus will kill us all!! If the sharks don’t get us first. If we survive West Nile virus and shark attacks, our children are going to be abducted. (In actuality, there has not been an increase in child abductions. The shark attack total last year wasn’t extraordinary. And now we have obese chain-smokers staying indoors and having their lawns inundated with toxic chemicals because they’re worried about West Nile virus.) “Tonight on Action News, find out what common household item will creep up on you at night and kill you. But first, here’s Joe Sixpack with sports.”

Scandal is good. Scandals that are easy to understand are better. People understand sex. Fellatio in the Oval Office, a blue dress stained with semen, and allegations of sexual harassment. This stuff was uncovered in part because an endless investigation about a boring land deal. Bush made several times more money (or more accurately, avoiding losing more money) with his shady Harken dealings than anyone made with the Whitewater transaction. But trying to explain all this corporate malfeasance at Enron, Worldcom, Adelphia, and the like, isn’t nearly as interesting as lurid talk about the blue dress.

Lazy preconceived notions are also popular these days. During the campaign, the press portrayals were of Al Gore as this intellectual snob who couldn’t be trusted, and George W. Bush was this lovable guy, slow on the uptake, but a man more trustworthy. (How much of this press coverage was colored by constant browbeating by conservatives about the “liberal media” I can’t say, but I imagine it played a role.) Things that played against that perception were downplayed. Al Gore made an exaggeration about his dog’s prescription drugs being easier to obtain than those of a relative and got pilloried for it; Bush would claim support for bills that he vetoed and there was a negligible reaction. The media, though aided and abetted by an inept Gore campaign, helped turn the election into an inane, student council-type of election. All this despite there being some substantial policy preferences between the two candidates, and with public support tending against the preferred policies of the eventual “winner.”

Do I think any of this happened because the media actually wanted Gore to lose or Bush to win due to Bush’s conservatism? No. Perhaps the Gore campaign was so inept that it turned off reporters; I did read some newspaper puff pieces about the Bush campaign being more “fun” to cover. Not being a journalist myself, I can’t say. Maybe some of them liked and continue to like Bush personally more so than Al Gore.

So the issue of press bias is not simple, and not conducive to the sound bites so ubiquitous in our political dialogue. I would advise people to watch closely for the angle whenever reading news coverage about an issue of importance, just the way a good journalist would view his or her sources with a skeptical eye.

And there’s my (yet again, heavily inflated) two cents on the issue. Kudos to anyone who caught the blatant pop culture reference I dropped in there. I couldn’t resist.

Friday, August 23, 2002

Wuh-stah! Wuh-stah! Wuh-stah! Wow.The boys from my hometown are now in the national final of the Little League World Series by beating those show-boating, hot-dogging kids from Harlem, 5-2. Incredible. I'd like to say it was the Little League I was involved with, but it was the one next door. However, I did go to high school with many people from the Jesse Burkett Little League.

Not much to report in my personal life, working 14-15 hours a day tends to limit one's social life. This too shall pass; I must remember that fatigue is temporary, and money is...well, money can get me that much closer to getting the student loan people off my back.

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Latest dispatch from the yuppie sweatshop: Staff just increased dramatically. This nearly always means the quality of the food served for dinner goes down. Ho hum. On the upside, I get to see some old friends from an old job that now seems like ancient history but was in fact only two years ago or so.

I haven't posted anything about the quizbowl circuit yet. But in the meantime, I think this essay should be required reading for circuit veterans. I could have written it too, except that I'm about five months too young to be celebrating my 29th birthday. Kudos to Dwight for actually writing it.

I just want to give a big shout out to "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" by Good Charlotte. It rocks, it's catchy, and it's very topical. Coming soon to your local alt-rock station.

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

No, silly, I didn't write that whole thing last night.

Not much to report from the yuppie sweatshop, except that we ordered from a ritzy seafood restaurant this evening, and I had great blackened scallops and some excellent coconut-breaded shrimp. Oh, yeah, I finally joined the 21st century the other day and got myself a cell phone.

In other news, I'm almost too busy to notice my Red Sox dying on the vine in August at about the exact same time they did last year. Although this time there may be a strike that saves us the indignity of another painful collapse.

In still other news, early returns suggest that the Georgia House delegation will be a lot less interesting next year. I suppose nearly everyone can take joy in either Bob Barr or Cynthia McKinney losing (if that's really what happened) or in some cases both of them biting the dust. I'm surprised these two lasted this long in a state with an open primary system. The average entertainment value of Congress, meanwhile, drops substantially, although some of you may never have thought that possible.

Until tomorrow, dear readers, this is your friendly neighborhood blogger signing off....

Monday, August 19, 2002

Last Saturday, there was a rally on the National Mall called “Millions for Reparations.” (It only attracted about 50,000, but that’s neither here nor there.) I was not present, but I did listen intently to a broadcast of portions of the event on Pacifica radio, where they alternated between broadcasting the speeches made by prominent figures such as Louis Farrakhan and a series of panel discussions, none of which had any critics of the reparations movement. (To be fair, the Pacifica folk said that some critics were invited but declined) At times it made me uncomfortable, but I kept listening anyway. I wanted to hear what they had to say.

The basic idea is as follows: Slavery was a great wrong, that resulted in the deaths of millions (or at least many thousands) and the oppression of others. The U.S. government and its predecessors supported slavery. The U.S. government promised to help freed slaves (“40 acres and a mule” and such) but did little and then essentially went back on its word. Slavery’s ill effects continue to this day, in many insidious forms, and therefore the descendants of slaves deserve some sort of money payment from the federal government of an unspecified nature, separate and distinct from money for anti-poverty programs or the like.

Not everything called for by reparation advocates is strictly monetary. There were calls for more public education on slavery and its horrors. There were demands for better health care and education for inner cities, which tend to be populated largely by descendants of slaves. There were suggestions that something needs to be done about the prison-industrial complex and America’s tendency to lock up far too many people, particularly black people, to feed a fundamentally predatory industry.

I have no objections to any of these other things. Slavery should be talked about frankly and not glossed over in the way our history all too often is. The wealthiest nation on earth should not have large enclaves where infant mortality rates are more typical of the Third World or incarceration rates that more closely resemble those of Russia than anything in any truly democratic nation.

But I think advocating that the United States making monetary payments to people based on the color of their skin is a very bad idea on several levels.

It’s politically infeasible.

Actually, calling it “politically infeasible” is an understatement. It’s a complete non-starter.

Congress won’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), an avowed reparations supporter, has introduced a bill to study the issue. There is much to admire about Conyers, but when he says with one breath “Reparations now!!” and “But how could you be against a feasibility study?” with the next, he’s talking out both sides of his mouth. The bill will go nowhere.

The Democratic Party desperately wants the issue to vanish among the African-American community before it becomes a wedge issue. The Republican Party would love to score big points for being the white knight that rescues America from having to make reparations payments while dividing Democrats over the issue. No President wants to bring up the issue; a Democratic president would try to quietly bury it, a Republican president would do his (or her) best to stomp on it as loudly as possible.

There may be some supporters of reparation among the federal judiciary, but it’s nearly impossible to imagine reparation awards surviving appellate court or Supreme Court scrutiny. Or, failing that, it’s hard to imagine Congress wouldn’t find a way to block reparations by stripping the courts of their jurisdiction over such cases. (There have been efforts to limit judicial jurisdiction by Congress before, and they have generally fizzled as the Courts gave way enough to placate the political branches – I can’t see Congress laying down for this, however.)

Even many advocates of reparations seem to know that they’re exceedingly to ever get a dime out of it. But even putting aside for a moment the political impossibility of reparations….

Figuring out who is eligible for reparations is a dicey proposition.

Not all people classified as “black” are the descendants of American slaves. Many had ancestors who came of their own volition from Africa, the Caribbean, South America, or in some cases Europe. And how much “black blood” is enough? Do mixed race people like Derek Jeter or Tiger Woods get a half or a quarter share or something?

Do we means test this money, or should waitresses be paying victims like BET founder Robert Johnson or pro athletes like Shaquille O’Neal?

This is not like paying Holocaust survivors, or survivors of Japanese internment camps.
In those cases, there were or are victims still living to pay. Here, over 130 years have passed since the last slave was freed. They are deceased, and so are their children, and so, in almost all cases, are their children’s children.

No one here is saying slavery was good, or beneficial, or anything other than a horror and an embarrassment to American history. There can be no such thing as infinite justice – our law has statutes of limitations, adverse possession, all sorts of things that could be seen as dilutions of “absolute justice.” And promises made to the newly freed slaves were broken, but if politicians’ mendacity were actionable, imagine the potential liability of Bill Clinton. Or heck, pretty much any president, ever, regardless of party or era.

One might suggest that all descendants of slaves could be returned to Africa as if they were never brought over on the Middle Passage, although that’s hardly a realistic or constructive proposal - one could easily imagine white supremacists coming up with it - and it’s an open question as to what that would accomplish. (Nor is it a new idea, having been considered at times both before and after the Civil War and ultimately dismissed as unworkable.)

Improvements in genealogy might allow us, however, to make reasonable guesses about who is descended from slaves and who isn’t. And I suppose you could draw some reasonable lines about mixed-race people and maybe limit payments to people who are struggling, lest anyone have to explain what a horrible, underprivileged life someone like Kobe Bryant led. (For those of you who don’t know, yes that’s sarcasm – Bryant, son a an NBA player, went to boarding school in Italy and lived in a Philadelphia suburb that’s among America’s richest towns.)

Reparations would place an unfair burden on some elements of society.

Who pays and who doesn’t? Unless there’s a 137 year old person somewhere in this country, no one here ever owned a slave. Essentially no one’s parents ever owned slaves.
Very few people’s grandparents ever owned slaves. To the extent of my knowledge, there’s no history of slave-owning in my family at all. In the antebellum South, for every mythical Tara there were a score of tar-paper shacks where nobody ever dreamed of owning slaves. Even looking just at white Americans, for every scion of Southern aristocracy there are dozens whose ancestors arrived from Ireland, Italy, Germany, Poland, Russia, or Greece well after the abolition of slavery with barely a dime in their pocket, to say nothing of the waves of immigration from Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean the U.S. has seen this century. Some of these groups suffer just as much from discrimination and racism as African-Americans do; in several New England cities and towns, for instance, Latino origin arguably carries a greater stigma than African-American origin does.

No one presently alive in this country was ever legally a slave. It is almost certainly true that no one alive in this country was born to parents who were slaves. If you looked long and hard, you might find a handful of people who grandparents were slaves in the eyes of the law.

But, reparation advocates argue, did not these immigrants benefit in some indirect way from the fruits of slavery, even if it can be said the plantation owners and their progeny benefited disproportionately? Yes and no. America as a nation was almost certainly enriched in what everyone would concede was an unjust fashion by slave labor. Industries doubtless benefited from slave labor, even if they neither employed nor owned slaves themselves.

But, from a post-slavery perspective let’s consider the former slave and his children vis-à-vis the poor Italian or Polish immigrant and his children. If there were opportunities that arose from residual industry benefits from slave labor, either could have taken advantage of those opportunities. Indeed, these industrial jobs brought many southern blacks to cities like Detroit, Chicago, and Philadelphia. And while life there was no bed of roses, it was probably a higher standard of living than they would have enjoyed as sharecroppers in Alabama. Or, for that matter, living back in Africa, a continent regularly ravaged by famine, disease, and tribal warfare (some, though not all, of which, can be attributed to plunder by colonialists.) I will not, as some have done, go so far as to say that slavery was “beneficial” to the descendants of the slaves per se. But it is hard to argue that today’s slavery descendants were in balance so harmed by the long-gone institution of slavery as to require compensation from the United States.

From a slave-era perspective, some businessmen doubtless profited from slave labor even if they did not own slaves themselves. However, it could just as easily be said that many non-slave Americans were harmed by slavery. Most Southern farmers did not own slaves and found themselves having to compete with slave labor. Some Northern factory or shipping workers likely had their wages depressed by the available pool of free slave labor. The vast amount of land tied up in plantations using slave labor doubtless inhibited the growth of industry and infrastructure in the South, a factor that led to the Confederate defeat in the Civil War.

Only if you’re willing to stretch the concept of “group rights” to a point heretofore unseen in this country does this scheme make any sense…

The idea of group rights is fundamentally in tension with the idea of a free society where we are all to be judged by only our character and our qualifications.

Obviously, affirmative action is also inherently problematic in this vein. However, affirmative action is (in theory at least) a constructive remedy for specific types of discrimination that have direct relevance to our present and future. The more access to education and all varieties of jobs that minorities have, the less our society will divide along racial lines. Monetary reparations do the exact opposite – as a matter of necessity, they would strictly divide society along racial lines.

It promotes an unhealthy victim’s mentality.

On Pacifica, I heard two psychologists active in the reparations movement discuss what they thought were some of the psychological legacies of slavery. They contended that most blacks had the mentality of children, doomed to inherit a legacy of dependency. The stereotype of black America is of a people incapable of doing anything for themselves, always looking to someone else for a handout, and here were leading scholars of the movement essentially agreeing with the ugly rationalizations of racism found in books like “The Bell Curve.” It was positively stupefying (and doesn’t make much of a case for reparations, since what amount of money is going to do you any good if you’re too foolish not to waste it in the ways a child would do?)

I recognize some people are born with advantages and others with disadvantages, and that true civilization should aspire to provide everyone with an equal opportunity to succeed to the extent possible rather than the simple “survival of the fittest” laws of the jungle. And a society as wealthy as this one should not have as much endemic poverty as it does. But usually the best cure for poverty lies within oneself, not with politicians, not with preachers, and certainly not with blaming your lot in life on things that happened over a century before you were born. The world may not have been kind for the offspring of slaves and sharecroppers, but they weren’t kind to Irish potato famine refugees, Sicilians packed into Victorian Lower East Side tenements, boat people from Vietnam and Cambodia, or Mexican migrant farm workers either. No one has a monopoly on suffering.

All of this stereotyping of course ignores the fact that there are growing middle- and upper-middle-class predominantly black neighborhoods in metropolitan areas across the U.S, the largest ones being in Washington, Chicago, Atlanta, and Los Angeles. Color lines are eroding, and with each generation comes fewer and fewer people who pine for the “good ol’ days” of separate-but-equal when people “knew their place.”

The mentality promulgated by reparations supporters is exactly the sort of thinking that everyone (of any race or color) should avoid.

The cost of reparations would far exceed their benefits, both to society at large and to the intended recipients of said reparations, by poisoning race relations.

As it stands now, overt racists are a fringe element in this society. The Ku Klux Klan and similar organizations are ridiculed and reviled and speak for very few white Americans.

And yet there is a deep, almost unspoken, well of resentment among many white Americans, particularly among the lower and working classes. It has been quite some time since our nation has seen such resentment flare up dramatically, but its low-level buzz can easily be heard at bars, at family cookouts, and on talk radio, among other places, if you listen carefully. To some extent, as more people travel and meet people of different backgrounds and creeds, this buzz, rooted in part in fear of the “other” or the “unknown” is dissipating. (It’s harder to think in comfortable stereotypes if you meet a cross-section of people.)

But why this buzz still exists is worth discussing. In many blue-collar or rural predominantly white communities, and even among some middle-class whites, people often perceive the government as paying a good deal of attention to racial minorities, while they are largely ignored. (This perception is mostly untrue but the struggles of blacks do get much more press than the struggles of poor or working-class whites.) They see affirmative action as essentially taking jobs away from them and handing their jobs to minorities to assuage the racial guilt felt by elites who would never allow their own well-being to be threatened. Thanks to government racial preferences, the thinking goes, it’s harder for them to find or keep jobs and it’s harder for their children to get into college.

Though the biggest beneficiaries of affirmative action have tended to be white women, the biggest beneficiaries of race-based affirmative action are black or Hispanic people from middle- or upper-class backgrounds, who save for their skin color grew up in circumstances comparable (if not quite identical) to similarly-situated whites. Not all white children got the presumed “benefits” of growing up white. Whites of poor or working-class backgrounds have neither the connections and advantages of growing up wealthy nor the benefit of any racial preference system.

It’s easy to dismiss their concerns and their anger, but remember that their ancestors were generally poor farmers pushed off their lands, or industrial workers with little or no upward mobility. (Neither can compare to the horrors of slavery, of course, but no one alive can say they experienced slavery firsthand.) Their standard of living and quality of life have been vacillating between stagnation and decline for about three decades now. The media largely doesn’t reflect their views or give voice to their concerns, and their plight is seldom discussed in the political process. In many ways, they find themselves in the same boat as most minorities - although they generally won’t be targets of racial profiling, or be made to suffer the indignity of having self-appointed spokesmen anointed their “leaders.” (The media regularly refers to the likes of Al Sharpton and Louis Farrakhan as “black leaders,” whereas I’ve never heard the term “white leaders” used to describe Jesse Helms or David Duke – or, for that matter, Bill Clinton or George W. Bush.)

This is the demographic group who in 1968 found George Wallace’s segregationist message appealing, even well outside the Southern states. Though there are more Democrats than Republicans among them, they supported Ronald Reagan, in part due to his attacks on “welfare queens.” Imagine how they would react towards a government program specifically (not indirectly, as in many anti-poverty programs) designed to channel money away from them, and towards blacks. (Not to mention Arab, Asian or Hispanic Americans, who have suffered plenty of discrimination of their own and would hardly, I imagine, take kindly to suggestions they pay for the sins of the antebellum South.)

The reparations supporters might want to wear this resentment as a badge honor. If that is so, it would be a failure to appreciate the consequences of reopening these wounds in the name of some unattainable perfect justice.

To insist on reparations is to give up the moral victories of the civil rights movement. Yeah, I know, a moral victory and 50 cents gets you a USA Today. The legal and political victories will remain, but there is a cost to surrendering the moral high ground.
One of the reasons the civil rights movement ultimately won out in its battles over legally-mandated school segregation in the South and over voting rights was because they clearly had the moral high ground. TV viewers watched in horror the acts of the power structure in the South on the nightly news and before long its days were numbered. Citizens and jurists and lawmakers were able in many cases to overcome their own long-held prejudices and join the struggle of support for civil rights causes.

There is no way to know what would happen if a reparations scheme were to come to pass, but picking at this wound is likely to tap a deep vein of anger. Support for further efforts by the public sector at encouraging racial equality would plummet in a tidal wave of resentment. I think you would likely see the swift end of anything that smacks of affirmative action. I think you would see largely successful efforts to end most or all government efforts to assist poor people.

It would not surprise me to see things turn really ugly. I think you would see a surge in racial profiling at the local level, and the federal government could only do so much to curtail it, assuming they were still so inclined. I think you would see pollsters asking questions like “Agree or Disagree: African-Americans are on average incapable of doing anything without government assistance” and getting disturbingly high “Agree” figures. I think you would see a dramatic rise in membership in white-supremacist organizations and possibly viable white-supremacist candidates for public office.

I think you would see racial hate crime statistics going through the roof. While I don’t think you would see large numbers of lynchings or strong pressure to bring back Jim Crow laws, there would be a poisoning of race relations to an extent that no amount of reparations money could ever be worth it.

There are of course times to stand for principle, regardless of whose feathers get ruffled. But to stand for a principle so inherently flawed, so infused with a counterproductive mentality, at such a potentially huge political and psychological cost, makes no sense.

Well, there’s my inflated two cents on the matter, dear readers…talk to you later.

Sunday, August 18, 2002

Yikes. Work's getting intense - they're asking for over 12 hours per day, and it looks like I'll be putting in 14 hours per day, which doesn't leave much time for blogging, I'm afraid.

I was working on a piece on the slavery reparations issue, since there was a big rally on the Mall this weekend on the subject, but to do the issue justice I'd need more than 30 minutes a day to do so.

Oh, well, soon things will let up, and I'll be better able to provide you with entertainment, dear readers. Until then...

And now for the seventh installment in an occasional series..
Tim takes random web quizzes!

Take the "What Kind of Southerner Are You?" Test!

Created by


Hmmm…I guess this makes sense. I’m not a Southerner at all – in fact, I’m about as northern as you can get, and Florida’s not really a Southern state. Plus my brother lives down there. (Well, OK, northern Florida is still a southern state but there’s nothing southern about the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale-Palm Beach metroplex besides the heat. And the gigantic insects.)

For what it's worth, North Carolina came in second. Virginia, the state which awarded me a bar license and which I could see from the park down the street on a clear day, came in third.

Saturday, August 17, 2002

Another random observation, appropo of nothing, from the radio.

WBIG, the local "oldies" station (gradually morphing into what used to be called "classic rock," the large helping of Elvis Presley played this weekend notwithstanding) needs to expand their playlist.

I have not been listening to them exclusively, but I have still heard the following songs once for each of the last three days:
"Another Day" by Paul McCartney
I like this song, and I'm not quite ashamed enough of that to call it a "guilty pleasure." There are other McCartney solo songs this station could play, and as far as I know, it does not play them. Ever. Would it hurt you that much, WBIG, to opt for "Maybe I'm Amazed" or "Jet" every so often? On the other hand, at least they're not playing "My Love" (" love does it good." Blech.)

"Bernadette", The Four Tops
There are other Four Tops songs worth playing. Why this one every day, and during a request hour to boot? This must mean someone dedicated this song to his woman. If I were that woman, I'd listen to the lyrics and immediately file a restraining order against him and suggest he seek professional counseling. These are some of the creepiest lyrics you can find on an oldies station. Co-dependency on parade. (If I had more time, I'd link to the lyrics, but it;s a paranoid little number about a guy who sees threats to his love with Bernadette at every time and states he couldn't life without her and implores her to keep on needing him.)

"Don't Stop," Fleetwood Mac
The Clinton presidency is over. Time to cut back on this tune. (Anyone else ever notice that this song is actually about a two-timing man dumping his girlfriend/ significant other and therefore a bizarre choice for a political campaign anthem?) We already having WARW playing way too much Fleetwood Mac in Washington. Both stations are also more fond of Credence Clearwater Revival for my tastes. A couple songs a day are OK, but you'd think John Fogerty died this weekend or something

It's amazing what you find out on these review assignments. Most of it has nothing at all to do with the actual work.

Friday, August 16, 2002

My friend Mark Coen found an interesting site.
Called What’ it gives a reader two choices and asks him or her (generally him, given who the most popular choices are) to decide which of the two persons, places, or things is “better.” The pairings are totally randomized, so the reader might be asked to choose between, say, the Washington Post and Harvey Keitel, or between Metallica and Diet Pepsi, or between Monica Seles and “12 Monkeys.”

Anyhow, someone submitted quizbowl – both trash and academic as an item to be ranked. (Neither is doing that well, I’m afraid.)
Notice that the NAQT picture includes yours truly – I’m second guy in, wearing the red shirt. This picture was taken just before the start of George Washington’s first game at the 1999 NAQT Intercollegiate Championship Tournament against Minnesota, won by GW thanks in no small part to Minnesota’s mind-boggling eight negs. I hope that the poor performance of academic quizbowl is not indicative of a lack of charisma on my part.

So I stuck around and tried my hand at rating stuff. Here’s how I voted.
(The numbers in parentheses indicate how often it tends to win votes, with positive totals indicating a winning record.)

1. Subaru Wagon (-117) v. Rick and Bubba (-246)
Blabbering radio personalities generally lose. I also have fond memories of driving a Subaru wagon around Worcester delivering pizzas. Yum. I’m in the majority, apparently.

2. Crazy Yassar [Arafat] (-117) v. Onion (-41)
No, not that Onion. The vegetable. I like onions. This is a bad picture of Yassar Arafat. Onion wins easily.

3. Playing Bass (+36) v. Car Crash (-88)
Mine or someone else’s car crash? Bass, by a mile, even though I’m a drummer.

4. Juri (-6) v. David Lynch (-18)
Juri is some sort of anime character. David Lynch wins this one IMHO. But apparently Lynch isn’t popular.

5. Little Kids (+42) v. Potty (+45)
Little kids go potty. I gotta think the kid has an advantage. The public disagrees.

6. Hilda Santo-Thomas (-62) v. Chiharu (+141)
Never heard of either. Coin flip says Hilda. Public disagrees.

7. Metal Gear Rex (-34) v. Charles Nelson Reilly (-25)Gotta have solidarity with my…er…teammates. I have fond memories of watching “Match Game” reruns – I have no such memories of Metal Gear Rex.

8. The Larch (+21) v. Pulp Fiction (+213)
Zed’s dead, baby. Zed’s dead. Easy win over the tree.

9. Go (+36) v. Andy Devine (-118)
The game Go, not the Katie Holmes movie. Either could beat Andy Devine. I think most things could beat Andy Devine.

10. Paintball Wounds (-11) v. Veggie Samosa (-19)
My freshman year roommate loved paintball. And even if he didn’t, I’d still vote for the samosa.

11. Torrie Wilson (+162) v. Bentley Concept Car (+116)
Hot model vs. hot car. The models usually win on this board, so out of spite I’m picking the car. Heh.

12. Kally (+206) v. Eating Your Knee (+160)
Another model (apparently, I’ve never heard of her) but most things – even Andy Devine – beat eating your knee in my books. Other web denizens rather enjoy the picture, of course it’s of a model too.

13. Smoking (-136) v. U.S. House (-103)
I can’t believe I’m voting for Congress ahead of something else. Yuck. But cigarette smoking – YUCK!!

14. William Least Heat-Moon (-219) v. Jubblies on Aisle 3 (-213)
Fat chick working at a Wal-Mart store vs. a Native American writer. I aspire to high culture despite my working-class roots, so the writer gets my vote. I wonder why Moon is so unpopular.

15. Smooches (+48) v. Mike Patton (-144)
As much as I can dig the Faith No More and Mr. Bungle frontman….a kiss is still a kiss. J Patton apparently has lowering cool ratings than I had thought.

16. Twiztid (-334) v. Egg McMuffin (-25)
Can I pass on this one too? I don’t eat Egg McMuffins but I’m still picking them. Twiztid is either a rap-metal band or a pair of pro wrestlers; I can’t tell from this photo.

17. Leopold Stokowski (-73) v. Alexander Graham Bell (+129)
As much as I respect the conductor – he did after all inspire a classic Bugs Bunny sketch – gotta go with the inventor of the telephone here. Leopold deserves better than –73.

18. Ex-Girl (-4) v. Linkin Park (-144)
Ex-Girl is apparently a band. I’ve never heard anything by them, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say they can’t be more grating and overexposed than Linkin Park. Interesting fact: though Linkin Park is 148 behind Ex-Girl, Linkin Park is 2-1 against them head-to-head.

19. Rizzo (+107) v. Lance Henriksen (-67)
This is a close call. I have generally positive opinions of both, but I go with the Muppet in cases of ties. This pair is 1-1 head-to-head.

20. Popeye (49) v. Goose Island [Beer] (-7)
I went on a date with a girl my friends called Popeye because she had a tattoo on her arms and probably had better muscular development than I did at the time. I’m not a big beer drinker, and have never had Goose Island, but I think I’m picking it for reasons that should be obvious. I’ll stand by my apparently minority view.

Well, that’s all for now, dear readers. More stuff, possibly less frivolous stuff, later.

Thursday, August 15, 2002

Good evening, dear readers...haven't had much time to myself lately, since another work project has resurfaced that will help me pay for this summer of relative idleness. I am left to listen to CDs and ponder how on earth the great invisible hand of the job market has decided that these particular mind-numbing, soul-siphoning tasks are the ones best suited to me....

If you're a non-straight guy (or actually, anyone) who happens to be in Washington right now, I would definitely suggest paying a visit to the Legg Mason Classic, an ATP tennis event going on in the nation's capital right now. World class tennis, up close and personal (unless you stay at the Stadium Court where big names like Agassi and Roddick dwell) for a very reasonable $30 or so per person. I appreciate world class tennis very much, but I also very much appreciate the fact that the European players like to wear white shorts that are easily seen through and generally aren't shy about changing their shirts. Woohoo! The event is at the Fitzgerald Tennis Center on 16th St by Rock Creek Park for the next few days. There are worse ways to spend your last day of freedom....

Of course, another downside to working is that my fantasy football teams will probably suck rocks since I have to rely on autodrafting due to being at work during both my fantasy league drafts. Small price to pay for finally being able to have some pocket dough. (On second thought, at least this year I will have an excuse for having crummy teams.)

Perhaps this weekend I will have an essay for your reading pleasure, but signing off for now...

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

For some reason I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame.
I was writing this endless piece about the subject that I think I’m going to break up into several pieces.

The legendary baseball writer and analyst Bill James came up with a list (he called it the “Keltner List,” and there’s a long story behind that name) of questions to ask about candidates for the Baseball Hall of Fame to judge their worthiness. They were generally subjective in nature, and that’s about all we can do here, since we don’t really have much in the way of statistics and the few statistics we have (record sales, chart positions, concert attendance) aren’t necessarily useful. And I thought I would do something similar for how I would evaluate potential candidates for induction into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Here are my seven lines of questioning….

1. Are they a rock n’ roll act? This is an exceedingly broad term, and it’s hard to define. But, like Justice Potter Stewart’s favorite definition of pornography, “I know it when I see it.” The closest yardstick I can think of is as follows: imagine the artist covering any of the following songs – “Twist and Shout,” “Summertime Blues,” “Respect,” “Pinball Wizard,” or “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” If the artist in question couldn’t go on stage and perform one of those songs without either embarrassing themselves or boring the audience, they’re probably not a rock n’ roll act. (Yes Britney, that means you.)

2. Do other musicians cite them when they talk about their influences? Did musicians, famous or otherwise, ever say they wanted to be a musician because of him, her, or them?
(I have yet to hear anyone cite Foreigner as a major influence on their music, despite their numerous hit singles and albums; on the other hand, an act like the Velvet Underground has gained much of its fame from other musicians claming them as an antecedent.)

3. Are they legendary for their captivating performances, musical, vocal, or instrumental skills, or songwriting acumen? Will even non-fans of the artist in question be aware of the artist’s reputation for their best-known skill?

4. Were they considered “major” artists in their genre and/or their era during the prime of their career, either by fans of by critics? Were they frequently up for awards? The awards bit is problematic simply because the Grammys exercise such atrocious judgment; with a few notable exceptions like the Beatles, the Grammys either missed the boat on just about every top-rank performer over the years or were the last on the bandwagon. (Compare with baseball; even the worst lapse in MVP judgment can’t compare to giving Michael Bolton a Best Male Vocal Grammy.) I’d also look at what magazines and newspapers covering the music industry were saying about them then and are saying now, if anything.

5. Did they have multiple hit singles or albums, enduring radio staples, or at least a few songs lots of people can hum or sing along with? Consider long-term sales as well as short term ones. This question is aimed mostly at rooting out one hit wonders or flashes in the pan.

6. Is their signature song a classic of their genre? (It’s even better if you can have a spirited debate about which song is the artist’s signature song.)

7. Has their music aged well over time, or is it the sort of thing regarded as a passing fad? Would anyone listen to the output of this artist for any reason other than nostalgia? (Hard to judge objectively, but if the music is still being used in films or TV, or if its grooves are being sampled by rappers or techno creators, you can consider it aging well.) If there are covers of the artist’s songs, are they faithful recreations or respectful (even if radical) reinterpretations, or are they mostly “I-am-so-much-cooler-than-this-cheesy-song” trashings that only go down with a bottleful of irony?

Now, for an act like The Beatles or James Brown or Elvis Presley, the answer to all seven lines of questioning would be “yes.” It won’t be that easy most of them time, of course.

I could say “yes” to most of the lines of questioning with regards to most of the current Hall of Fame inductees. Joni Mitchell wasn’t much of a rocker per se, but she had several lasting hits, was well-regarded by peers and critics, and she inspired a whole host of rock songwriters (particularly women.) Critics never cared much for Van Halen’s music, and their output is tied to its time more than you’d like for a Hall of Fame inductee, but they unquestionably rocked, sold millions of records that are still cherished today, and of course featured the legendary guitar stylings of Eddie Van Halen. (They’re not in yet but will be.)

Since the purpose of this project is to generate institutional memory, influence on other artists is very important, to the point where I’m perfectly willing to consider acts who sold few records or vanished quickly if their lasting impact in the music world was strong enough. By the same token, lots of record sales shouldn’t be dispositive. It is possible to sell lots of records and yet fail to make any lasting impact on the music world – teen idols and flavors of the month have been doing that for years. And you don’t even have to be a flavor of the month to fail to achieve lasting impact. I’d honor the Sex Pistols before I’d induct Journey.

I’m mostly focusing on peak value – just because I dread the thought of the Beach Boys on tour yet again or yet another Paul McCartney or Elton John album doesn’t mean I’m going to downgrade them. Nor would I hold some of the largely forgettable and forgotten output Pink Floyd released during their early years against them.

I’ll probably have more to say on this topic soon, dear readers.

Thursday, August 08, 2002

Quick observations on the human condition now that I'm working, for now...

"Good Day Live" might well be the most vapid show I've ever seen on television. (Granted I've never seen the Anna Nicole Smith show.)

The Mariners acquired Jose Offerman from the Red Sox. I dunno why, but something tells me that Offerman will somehow figure in Sox' demise this year - and I mean more than he already has.

Anthony Williams will have to run as a write-in candidate. I'm tempted to vote for one of the Harold Stassen-esque crazies that actually managed to make his/her way onto the Democratic ballot in DC, just for the sheer fun of it.

Nothing bores me faster than merger documents. Well, actually, an interminable discussion of the relative merits of Tom Clancy novels comes damn close.

Radio is so bad I'm missing songs like Marcy Playground's "Sex and Candy." Mama, this surely is a dream. I hope. Wake me up now.

That's all for now (trying to beat the midnight deadline for an August 8 stamp...)

Wednesday, August 07, 2002

And now for the sixth installment in an occasional series..
Tim takes random web quizzes!

:: how jedi are you? ::

I just hope this doesn’t mean I’m doomed to celibacy for the rest of my life. Or that ugly brown robe Alec Guinness ends up wearing.

Personal pet peeve of mine – pundits prattling about legal decisions while proudly displaying their ignorance of how the legal system works. For instance, take this USA Today editorial. It says the following:
“Americans were left scratching their heads Monday after a circuit court judge ruled that Florida's school-voucher plan violated a state ban on funneling tax dollars to religious institutions. Didn't the U.S. Supreme Court just clear up that problem?”
No, they didn’t. What they said was that if a state or locality wanted to fund private schools via vouchers, the United States Constitution (specifically the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment) was not an obstacle. This Florida decision is rooted in a ban on funneling tax dollars to religious institutions found in Florida’s state constitution. It may not hold – in fact, given Florida’s politics, it likely won’t – but this characterization is simply wrong. You would think someone writing an editorial in a national newspaper would have checked this for accuracy.

Well, well…it appears that, rather than CMGI Field, the Patriots’ new venue will be called Gillette Stadium. On the one hand, it’s probably better from aesthetic standpoint that rather than a random few people had heard of, the stadium is named for a well-known company with deep roots in the area. On the other hand, the last time a company associated with shaving razors had anything to do with the Patriots, the results were, um, less than ideal. Painful memories of Scott Secules, Scott Zolak, Tommy Hodson, Hugh Millen. Of Rod Rust and Dick MacPherson. Of Lisa Olsen. (No one else cares, Tim. They just won the damn Super Bowl.) I was sadly beaten to the punch in this observation by one of my friends, who’s not even a Pats fan.

In more serious news, the University of North Carolina has assigned a book about Islam to its students, which has caused quite a controversy on campus. I think I have a good handle on why some people would think Islam is evil, having lived through 9/11 and heard the virulent anti-American rhetoric from across the Islamic world. What I would like to know where people get the idea that ignorance is good, or the notion that studying why other cultures have different beliefs is such a threatening or repugnant notion.
Which doesn’t stop me from proclaiming, in my best Comic Book Guy voice…worst ally ever.

Apparently, Anna Nicole Smith is the latest reality show star. There’s not a lot of TV programming that makes me think fondly of watching Candlepin bowling on Saturday afternoons while my grandparents fed me lunch. (Again, no one else cares, Tim. It’s all about the silicone. That is silicone, right? Right?)

Tuesday, August 06, 2002

A few random thoughts on this bright sunny day…

Pentagon Briefing: Saudi Arabia Is The Enemy
Well, I’m glad someone in Washington has finally figured out that a country that’s not only a brutally repressive, backward state with no respect for human rights but lavishly funds terrorist and radical anti-American Islamist organizations causing upheavals from Algeria clear to Indonesia shouldn’t be considered an ally. Nonetheless, I’m sure the leakage of this report is considered embarrassing, and the Pentagon is already distancing itself from the report. Say it along with me, dear readers: [Comic Book Guy]Worst…ally…ever. [/Comic Gook Guy] (OK, if we’re going to get all technical about it, the Soviet Union under Stalin was probably worse, but it was fun to say, wasn’t it?)

You know those stories that reaffirm your faith in the innate goodness of mankind? This is not one of those.

Male Comedian Adapts Vagina Monologues

Of course, I wouldn’t imagine that men talking about their penises would amount to anything revelatory. If you don’t believe me, wander into a gay chat room some time, and if you’re really bored, calculate the average endowment in there and it probably comes out to 8 inches or so. (And if you believe that, I’ve got some oceanfront land in Missouri that I’d be able to sell you at a bargain.)

A Yale University study suggests the following:
Men Likely To Live Longer If… “their wives depend upon them emotionally and see them as a source of strength. And it's not just a little longer they will live; it's six full years longer. Why? Someone who is relied upon feels more valued and therefore more useful. Put more simply: There's a reason to keep living. But there's a catch. A big one. If a husband thinks of his wife in the same way--as a confidant and source of strength for him--he is likely to die earlier.”

Wow. Although one would expect people who were more emotionally needy to die off sooner, all else being equal.

Another odd “piece” of news… that thing is a toupee? To the shock of everyone, James Traficant’s notoriously bad hairdo is not his hair after all. This just keeps getting stranger with every turn. Also, it appears that he has been moved to a prison in Pennsylvania, which would make him ineligible to run for a Congressional seat in Ohio.

Well, time to go out and enjoy the first non-oppressive day in Washington in almost week., dear readers. More later.

Monday, August 05, 2002

As much fun as it is to listen to Yankee fans shriek about another team trying to buy a pennant, the tone of this whole Cliff Floyd thing is interesting.

Lots of people, including the generally pretty sane Baseball Prospectus, threw a fit. It certainly doesn’t look good, but it wouldn’t look good no matter who the team was. Of course, if Floyd were dealt to the Yankees, wouldn’t that make Bud’s arguments about competitive balance look better? If the Red Sox owners do in fact owe Bud Selig big time, then why would Selig still be doing favors for them?

Cliff Floyd is a free agent and he was highly unlikely to sign with the Expos, whether or not the team was contracted. Aside from the obvious salary issues, the notoriously bad turf at Olympic Stadium wouldn’t exactly be good for someone as injury-prone as Floyd.

The Expos were only six games out in the NL Wild Card race at the time of the trade, but they’d been slumping for weeks and trailed five different teams in the Wild Card race. Trailing one team is very different than trailing five, especially if teams who were much more willing and able to spend money and/or prospects to get over the top (Mets, Giants, Dodgers) can be counted among those five.

The difference between what the Expos gave up for Cliff Floyd and what they got for him in the deal is hardly the stuff of conspiracy. The original deal for Floyd on July 11 had the Expos acquiring Floyd, infielder Wilton Guerrero, pitcher Claudio Vargas, and cash for pitcher Carl Pavano, Justin Wayne, Graeme Lloyd, and infielder Mike Mordecai. Mordecai and Guerrero are fungible waiver-wire bait, essentially equivalent except that one is a relative of current Expo superstar Vladimir Guerrero, and Lloyd was thrown in to even out the salaries. The difference between having Pavano and Wayne on the one hand and having Kim, Song, and Vargas on the other may not be entirely favorable to the Expos but is not exactly earth-shattering.

Experienced veterans are going cheap all over MLB this summer, which can be partially explained by there being more sellers than buyers this season. The Expos’ haul for Floyd is a lot more than what the White Sox got for Ray Durham, for instance. Across Major League Baseball non-contenders unloaded players from Scott Rolen to Raul Mondesi to Kenny Lofton to Ryan Dempster to Chuck Finley to Jeff Weaver and in nearly every case analysts concluded the buyer “won” the deal. Actually, the buyers usually win in deals of this variety, as this article indicates. People remember Jeff Bagwell for Larry Andersen, Doyle Alexander for John Smoltz, and the like, but that’s more the exception than the rule.

George Steinbrenner was very upset about the trade, since it had long been rumored the Yankees were interested in Floyd. The rumors about what the Yankees were to trade fell into two categories – one revolving around first baseman Nick Johnson, the other outfielder (and former Expo) Rondell White. Anything in the first set was blatantly false since it’s obvious to anyone paying attention that the Yankees are high enough on Johnson that they’re certainly not going to trade him for two months of Cliff Floyd. And if the Expos would hardly be interested in if they were trying to keep costs down, there’d be little reason for them to take any interest in an overpaid, overrated, oft-injured veteran like White. There was also reportedly an offer from Oakland, but it wasn’t a demonstrably better one. Seattle and Anaheim reportedly had little interest in adding salary, and it’s especially hard to sympathize with a team owned by Disney for its inability to outbid the Red Sox. One could argue that if Floyd’s trade value had dropped that much, the team would have been better off getting the compensatory draft picks when another team signs Floyd, but those are far from a guarantee in an uncertain labor environment.

During his stint as an Expo, Floyd hit .208. And yes, that’s a small sample size, but it does not exactly raise his trade value. He hadn’t been hitting terribly well shortly before being traded to Montreal either.

And of course it’s a little silly for the people at Prospectus to take the whole contraction thing at face value, after explaining why it’s a non-starter as an idea for the last several months.

Friday, August 02, 2002

And now for the sixth installment in an occasional series...
Tim takes random web quizzes!

Find your Role-Playing

This makes a certain amount of sense compared to the alternatives. I don’t trust easily, and I’m not always great at making a favorable first impression.

And Lawful Good as an alignment is, well, boring. And so, in its own way, is Chaotic Evil. (And if that sentence isn't an admission of my inner geekdom, I don't know what could be, dear readers.)

The other day I wrote the following paragraph:
“As travel has become more widely available, there has been a tendency to homogenize everything, lessening the eye-opening qualities that are one of the advantages of frequent travel. If all of your experiences away from home are sufficiently prepackaged, it’s almost like you never leave home, since you never really leave your comfort zone. “

On the one hand, it’s great that out-of-town tourists can see the grandeur of Times Square without stumbling over prostitutes and such, and the whole feel of Manhattan is friendlier than the climate that produced such films as “Taxi Driver.” On the other hand, much of Manhattan these days feels far more like a theme park than anything else.

Now if what you want is a theme park, that’s fine. But it seems as if everything is becoming more like a theme park. (Well, not everything – my roommate is en route to Cambodia as I write this. I am guessing Cambodia isn’t in any immediate danger of being theme-parked.) It’s as if there’s this voice inside my head that says “Quick, go and see the world before it all looks like New Jersey.” (Lest you think I’m picking on New Jersey, I could just have easily said Ohio or North Carolina or Connecticut or, really, a lot of other states.) A lot of places have lost their uniqueness over the years, which has in a real way made it less worthwhile to travel even (or perhaps because) as it has become easier.

Fast food is the ultimate example of a pre-packaged experience. A McDonald’s here will have essentially the same menu and the same dining experience in Vienna, Austria as it would in Vienna, Virginia.

I was saying in my previous essay that as long as fast food chains can co-exist with the more unique opportunities in my home neighborhood, I won’t begrudge the bright lights of the likes of KFC, Pizza Hut, or Burger King. But I wonder if that really is true, or if these chains are like kudzu was to the American south, choking off other species until it dominates the landscape. We’ve already seen the chains (restaurants and stores) muscling into Dupont Circle, and Adams-Morgan doesn’t seem to be far behind. As rents go up, it’ll be harder to maintain this diversity.

I think there are other examples of this phenomenon out there. Radio stations are homogenized and reduced to the lowest common denominator that nowadays that it’s nearly impossible to listen for more than a few minutes on one station without being bored to death. The same half dozen companies dominate the field no matter where you go.

And of course, there’s Wal-Mart and other “big box” retailers, who move into a vacant space on the outskirts of town or by the freeway interchange and drive local shops out of business, forcing residents to drive out to the nearest big box and sit in cross-town traffic. Even worse, Wal-Mart has sometime decided to pack up and leave town after it’s driven all the local shops out of business and seek greener pastures and bigger stores, leaving behind an empty shell of a building no one else wants, complete with parking lot. And no place left for the town’s residents to shop. You could say that the big boxes are a natural progression in retail and there’s no point complaining about progress, but it’s hard to say there’s anything at all that’s good about this situation. The short-run result, true, is generally lower consumer prices, even if everyone’s using more fuel to get to the edge of town. The long-run results of course usually involve a constraint on shopping options at best and at worst a town with no economic base and even further trips for retail shopping.

A market economy is supposed to be about choice. But it seems as if over the long run, some choices crowd out others. It seems as if the natural end of this chain of events is a regimented set of options that strangely mirrors what one might find in a command economy. The old saying says that what is worth doing is worth doing well. But there are more and more examples of phenomena where doing things poorly is the more profitable option.

As long as its merely about interesting music on the radio and the blandness of Wal-Mart merchandise, this phenomenon is not really a threat to market economics. However, it is easy to imagine that creative forces will need to be brought to bear on emerging threats, such as the need to conserve energy or space or alleviate poverty. And in an environment where efficiency in profit generation is valued to the detriment of all else, tendencies for some alternatives to crowd out others can’t be seen as a good thing. The more that a profit motive would tend to lock economic actors into a narrow range of “rational”activity, the more difficult it will be for the system to overcome externality-related threats in the future.

I wanted to write something non-frivolous today, but it simply didn't happen.

I had jury duty, but was let go without being selected for a panel. I was relieved to some extent, but I was actually looking forward to seeing another side of the justice system, and now I won't get that chance. And it's not like I was doing anything else productive. Oh, yeah, and in the court cafeteria....Worst Pizza Slice Ever.

Oh, yeah...I watched "The Rerun Show" debut, and, like I figured, it was three minutes of humor amidst thirty minutes of waiting for something funny to happen. A definite pick for next year's LaPlaca Open if for some reason this ends up on NBC's schedule next year.

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