May 25, 2005
Britain is suffering a sense of humour failure, with laughter levels three times lower now than 50 years ago and nearly half of all adults unable to enjoy at least one big guffaw a day, research showed.
“The findings of this study show a worrying trend towards glumness. In the 1950s we laughed for an average of 18 minutes daily but this has dropped to just six minutes per day,” she said.
Morning misery is rife, with almost half of Britons — some 45 percent — admitting they frequently wallowed in gloom until lunchtime.
If you had to look forward to a lunch of British food, you’d have trouble laughing too.
May 24, 2005
Much was made when Bush was reelected of his desire to simplify the tax code. I’m not sure where that went, but maybe sometime by 2008 he might give another speech supporting it. And one of the most common rationales for simplifying the tax code is that it is such a maze of unintelligible, frequently contradictory, and counter-productive cut-outs to satisfy one special interest or another. Simplification reduces compliance costs that burden our economy, and reduces economic distortion caused by unproductive uses of money designed to reduce tax burden rather than improve the economy. But that’s only half of it.
It popped to mind with this:
More and more states are considering higher alcohol taxes after years of raising cigarette rates.
This year, Kentucky and Washington state hiked their liquor tariffs. Montana, Indiana and North Dakota rejected higher beer taxes.
Texas is still considering an increase, which would go to help pay for public schools. And Ohio lawmakers must decide what they’re going to do before the new fiscal year starts July 1.
Yep. The demonization of smokers has been so successful that fewer and fewer people smoke. You’d think that was a good thing, but now fewer and fewer people are paying cigarette taxes, leading to less revenue in government coffers. Likewise, those nasty buyers of hybrid vehicles, with their care for the environment and desire for high fuel efficiency, are forcing lawmakers to consider taxing by the mile to offset the reduction in gasoline taxes. Faced with the success of their policies, now they want to go after alcohol, or I should say, further after alcohol, because it is typically already given its own excise and “sin” taxes.
But is this the right thing to do? Is it legitimate, in the spirit of America’s founding, for the majority to decide that certain activities are “bad” or “good”, and thus should be taxed at higher or different rates than others? Is it legitimate, in a country where we supposedly have “equal protection under the law”, that some people and activities are just more “equal” than others?
I think we can look at some things, and most people will agree that some of these cutouts are a good idea. Like, for example, the mortgage interest deduction. Unless you’re a renter, of course, which probably means you can’t itemize and you get slammed. Or that mileage and car leases are deductible if you’re in sales as a business expense. Unless, of course you live in LA, an hour away from your work, but can’t deduct a dime because getting to an office is not actually a business expense, and you get slammed. Even the well-meaning exemptions and deductions are unfair to those who can’t claim them. But the little exemptions for special interest groups, that may impact 1% or less of the population, are unconscionable windfalls to them, paid for by the rest of us.
Taxes are one of those things in life that nobody likes. But it’s absolutely wrong that your tax burden should be based upon your ability to get elected officials to write special exemptions into the law for you. And it’s absolutely wrong that your tax burden should be based on whether you’re engaging in perfectly legal activities that are a “sin”, like smoking, or a “luxury”, like buying a Lexus. The tax burden should be equally painful to all.
Taxes as behavior modification :: The Fair Tax Blog linked with Taxes as behavior modification :: The Fair Tax Blog
More than pride, a cottage industry may be at stake when “Jeopardy!” ace Ken Jennings takes on two challengers in the game show’s $2 million challenge that airs this week.
Comedy Central said Monday it has signed Jennings to be the central figure in a new game show the channel is developing with Michael Davies, the producer behind “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”
That goes along with the upcoming board game “Can You Beat Ken?” and the “Quizzology” CD trivia game that he’s behind. Oh, and the book Jennings is writing that’s due out next year.
This man gives hope to software engineering dweebs and trivia nerds everywhere. Good for him, I say. Any time where our society can actually reward someone for class and intelligence, instead of being a worthless (can’t use the word I want) like Paris Hilton, it’s a good day.
I’m working on implementing the show/hide more content, and show/hide comments features. I’ve wanted to do this for a LONG time, which is one of the main reasons I was moving away from Blogger in the first place. It might take some time to get everything looking exactly how I’d like, but the basic functions are at least working now.
Also, during some of the Technorati searching I did before my last post, I came upon a couple of blogs. None that had quite the content I was looking for, but interesting nonetheless. They’re now on the blogroll (and I suggest taking another look over there, because I periodically add new blogs without fanfare).
Wirkman Netizen: A libertarian blog who covers all sorts of topics. Good read, but watch out if you’re using Microsoft Internet Explorer. The site made my browser choke until I started reading it in Firefox.
Blogmess – Tracy Green: Another libertarian blog. Definitely newer to the ’sphere, but seems interesting.
Death of the lesser mind: A raging moonbat. I add him because I can’t quite figure out what the hell he’s talking about, but he seems somewhat intelligent, and I have been lax to add anyone to the leftist area of the blogroll for some time.
May 23, 2005
My adherence to libertarianism, as much as an “Unrepentant Individual” adheres to any set political party or philosophy, is based upon my belief that libertarianism is a fully consistent, logical, and moral form of government. The reason for this is that I don’t accept that other people should be able to make choices for me, a rational adult, and thus I cannot see that I should find myself so egotistical that I should be making choices for them, so long as we do not violate each other’s rights and liberty.
However, in any discussion of libertarianism that I have come across, one issue is typically not handled very well: the issue of children. Libertarianism presupposes that the actors in society are rationally self-interested individuals, and that these people should be given as much leeway to act as possible, so long as they are not infringing on others. Our discussion of rules, morality, governance, all assumes that we treat humans like adults.
But children aren’t adults. What, then, do we do with them? What rules, what guidelines, should we use to protect their rights? What guidelines should be used to protect them from themselves, as they have not gained the maturity to act rationally? And what should be done to protect them from neglectful parents, who do not take the steps necessary to ensure that they grow up to become rational adults? Socialists, fascists, communists, and even nanny-state Republicans don’t have this problem, because they treat everyone like children, under the mismanaged care and semi-watchful eye of an incompetent government. Since they never really expect or desire us to exercise independent, rational thought, they don’t need to be worried about leaving us unprepared to do so. But for us libertarians, we cannot abdicate this responsibility, or our society will cease to be the moral form of government that we believe.
This little topic has been brewing in my mind for a few months now. It all started when I got into a debate with my friend’s wife, who is a very intelligent, committed leftist, and who also happens to be a lawyer and former student of Austrian economics. Now, if you’ve ever tried to argue with a lawyer, you can understand my dilemma (especially since I was about 4 beers into the evening), and the fact that she knew and understood libertarian thought didn’t help me any. During the times that I was keeping the debate towards my own strengths, like Social Security and free-market economics, I think I was holding my own. Later, we got onto the topic of social freedoms, things such as smoking bans/etc. In some cases, these are harder to argue, but again, I think I was still holding my own (which, of course, could be the beer talking).
But it all derailed when we started talking about seat belt laws, and specifically car seats. You see, by the very nature of libertarianism, a seat belt law is immoral. Because the only person harmed when a seat belt is not worn is the driver, and a driver who gets behind the wheel without a seat belt is accepting the possible consequences of that action. Assuming, of course, that the driver is an individual, without ties or obligations to others. Is that still true, however, if the driver has a 5 year old child, or if that child is in the car? While it is obvious that person has a moral obligation to wear their seatbelt to ensure they are alive to care for their child, does that also mean that they have a legal obligation? We’re starting to head into hazy territory. And once we start talking about laws forcing parents to put their kids into car seats, we’ve hit the wall. Because as a libertarian, you are forced to either hold the line that parents should have the right to let their kids die in crashes, or you need to follow the slippery slope that if society has the obligation to force you to put your kid into a child seat, they also might have the obligation to force you to put your child into certain schooling, or to provide them with X and Y, or to deny them C and D?
You see, once we step off the grounds of a rational adult choosing to engage in risky behavior, and start including a child, who does not have the capacity to choose or not choose that behavior, it all gets very murky, very quickly. Because if we state that parents have a legal obligation to educate their children, and they don’t have the monetary ability to do so (because in a libertarian society, the school system would be private), must we as a society provide that money for schooling? Or do we have to take away the child from the parents because they are not living up to those obligations?
Who, then, makes the guidelines of how children must be raised? Because if we leave it up to the democratic process, then we run into the same tyranny of the majority problems that exist in any democracy. Let’s say that I’ve decided that to teach my kids responsible consumption of alcohol. I choose that from the time they’re 10 or so, they’re allowed to have a tiny glass of wine with dinner. I believe that allowing my kids certain types of freedoms, in a supervised and controlled manner such as this, is a good way to teach them how to handle the complete freedom that they must be entrusted with in the real world. If the majority mandates that you should not be able to drink before the age of 18, however, should they be able to punish me or take my children away because of this? I would say “Hell, no!” After all, I know best, so I can choose how to raise my children according to the values and customs that I believe are important. Of course, if another set of parents take the same sort of mindset, starting their kids on heroin at the age of 10, wouldn’t I be first in line to protect those kids from their parent’s stupidity? Despite what they think, I no longer accept that they know best. And wouldn’t that be illogical, since heroin wouldn’t be illegal in my libertarian world? Wouldn’t it be hypocritical, since I think I know best for my kids, but I don’t accept the other parents’ claim that they know best for theirs?
Live and let live makes for a great philosophy. The only problem is that applying libertarian philosophy runs into a problem when it comes across a child, who does not yet have the skills to make the right or wrong decision in a certain situation. And while we can mostly agree on what would be blatantly wrong decisions by parents, like giving your child heroin, it’s the marginal case, like allowing a little wine before a child is an adult, which becomes troubling. And since the marginal case differs widely amongst different people, it is tough to have any standards at all.
Unfortunately, I don’t have the answers to these questions. In my mind, if we can get the world into a state where adults are expected to care for themselves, and where we take away the government incentives to do such things as not work, or to have kids you can’t afford to raise, that the situation will mostly work itself out. After all, right now the government treats us all like children, so the fact that some people are woefully ignorant and unable to raise their children to be responsible adults is not surprising. But “mostly working itself out” doesn’t always quite cut it. How can we reconcile a libertarian philosophy for dealing with adults with some of the necessary modifications to that philosophy that we may need to make to ensure that those children, unable to be treated like adults, have their rights protected? And just as importantly, how can we do this without slipping down the slope towards one-size-fits-all tyrannical government control over child-rearing?
Five things my peer group enjoys, yet I don’t understand? Only five?
I’ll try and limit my responses to topics not covered on the other lists.
So in no particular order, here goes:
1) The Contender. When was the last time anyone watched a boxing match that even remotely qualified as relevent to the sporting world? Tyson a few years ago, Lewis vs ?, it has been a while and I don’t see any fights coming up to reverse this trend. So what makes NBC, and a bevy of my local friends think anyone cares about 20 boxers NOBODY has ever heard of. What’s worse is NBC has Sylvester Stallone as one of the, uh… counselors (I don’t know how else to describe his role). This makes as much sense as the old joke; “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.” I am literally more qualified to be NBC’s Olympic Rowing Correspondant than Sly is to talk real-life boxing.
2)The Mars Volta. For those of you unaware, Mars Volta is a band. I have yet to come up with a satisfactory description of their music. While I will say that it is original and even likable, there is nothing life altering about them. But don’t tell that to the folks I know who watch recorded Mars Volta concerts over and over again, then spend a Sunday night in the Detroit ghetto for a concert, ensuring themselves of almost no sleep before the workweek begins Monday morning.
3) Anything related to Maurice Clarett. This is reserved primarily to Columbus area hot heads, sports writers and talking heads who continue to bring him up every time Buckeye sports are mentioned (and if you are familiar with Columbus, OSU sports come up EVERY. DAMN. DAY.). Get a grip, he said his bit, ESPN printed it, he left school, he got drafted by Denver, he didn’t talk to the NCAA during their investigation (although there should probably be a investigation into why not) and now it is over. The next time I should hear his name should be when Denver makes him a 1500+ yard running back, or when he takes the field at the Horseshoe in 2027 as part of the 25 year anniversary of OSU’s 2002 National Championship.
4) Collar popping. This is mainly a college thing, meaning I don’t see it as much as I did a mere 6 months ago but it must stop. It is assuring to know that the backlash has started and Purdue is leading the way .
5) Smoking Bans. It’s not that I don’t recognize the health risks smoking presents to both smokers and secondary smokers as well. It’s that the idea of restricting what a business owner can and cannot allow in his or her own place of business is absurd. This seems to be a case of the majority deciding to stick it to the minority just to prove a point. Being in the majority should mean an upper hand, not absolute power (note: this message could be forwarded to George W. Bush and the GOP re: Judical Nominations). If you don’t want to be around smoke, than only frequent those establishments which don’t allow smoking. I’m guessing if a large percentage of non-smoking patrons boycotted smoking establishments, we’d see plenty of places voluntarily ban smoking.
I looked up “meme” to find out exactly what it means, and one of the definitions compared a meme to a virus-like parasite which people replicate. With this in mind, I choose NOT to extend this challenge to anyone.
The debate is whether property rights are truly inherent rights. Dada and a poster named Alice are arguing that property rights either do not exist as inherent rights (Dada), or if they do exist, they’re meaningless without the sanction of government (Alice). Eric and I, of course, are arguing the view that they’re inherent rights (with Eric doing most of the arguing, I think I’m simply a diversion).
So I recommend heading over and taking a look. You might learn something. I know I have.
The Liberty Papers»Blog Archive linked with Natural Rights doctrine - the missing piece
The Unrepentant Individual linked with The end of private property
May 21, 2005
I’m sitting here watching reruns of Full House (don’t ask). More specifically, I’m sitting here trying to occupy time on the PC while my wife is watching said reruns. It quickly reminded me of something I’ve thought for a long time. The network sitcom, and the nightly news, are pretty well dead.
Back in the olden days (well before my time, anyway), you would hear something at the start of each sitcom. For example: “This episode of Happy Days was filmed before a live studio audience.” That meant something. Writers were forced to actually create funny dialogue. If the studio audience didn’t laugh, it probably wasn’t funny enough to be broadcast.
All that changed with the invention of the laugh track. Now, a writer didn’t have to worry whether something was funny, they would simply have the production team insert canned laughter at predetermined points. Ever since, we’ve been subjected to crap like Full House. And people wonder why I don’t like TV. At least the West Wing doesn’t have a laugh track.
For network news, the death knell came when they started tabulating Nielsen ratings on news programs. The news used to be something that people would watch to learn about the day’s events. It could be boring at times, but at times, the news isn’t exciting. But once they started to count ratings, ratings influenced advertising. And suddenly, news programs wanted to attract viewers with emotional appeal, “human interest” stories, and sensationalism. You can’t get someone to watch the 11:00 news by putting out a soundbite at 7:30 stating “Tune in at 11 to hear about Senator Bill Frist’s decision on the filibuster.” But leading in with “Tune it at 11 to hear about how eggs will kill your children” does. Of course, then they’ll tease with that for a story about how doubling egg intake increased odds by 0.05% that your kids could contract a deadly salmonella case. Up from 0.02%.
Why are nightly cable news programs full of talking heads yelling at each other? Because people like excitement and drama, and that’s excitement and drama. Sure, it doesn’t actually inform anyone of anything, but it sure is appealing!
They say that the internet is starting to make TV watchers more sophisticated and more demanding than they once were. Maybe 5 or 10 years more of that, and I’ll start watching again. But the current rise in Fear Factor, American Idol, and the Real World don’t give me that much hope.
The meme is:
List five things that people in your circle of friends or peer group are wild about, but you can’t really understand the fuss over.
1. American Idol
3. Modern first person shooter video games
5. Barry Bonds
You’ll have to visit his site for his rationale.
So here goes:
First, let me say that American Idol is on my list. But I’ve seen this meme go around quite a bit, and EVERYONE uses American Idol. So yes, it could easily be in the top 5, but I want to go a different route.
1. House – A couple of my coworkers absolutely love this show. So much so that they actually have to make sure they’re home on Tuesday nights for it (hello, get a TiVo people!). It’s kind of a CSI meets ER meets Becker sort of show. And it’s not bad. After all, cranky old white guys are usually somewhat funny to watch. Look at Everybody Loves Raymond and The King of Queens for more evidence of that. But the 1 1/2 episodes I’ve seen of House are just a bit out there. The only full episode I saw was a 12-year-old diver, who just happened to be pregnant, whose rare dangerous response to a pregnancy just happened to coincide with the symptoms of meningitis, which the hospital just happens to be in the middle of fighting an outbreak of. The dialogue is great, but they seem to be working too hard to give this guy something to be cranky about.
2. Chick-Fil-A – Okay. This is a piece of fried chicken. On a hamburger bun. I get it. What’s so great about that?
3. Celebrities – What does it say about your life when you really care that much about Brad and Jen? When you’re actually buying magazines to find out how Britney’s evil spawn is progressing? The rise and fall of Bennifer, followed by Bennifer II (Gardner instead of Lopez), who are about to have a shotgun wedding because Affleck knocked her up? The cult of fame has grown way too large.
4. Strip Clubs – This is a bit more tricky. Frankly, I do enjoy strip clubs. There’s just one problem. They’re not anywhere near worth the money. $10-20 gets you into the joint, drinks are ridiculously expensive, lap dances are anywhere between $10-20 for a 3 minute song… If I won the lottery, I might be willing to toss away money like that. Or, if I weren’t married, it might be more fulfilling. But I’ve always thought that strip clubs and lapdances were about creating the illusion of intimacy. There’s just not enough value for my money when it’s all an illusion.
5. Trendy Night Clubs – Again, if I were single and trying to find women, I might be willing to subject myself to this nonsense. But beyond that, I can’t stand it. When I go out for drinks with friends, I want a couple of things. A place to sit, no cover charge, easy access to the bar (or at least a waitress), and an atmosphere quiet enough that my horrendous hearing isn’t compromised. I don’t dance. I don’t like getting dressed up in anything but casual clothes. I think anyplace you have to wait in line outside a velvet rope, isn’t worth going to in the first place. And last, but not least, what makes a night club trendy is that everyone wants to go there. When everyone wants to go someplace, it’s far too crowded for me.
That’s about it. But, like Eric, I have to now try to call out the bloggers that I’d like to hear this same thing from.
1. JimmyJ & Wilson. You have an assignment. Get to it.
2. The Stern Family. That’s TF, Lucy, and Bonnie.
3. Robert of Libertopia.
4. Jack of Jack’s Right.
5. Quincy of News, the Universe, and Everything.
News, the Universe, and Everything linked with Nailed by the Unrepentant Individual
May 20, 2005
A United States congressional committee drafted a bill that might withhold millions of dollars in dues from the United Nations unless the world body launches wide-ranging reforms.
One of the billâ€™s most controversial proposals will be linking dues to the reforms it spells out. The document stipulates that if the reforms are not carried out, Congress would withhold 50 percent of US dues to the UN general budget, taking the money from programmes it deems inefficient and wasteful.
â€œNo observer, be they passionate supporter or dismissive critic, can pretend that the UNâ€™s current structure and operations represent an acceptable standard,â€ said Hyde in a hearing on UN reform.
The United States contributes 25% of the UN’s general budget. This, of course, doesn’t include things such as peacekeeping missions, the military stepping in for tsunami relief, etc., which constitutes a great deal more funding. They do this, being about 5% of the world’s population. All this to support an organization that is at best, indifferent, and at worst hostile to our interests.
It appears that the UN has forgotten the golden rule: He who has the gold, makes the rules. They seem to want it both ways. They want us to bankroll their operations, but they can’t stand it when we want to make sure we get some value (or at least some gratitude) for our money.
I’ve said before that withholding funding isn’t my preferred method for dealing with the UN. My preferred method is to toss their asses out of New York, disinfect the building on Turtle Bay, and turn it into commercial office space. Let them see who listens to the United Nations when the USA not only removes all monetary support, but all military and diplomatic support as well. But, that’s got about a snowball’s chance in hell of happening.
Of course, Hyde’s proposal only has a block of ice’s chance in hell, but that’s at least worthy of commentary. One of the things that libertarians and small-government types always have to mention is the fact that any time government money gets into the mix, so does government regulation. In fact, that’s one of the strongest arguments (argument not generated by the teachers unions, at least) against school vouchers. Many detractors of vouchers believe that as some of that federal money funnels into private schools, it will do nothing but extend the hand of federal regulation further into those schools. With money comes regulation, the two are inseparable.
Well, in this case, the shoe is on the other foot. If the UN expects us to contribute such a large share of their budget, they shouldn’t be surprised in the least that we want a strong say in how it’s spent. If they don’t want us to wield this power, they shouldn’t expect us to pay so much that we have power to wield. It’s that simple. Nobody would bat an eye if Zimbabwe tried to stop their payments, because it’s a drop in the bucket. But when the United States tries to influence policy with our money, it ruffles a few feathers.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan chief of staff Mark Malloch Brown echoed those fears during Hydeâ€™s hearing. â€œWe feel very strongly that your reform ideas, what we know of them, are very good and very strong and very consistent with what other countries want,â€ Malloch Brown said. However, he added that withholding dues â€œseparates you from your allies because itâ€™s seen as America acting alone.â€
Ahh, the dreaded “unilateral” brand. After all, that label has influenced this administration ever so much in the past. And as in the past, it holds no weight. Nobody else carries the UN like we do, so nobody else has this sort of weight to throw around. And if they don’t have this sort of weight, they’re not going to stick their necks out to join us, because there’s no benefit and a big downside.
But even more, there’s a bigger hidden message involved. What Brown is saying is, ‘Sure, your ideas are good, and we’ll give them their due consideration. But we’re not actually going to implement them, so we’d appreciate it if you don’t put any consequences on it.’ Of course, for the UN this is nothing new. They made quite a few resolutions about Iraq in the last 12 years, and didn’t really seem to care for attaching consequences to any of those. But in this case, you can either stop expecting us to pay so much money, or you can ask us to be quiet. I’m sorry, but you have to pick one or the other. If you don’t want us to use this sort of leverage, don’t give us so much leverage to use.
As I said in my last post, this is still just sabre-rattling. The problem, though, is that sabre-rattling only works if the other side thinks you have the cojones to actually follow through. I fear that in this case, the UN is not taking us seriously, and the expected effect will not come about. Oh well, there’s always “Plan B”. A nice office off Turtle Bay would probably rent for a pretty penny.
Last, let me say that I am now getting pissed about Yahoo! News. The story I linked in my last post all of a sudden links to a more updated AP story. It may be the same general topic, but please, give me a permalink URL…
China is to lift a decades-old ban on mainland tourists visiting political rival Taiwan, state media reported on Friday, a move that could further ease tension after visits to China by two of the island’s opposition leaders.
China has restricted visits by its citizens to Taiwan ever since 1949 when the Nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek fled to the island at the end of the Chinese civil war. A limited number of mainlanders have been able to travel there on business.
Ultimately, however, it is up to the Taiwan government under independence-leaning President Chen Shui-bian to decide whether the floodgates should be opened. Taiwan has its own tough rules restricting mainland visitors.
“Basically we welcome the announcement by the mainland, but it involves many issues and the scope is broad,” said Taiwan transport minister Lin Ling-san, whose ministry oversees tourism.
I’ve said before that the game being played between these two countries is predicatable, and meaningless, sabre-rattling. This sort of thing goes on in the world of international power politics all the time, much like the US threatening to withhold funds from the UN, which is something I plan to talk about later.
China and Taiwan are two nations with a very close cultural and historical relationship. The dominant people in Taiwanese culture either lived in China before the revolution (if they’re old enough), or descended from Chinese mainlanders who fled during the revolution. While the economic differences between the Taiwanese and mainland Chinese are large, due to the 55-year stagnation that Communism wrought, those are slowly diminishing. And in the grand scheme of things, their situation is much like that between the US and Britian. Sure, we fought them to win our independence, but the cultural similarities are so broad that one little revolution couldn’t keep us apart long.
For this reason, I’ve been saying for a long time that China and Taiwan are going to slowly make amends. I don’t know whether reunification will ever occur. But much like reunification of Germany was a result of the Soviet Union collapsing, the possibility of reunification between China and Taiwan will be due to changes in China, not Taiwan. China is on the rise in the world, as you might expect from any large country with 1.2 billion citizens, as they start to liberalize their economic policies.
Further, I don’t see an inevitable shooting war coming from this situation, either between China and Taiwan, or China and us. I think the slow fall of communism in China has forced the lesson on them that they can gain much more from Taiwan or the USA as trading partners than by attempted conquest. China needs Taiwan, and as the relationship builds, Taiwan will only further increase their investment in the mainland. Likewise, China needs us, and our investment in their manufacturing enriches both us and them.
So I applaud the inroads that we are seeing. They have recently opened commercial flights between Taiwan and the mainland, and now they are working to allow tourism. A friendship developing between China and Taiwan will only improve both nations, and be one step closer to a friendship between China and the USA. And striking that friendship will be very important for world stability, because China might soon return us to a dual-superpower world. Perhaps it’s simply my optimism speaking, but I think we’re well on our way to forging that friendship.
Last night marked the end of an 18 year NBA career for Indiana Pacer Reggie Miller as the Detroit Pistons eliminated the Pacers in game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Although I do not consider myself a big NBA fan, I will miss watching Reggie. His play and on court demeanor are from a throwback era of the NBA that placed an added emphasis on class and shooting and less upon demonstrative celebration. He will be remembered as one of the best (if not THE best) clutch shooter of all time. His shooting percentage with the game on the line is better than a certain well known player who wore #23 in Chicago. Sure, in his later years he became a bit of a cagey veteran, and learned how to get fouls called as well as anyone in the game, but that was part of his “do anything it takes attitude”. Anyhow, here’s some of what he had to say after the game.
“It’s somewhat bittersweet,” Miller said. “I thought we competed hard tonight. Every time we got a lead, Chauncey and Rip hit big shots to keep them within distance. That’s what championship teams do.”
He said that to lead off an on-court postgame interview. That’s a virtual lock for the NBA Hall of Fame player complimenting the team that just ended his career, nothing but class.
But I promised news of two era’s. And the second refers to something Brad mentioned last month. Indiana’s lack of observing day-light savings time will come to an end.
On Thursday, April 28, 2005, The Indiana Legislature voted to approve Daylight Saving Time for Indiana and to petition the US Department of Transporation to hold hearings to determine the location of the dividing line between the Eastern and Central time zones, relative to Indiana.
It is technically against federal law to have different parts of one state observe different times. Of course IN has been thumbing its nose at this for years, as the northwest portion of the state has stayed on central time while most of the rest of the state holds steady at eastern standard. Prepare now for the battle to determine whether they will become fully eastern, or fully central.
It really boils down to whether they want New York time or Chicago time. Personally I hope they go with Chicago time, which may surprise those of you who know I reside in the eastern time zone. But it is not without reason, if Indiana is an hour behind my home time, it “costs” me less than 3 hours to get to my sweet Alma Mater. Therefore I will have an easier time driving over for football game Saturdays.
May 19, 2005
Last month, surgeons at the University of Virginia hospital dragged a scalpel along a thick, pink scar that stretched across the right side of Howard Hart’s rib cage.
The doctors set about repairing his damaged chest wall, affixing a layer of mesh across an opening that was allowing Hart’s organs to bulge out into a purple bubble over his ribs.
It was his third such operation in about two years. The first time doctors cut Hart open, in February 2003, they were perplexed by what they saw: intestines pushed up around his right lung, extensive damage to the diaphragm, which is supposed to separate the abdomen from the chest, and ribs splayed out like they had been pried apart with a crowbar.
“I’d never seen a case like this,” said Dr. Richard J. Brewer, who performed the first operation. The damage was similar to that seen in pedestrians hit by cars, he said, except those cases tended to have accompanying organ injuries that were often fatal. In the middle of the operation, Brewer said a colleague looked up from the patient and asked: “How does that happen and you don’t get killed in the process?”
In Hart’s case, the answer may have something to do with the fact that he managed to kill the other guys first.
Hart, 64, was among the most storied CIA case officers of his generation, handling a series of sensitive overseas posts and high-ranking positions at headquarters. When he retired in 1991, he put all that behind him and set up a consulting business that he could operate from his home atop the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia.
But health problems in recent years have reopened a long-forgotten chapter in his life. When doctors asked him how he had sustained such injuries, he realized that there was only one possible cause â€” a severe beating he took after a clandestine midnight meeting in Iran in 1979.
He took a string of demanding assignments afterward, but the surgeries have waylaid him in a way the beating did not. Often unable to work, his well-paying consulting business shriveled. To cover the loss in income, he did what any ordinary employee might do: He filed for worker’s compensation coverage.
But Hart was no ordinary worker, and his was no run-of-the-mill claim. His injury wasn’t diagnosed until years into his retirement â€” despite numerous medical checkups during his career. The CIA had no record of the incident that caused the injuries because Hart, fearful that he would be pulled out of his assignment, never reported it. So far, the government has refused to pay.
You know, I’ll bet that if this was some illegal immigrant, injured while painting houses (or on his way to paint houses), the ACLU would be first in line to fight for him. I’ll even bet that if this was some eeeevvvviiiillll corporation trying to fight his benefits, he’d have everyone on his side. But since it’s the benevolent government holding back funds, from a white, upper middle class professional, nobody’s willing to say a word.
What does it say about our system when someone who has done far more than simply pay his dues doesn’t get justice, but we can’t seem to get a handle on fraud in our social programs. While I’m an advocate of Workers Compensation as the right thing to do, and may not necessarily support government action, what does it say when our own government doesn’t live up to the rules it lays out for everyone else?
This case is one where, yes, the circumstances of the injury are such where it makes it difficult to determine if it was an on-the-job injury. So this probably went to some government bureaucrat who had to make a decision on whether or not it should be granted. That government bureaucrat looked at the situation, didn’t take into account the history and integrity of the subject, and denied the claim.
They say that hard cases make bad law, and this is probably a hard case. But I would say that common sense would make this a much easier case. It’s too bad common sense is sorely lacking in the halls of government.
The final chapter of the Star Wars saga has gone over to the Internet’s dark side.
“Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith” has been leaked onto a major file-sharing network just hours after opening in theaters, at a time when Hollywood is increasingly concerned about online piracy.
At least two copies of the film, which was first shown in theaters in the early hours of Thursday, have been posted to the BitTorrent file-sharing network — a new and increasingly popular technology that allows users to download large video files much more quickly than in the past.
[deadpan]Wow. I’m shocked. Who would have thought that somebody would steal the Star Wars movie?[/deadpan]
I mean really, they could have written this story 3 weeks ago and had it ready “in the can”, so to speak.
Firefox linked with May The Torrent Be With You
May 18, 2005
It seems every year, and this year was no different, college football fans from across the country engage in a great debate over who should be the National Champion. For most of college football history, the champ was crowned at the end of the regular season by sportswritersâ€™ and/or coachesâ€™ polls. This paved the way for arguments when the newly crowned National Champion lost their bowl game. Later, the final polls were moved to after the bowl season. While this ended the chances of a championship season ending in defeat, it unfortunately did little to quell the great debate of whom, between the two or three best teams of practically any particular season, would have won a championship in a head to head meeting. Because the original bowl system was set up as individual postseason exhibitions between conference champions and the elite independent schools of college football yesteryear, it rarely produced a definitive #1 vs. #2 showdown, leading the way for split national champions when the various polls did not agree on which team was the best. Thank God we donâ€™t have that problem anymore.
Now, with the glorious Bowl Championship Series (BCS), the college football world tends to get to argue about who is #2. For the uninitiated, here is a brief description of how the BCS determines the national championship (More info can be found here).
The BCS puts together a formula that in any given year may take into account human polls, computer polls, strength of schedule, number of losses, and what are termed â€œquality winsâ€. This formula changes virtually every year as the BCS â€œtweaksâ€ the system. In last seasonâ€™s formula it included only the AP poll, the ESPN Coachesâ€™ poll and a handful of computer polls. This formula spits out a set of rankings that are used for various purposes, but only one is truly important, at the end of the regular season #1 in these rankings plays #2 in a bowl game for the National Championship, kinda. The ESPN Coachesâ€™ poll is contractually bound to name the winner of this game as their champion. The AP poll is under no such obligation, and you only have to go back to the 2003-2004 season to find an example of a situation in which the AP awarded its National Championship to a team that didnâ€™t play for the BCS version.
This system forces the National Champion argument from who would have won, to who deserved to be playing in the first place. And it seems every year there is a team (or sometimes two) who has a legitimate complaint about being left out of the big game. This past season, Auburn and Utah both finished the regular season undefeated, but Southern Cal and Oklahoma finished atop the rankings and played for the title. The year before, it was Southern Cal (USC) being left in the cold in favor of Louisiana State (LSU) and Oklahoma. While I personally believe the tradition of complaining about the lack of an undisputed National Champion is actually valuable to the sport in terms of keeping it in the minds of the fans and talking heads, if college football wants a true National Champion â€“ which is what the BCS was intended to do â€“ they should actually do it.
Of course the answer is to hold a playoff; it is how virtually every other sport in the world determines their champions. The question then becomes a matter of how many teams are invited and how these teams are determined. Although the most likely version would only include four teams, a proper college football tournament should include a minimum of eight teams. I suggest they go with 16, and Iâ€™ll tell you why. With a 16-team tournament, the champions of all 11 division 1-A conferences could receive automatic bids. Similar to the NFL, the NBA, MLB, and NCAA basketball every champ would get to throw their hat in the championship ring.
To determine the final five participants, the BCS formula could be used. Rather than focusing on only the top two spots, toward the end of each season, fans could all turn their attention to the highly ranked teams who werenâ€™t going to win their conference. It would be entertaining to see the Texasâ€™s and Georgiaâ€™s of the football world struggle to climb high enough in the polls to claim one of the at-large bids after losing to the Oklahomaâ€™s and Floridaâ€™s of the football world earlier in season (thus putting a conference championship out of reach, again).
For those of you who might complain that it isnâ€™t necessarily in the best interest of competition to include a team from a weaker conference, such as the Sun Belt Conference, who finished, lets say, 7-4 while winning their conference, while leaving out a team from a better conference who may have finished 9-2 or 8-3, I submit that if you canâ€™t win your conference, you canâ€™t complain about being left out of the party. In case any one is interested, using last years BCS rankings to determine the at-large berths in this manner would have resulted in Texas, Cal, Georgia, LSU and Iowa receiving the bids. The University of Miami, who finished the regular season 8-3 and 14th in the final BCS rankings, would have been the highest ranked team to be left out, not much to cry about there.
Next we come to problem of seeding the teams and where these games should be played. Here is how my solution would work:
Use the BCS rankings to determine the seeds #1 through 16 regardless of whether a team received an automatic or at-large bid. #1 would play #16, #2 would play #15 and so on. The first round games would be played at one of involved teamsâ€™ field, but here it gets interesting. Whenever there is an at-large team (read: not a conference champ) playing a team with an automatic bid (read: conference champ), regardless of the seeds, the school that received the automatic bid would host the game. If a playoff system were to be formed, this would never happen, and really doesnâ€™t have much precedent; in fact the NBA does something quite different by artificially seeding division champs ahead of at-large teams, but giving home-court advantage to the team with the better record. The reason for this is to emphasize the importance of winning your conference.
The winners would advance to the second round in normal fashion, again playing at campus sites, again giving home field advantage to automatic bids over at-large teams. By the time the semifinals roll around, it is time to move the games to neutral fields. It is also the perfect opportunity to appease the four bowls, which combined to form the BCS in the first place (Rose, Orange, Sugar, and Fiesta). On a rotating basis two of these sites would host the semis and another would host the championship game. If necessary, the fourth site could host a consolation game for the losers of the semis. The consolation game is an unlikely scenario as very few fans would be willing to travel thousands of miles to watch their team play for third place. Without a fourth game to share, it is likely that one of these bowl games would be left out entirely. I would suggest the Rose Bowl, which represents the best of college football, tradition wise. But just as likely is the Fiesta Bowl due to the fact that it has no historical tie-ins with any of the power conferences.
This playoff solution has many strengths, which I am about to point out, and some weaknesses, which I assume the readers will point out.
First, it still allows for the rest of the college football world to hold their precious bowl season. Donâ€™t worry folks; the fourth best team from the Big XII can still play the fourth best team from the Big Ten in the Alamo Bowl. Yes, that was sarcasm. But also yes, I have attended an Alamo Bowl to cheer on my 4th place Boilers again OK State. Bowl games are important both to the teams that go and the cities that host them.
Second, it maintains the integrity of the regular season. The college football regular season is the most exciting and relevant regular season in all of American sports. I canâ€™t even think of a close second. I would rather see us bickering over National Champs for the rest of my life than see a season in which losses were not devastating toward your hopes for a championship year. I cannot over stress the importance of this.
Third, it shouldnâ€™t take much longer than the current season goes. Rather than taking a month off like they do now, if this playoff began a week after the regular season ended, it could be over no later than January 10th.
Fourth, it would make a ton of money. TV revenue is what keeps the BCS where it is, but a playoff would make the current BCS look like a PBS telethon. The final game alone could rival the Super Bowl in terms of U.S. ratings, never mind the other 14 games.
And finally the biggest reason this plan is a good one: The National Championship would be settled ON THE FIELD!!!!
For argumentâ€™s sake, letâ€™s take a look at how this plan would have worked out this year.
ROUND 1 â€“ Home team in CAPS, *denotes at-large berth
#1 USC (12-0) vs. #16 North Texas (7-4)
#8 VIRGINIA TECH (10-2) vs. #9 Boise State(11-0)
#5 CALIFORNIA*(10-1) vs. #12 Iowa*(9-2)
#4 Texas*(10-1) at #13 MICHIGAN(9-2)
#3 AUBURN (12-0) vs. #14 West Virginia (8-3)
#6 UTAH (11-0) vs. #11 Louisiana State*(9-2)
#7 Georgia*(9-2) at #10 LOUISVILLE(10-1)
#2 OKLAHOMA (12-0) vs. Toledo (9-3)
While the USC and OU games look to have been snoozers, there would still have been some great match-ups here. Texas playing at Michigan instead of at the Rose Bowl would have been really interesting; especially considering the home field advantage Michigan would have gained, despite being the lower seed, by being the Big Ten Champs. Incidentally, if U of M had beaten UT this advantage would have continued against another higher seeded team as Cal and Iowa were both at-large bids.
Other great story lines would have included USC perhaps having to play two teams that almost beat them in the regular season (Va. Tech and Cal), Auburn (or Utah for that matter) potentially playing three undefeated teams in row, and the fact that there could have been two match-ups of undefeated teams in the second round.
Good golly, that would have been fun to watch. Hopefully someday we will.
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