Thursday, September 28, 2006

From James Taranto

James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal points out a couple of interesting things today.

1. It may be easier for the Democrats to take control of the Senate, rather than the House. Why? Congressional districts are gerrymandered to heavily favor one party over another, so when the wave of public opinion swings in either direction, it's still not enough to overcome the advantage the incumbent party has. Senate elections are statewide, and reflect changes in sentiment at the statewide level.

Take a look at the 2004 results in California's 53 House districts for an illustration of how much of a hump the challenging parties have to overcome; in only three districts did the losing party's candidate come within 20 percentage points of the winner! In their efforts to sink last year's ballot proposition to have judges draw congressional boundaries, the Democrats may have shot themselves in the foot by killing their chances of making any significant gains when the Republicans are down. California's gerrymandering is truly the Incumbent Protection Plan. For some examples of absurdly gerrymandered districts, check out these maps of Districts 23, 38, and 46 (see how Palos Verdes is tenuously attached to Huntington Beach).

Contrast that with, say, Colorado's Congressional districts, which adhere much more closely to county boundaries. Of only seven districts, three of the elections had the two major parties within 12 percentage points in 2004. One of those--- 1/7 of the state's Congressional representation--- looks like it will switch to the Democrats, another is a possibility, and the other, which the Democrats took narrowly in 2004, looks like a much more solid win for them this year.

2. A Norwegian school is trying to turn all of its little boys into sitzpinklers.

In German, the phrase for someone who sits and urinates, a "Sitzpinkler", is equivalent to "wimp".

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Blogbilongadam beautification project

Phillip Swann says that Scarlett Johansson is such a perfect physical specimen that she even looks better in HDTV.

While Scarlett's clearly the better actress, I don't know if I'd be able to decide in a babeliest babe competition between her and Jessica Alba.

A really stupid argument

Watch blog commenter "Randy" claim that "poverty serves a positive social function." I guess we can just forget about all the myriad causes of poverty and the harm that it does to both individuals and society as long as we tell ourselves that it all just boils down to "punishment for the lazy."

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

More personal lists

I wasn't tagged, but Donna Bowman posted her responses to these and I figure I'd do the same, with some modification of the questions.

4 jobs I've had:
1. Kitemaker's apprentice (First job, working for a guy in my neighborhood, got laid off when he opened up a factory in Mexico, pre-NAFTA.)
2. Movie theatre employee (Pacific's Lakewood Center Theatre. Snack bar, usher, box office, etc.)
3. Caltech Coffeehouse (More of a greasy spoon than a coffeehouse. Began as a grill monkey, worked my way up to head manager.)
4. Oil driller (Worked for an oil-drilling company monitoring the drilling operation. Hated it, quit after a month.)

4 fantasy jobs:
1. Rock star
2. Baseball player
3. Movie producer
4. Amusement park owner/designer

4 movies I could watch over and over:
1. 2001: A Space Odyssey
2. Aguirre: Wrath of God
3. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
4. The Empire Strikes Back

4 places I've lived:
1. Hightstown, New Jersey (was born in Princeton, moved to CA when I was 16 months old.)
2. Manhattan Beach, California (when I first moved here)
3. Long Beach, California (from my third birthday and then off and on since college; my parents still live there)
4. Koreatown, Los Angeles, California (1998-1999)

4 television shows I love:
1. The Amazing Race
2. Late Night with Conan O'Brien
3. Curb Your Enthusiasm
4. Jeopardy!

4 places I've vacationed:
1. Maui (my honeymoon)
2. Utsunomiya, Japan (one-month exchange program in high school)
3. Puerto Rico (a friend's wedding)
4. New Orleans, Louisiana
Bonus: See a map of all the counties I've visited here, or just the data here.

4 of my favorite dishes:
1. Petrillo's specialty pizza at Petrillo's in San Gabriel, piled high with fresh toppings.
2. Killer Shrimp at Killer Shrimp. Shrimp in a very flavorful broth.
3. Prik pao sauce with chicken at President Thai. Cashews and green onions in a spicy paste.
4. Seared scallops with panchetta in a beurre blanc at the Brown Hotel in Louisville.

4 places I'd rather be:
1. On the road
2. At the beach
3. Hiking in the mountains
4. Visiting a new city

4 books I could read over and over:
Over and over? A tall order, but here'd be my list:
1. Moby-Dick* by Herman Melville
2. Cars and Trucks and Things that Go by Richard Scarry (this is a book that I did read over and over)
3. The Thomas Guide for Los Angeles and Orange Counties
4. The New York Times Almanac

4 albums I couldn't live without:
Again, "couldn't live without" is a tall order, but here goes:
1. Philip Glass, Koyaanisqatsi (1998 recording)
2. Pink Floyd, Meddle
3. Orbital, Orbital 2 (the "Brown Album")
4. The Beatles, The Beatles (the "White Album")

4 things I'd like to do before I die:
I rarely think of things in these terms; here are some general goals I've set:
1. Reach a successful professional level where I have the confidence to make large-scale recommendations that get implemented, and my work influences others.
2. Have a nice house in a pleasant environment with a good-sized yard.
3. Travel the country and the world so that I can always discover new places.
4. Be successful on a more personal scale, with a long, happy marriage (I've got a short, happy one so far), nieces/nephews or kids of my own to leave a legacy to, and reaching a more contented spiritual state.

4 local attractions I've never visited:
1. The Museum of Jurassic Technology
2. The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels
3. The Magic Castle
4. Old movie palaces on Broadway; I hear the Orpheum is fantastic

*or, The Whale

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Hugo Chavez

The funny thing is that Noam Chomsky probably welcomes the endorsement from Hugo Chavez.

The scary thing is that, past the rhetoric of calling Bush the devil, the meat of Chavez's speech was that he was announcing his solidarity with Islamic extremists. According to Chavez, poor countries, socialist countries, Islamic theocracies, etc. are all part of one big the-enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend coalition against the United States. Basically he is extending the class warfare he's thrived on at home to the global scene. Not that this is really unexpected; earlier this year he got awfully friendly with the dictators of Belarus, Syria, and Iran.

None of this should be taken as an endorsement of the right-wingers opposing Chavez at home; throughout South America corruption and the huge gap between the rich and the poor is what creates the environment that feeds into popular support for communist blowhards like Chavez. The U.S. needs to be more selective and constructive when propping up third-world regimes, because the backlash against leaders we support simply because they're not communists (or not Islamic theocrats) can bite us hard.

Update: Chavez doesn't just cozy up to dictators, but actor Danny Glover, too! Not that I have anything against cheap heating oil, but be careful when you publicly endorse a dictator. Maybe Glover and Chavez can find common cause chatting about their wacky anti-Semitic friends.

The secret connection?

Fun with Cockroaches

1. During FrightFest at Six Flags Great America near Chicago, you can get a front-of-the-line pass for eating a live Madagascar hissing cockroach. I actually knew a girl in college who would eat cockroaches she'd find around campus, but she would roast them first. They probably taste like other arthropods.

Update: Nobody should be surprised that PETA objects to this promotion. Presumably they would prefer that the cockroaches live out their natural lives in the wild, where at a ripe old age they can die peacefully in their sleep surrounded by their loved ones. That's how nature works, right?

2. Earlier this year the New York Post reported on how a guy in Utah is selling bejeweled hissing cockroaches as fashion accessories. If you ask me, it looks like his design skill hasn't improved much since making rigatoni necklaces in kindergarten.

3. If all that's got you icked out, why not try the cheap-and-simple Vegas roach trap, made from a glass jar and old coffee grounds?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Keeping score, politically

Two places to keep track of polling for the November election are and Slate's Election Scorecard. It looks like the Democrats will pick up seats, but I have a hard time believing they'll pick up enough to control either the House or the Senate.

Slate reports on several conservatives hedging their bets by actually hoping the Republicans lose. They note that "At the moment, there are no Democrats calling for anything other than a resounding victory," which causes me to wonder if the writer of the article has been reading Slate's own Mickey Kaus, who has crossed the line from predicting the Democrats' defeat to openly hoping for it. The really distateful thing about Kaus is that the main issue he's fighting for these days is the continued scapegoating of illegal immigrants, making vague but ominous predictions of "irrevocably changing the nature of the Republic" if we were to actually treat the people who fill the lower rungs of the labor market as human beings with rights rather than keeping them as a permanent, legal underclass. For a Venice Democrat, he sure sounds as nativist as any Orange County Republican. Hey, Mickey, maybe "free trade" ought to include the free trade of labor, too.

Meanwhile, nominally libertarian Bush apologist Glenn Reynolds continues his farce of pretending not to be conservative while Andrew Sullivan continues to insist that he is conservative. I guess there's a lot of leeway in what labels can mean; remember that Milton Friedman described himself as a liberal, which isn't as loony as it sounds once one realizes that "classical liberal" and "classical conservative" mean more or less the same thing.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


Down 9-5 going into the bottom of the 9th... Kent leads off the inning and homers. Drew homers. Trevor freakin' Hoffman comes in to pitch. Martin homers. Anderson homers! FOUR HOME RUNS IN A ROW TO TIE IT! Their work wasn't done, though. After giving up a run in the top of the 10th, Kenny Lofton led off the bottom half of the inning with a walk... and then hometown hero (and St. John Bosco graduate) Nomar Garciaparra hit one into the stands to win it and send the Dodgers back into first place! Let's go Dodgers!

More: This was really an amazing game. The Dodgers had just lost first place to the Padres the day before, and whoever won the game would emerge from the series as the division leader with just two weeks left in the season. L.A. had had a terrible time trying to beat the Padres this year, with San Diego beating the Dodgers in 13 of their 17 previous meetings this year. The Dodgers did all sorts of things to make this game more difficult to win, namely:

1. They staked the Padres to a 4-0 lead in the top of the first inning.
2. The Padres had baserunners in all 10 innings of play.
3. L.A. committed two errors in the game.
4. After tying up the game at 4-4, the Dodgers let the Padres load the bases in the 5th, though nobody scored.
5. In the 6th, with the score still tied, the Dodgers loaded the bases with nobody out... and yet still failed to score, thanks to Clay Meredith inducing a couple of easy infield grounders.
6. They let the Padres score two runs in the top of the 8th to take a 6-4 lead. The Dodgers got one run back in the bottom half of the inning, but then normally reliable closer Takashi Saito allowed three runs in the top of the 9th to make it 9-5 San Diego.
7. That, of course, set up the amazing bottom of the 9th. But mind you, even after the Dodgers had stunned the Padres and got the crowd on its feet by beginning the inning with 3 consecutive home runs, they were still 3 outs away from losing the game, a run down, nobody on base, and facing the amazing Trevor Hoffman on the mound.
8. And then, after completing their amazing comeback to send the game into extra innings, they fell behind again in the very next half-inning. At that point, the four home runs would have been a valiant effort, but not enough.

So, hats off to Nomar Garciaparra for finishing the job and turning a loss into a victory and vaulting the Dodgers back into first place. It was a great game for recent Dodger pickup Marlon Anderson, too, who went 5-for-5 with two home runs, including the 4th in a row in the 9th. Not just a great finish, but a thrilling white-knuckler of a game from start to finish. About the only thing you can't say about it was that it was well-pitched.

Some thoughts on the game from Baseball Musings, Dodger Thoughts, and the San Diego point-of-view.

Update: ESPN's Page 2 has a lot of quotes from people at Dodger Stadium about Monday's game. And yes, I know that the Dodgers dropped back out of first place yesterday; Monday's game was still great.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Stupid Comics

I just wanted to spread the word that Stupid Comics is a fantastic repository of well-researched humor, especially if like me you enjoy comics but are well aware that there is some real crap out there. It's pretty astonishing how weird or incompetent some of this stuff is that was actually published with the intent to appeal to a mass market. Like this Superboy comic with the Space Canine Patrol Agency that was selling 700,000 copies an issue. The panel above is from an underground comic from the 1970s that wasn't aiming for a mass market, but this was so odd that it was quite an accomplishment that it got published at all.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Voices of Reason and Conjecture

1. The New Republic's Sacha Zimmerman defends the new race-segregated season of Survivor, which premieres tonight. The article is full of good points. This is the first season of Survivor since the second one that I plan to watch.

2.'s Bill Simmons proposes a tiered Hall of Fame for the various major sports. It's an interesting idea, but I fear that it would just lead to more lax standards. All sorts of marginal guys would get in with the justification that "well, they'll only be on the first tier," and there will be a gradual relaxation of standards for the tiers. Babe Ruth is a top-tier guy, but where is Lou Gehrig? 3rd tier? 2nd tier? Maybe the tragic ALS angle will push him up to 1st or 2nd tier, and then we'd have to compare his numbers against all the other 3rd-tier HOF guys, like, I dunno, Rod Carew or Al Kaline. Eventually it trickles down and the next thing you know Kirby Puckett and Bruce Sutter are in the 3rd tier while good-but-not-HOF-quality ballplayers like Dave Kingman or Brett Butler start filling in the vacant 4th or 5th-tier spots. Better to have one set of standards to argue about than five sets. All told, I think the baseball Hall of Fame does the best job of not making mistakes, mainly by being very selective. Still, I can't think of a logical explanation why Bert Blyleven and Goose Gossage don't have plaques in Cooperstown.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Various Things

1. So Whitney Houston is divorcing Bobby Brown. This is good news for Osama bin Laden, who was reported to be obsessed with her. I wonder if this is maybe all just part of a CIA plot to send in Whitney as an undercover agent to join Osama's harem and reveal his hiding place.

2. Britney Spears's second child came in two days under the one-year mark to barely qualify as an Irish twin. For the record, her hubby Kevin Federline has fathered children in 2002, 2004, 2005, and now 2006. One remarkable thing I didn't know before is that the mother of K-Fed's earlier children, Shar Jackson, had two more children herself before getting together with Federline. Quite the fertile bunch! Jackson's first kid, Donnie, was born in 1991, when she was about 15. For those of you doing the math, that means that if Donnie had followed in his mother's footsteps, the now 30-year-old Shar Jackson could have been a grandmother!

3. Today in BoingBoing, Xeni Jardin seems surprised to discover that the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment are not absolute. Oh well, with a lack of basic understanding of the Constitution like that it's a good thing she doesn't write for a site obsessed with constitutional freedoms and their real or perceived infringements or anything. Or, um, maybe she does.

4. Just earlier this month I wrote about the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list. Warren Jeffs' replacement on the updated list is Ralph "Bucky" Phillips, who was put on the list on September 7 and was captured the very next day. I wonder who'll take that spot on the list next.

5. With the tragic shootings today at Dawson College in Montreal, I poked around on Wikipedia and noted that all four people listed as "Canadian Mass Murderers" committed their crimes in Quebec. Odd.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Movie idea

Waiting for Godot, the Chimp Version. Dub in the voices. If any filmmakers want to do this, just be sure to give me credit when it wins a Golden Bear. That, and points on the gross.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Blogger Questions

1. Is there any way to run a poll on Blogger?

2. What's the best way to see how many people read my blog?


Sunday, September 10, 2006

Huell Howser Drinking Game

Tennessee-accented California booster Huell Howser's various shows (like California's Gold) are definitely my favorite things on PBS, and Huell overall is one of my favorite hosts on TV. For those of you not blessed enough to live here in California, what Huell does is take road trips with his one-man camera crew to historic sites, small towns, and natural wonders around the state, interview people, and make it all sound fascinating, all in the most down-to-earth no-frills style possible. In short, Huell lives my ideal life.

So here, courtesy of Defamer, is the Huell Howser Drinking Game:
Every time Huell says “wwwwwooooowwwwww…” drink. Not just a “wow” but “wwwwwwwwooooowwww.” You’ll know it when you hear it.
Every time Huell says something obvious, drink. Example: “So the people of the town would bring their mail right here to this post office?”
Every time Huell addresses his cameraman, drink. Example: “Hey, look at this [Luis/Troy/Cameron].”
Every time Huell says, “That’s amazing!”…drink.
Every time Huell uses the words ‘historic’ and ‘history’…drink.
Every time Huell shakes a persons hand and doesn’t let go for an uncomfortable amount of time…you guessed it! Drink!
Lastly, when Huell interviews someone and they give him that look that says, “Is this guy serious???”…drink.
I'd add:
When somebody walks or drives by, recognizes Huell, and says they love him, drink.
When Huell says hello to someone who looks like an ex-con and they're cheery and happy to talk to him, drink.
If Huell structures the episode like a quest, and they find what they were looking for, drink.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Crime in Britain

Speaking of crime, this article reviews a book suggesting that the British criminal justice system is exceedingly easy on criminals. Of course, I'm here in the U.S. and have never visited Britain, much less studied its prisons... would Kai-Hsu or any other Brits care to comment on the book's thesis's validity?

Friday, September 01, 2006

A Look at the Most Wanted

With the capture of Warren Jeffs a few days ago, I decided to take a look at the FBI's Most Wanted Lists. First up is the famous Ten Most Wanted Fugitives List. It's kind of an interesting bunch. Six are murderers, including Usama bin Laden. Two are listed for sex crimes (Jeffs and another child molester). One is an armed robber. The other is a drug runner, although it should be pointed out that one of the murderers is also the head of a narcotics/extortion gang. This guy, murderer Donald Eugene Webb, has been on the list for 25 years:
All ten are men. Seven are Americans, and there is one citizen each from Mexico, Colombia, and Saudi Arabia. One is an Arab, three are Hispanic, and the other six are, in Census terminology, non-Hispanic whites. Four (including Jeffs and bin Laden) are high up in criminal organizations; the rest are basically solitary or worked with just a couple of others. None of them worked together. One, child molester Richard Steve Goldberg, was active in my hometown of Long Beach, California. Only one, Glen Stewart Godwin, is an actual jail escapee; the rest have just fleed prosecution. Bin Laden was actually listed in 1999 for the Kenya/Tanzania embassy bombings, and his poster just refers obliquely to "other terrorist attacks throughout the world." Rewards range from $100,000 for the garden-variety criminals (and Jeffs) to $5 million for this Colombian drug lord to a total of $27 million for bin Laden.

They also keep other lists besides the famous one. The "War on Terrorism: Seeking Information" list has nine people listed, including Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi with a "deceased" banner, a woman that the FBI has not "connected to specific terrorist activities," but "would like to locate and question," and one American, Muslim convert Adam Gadahn. Most of these guys are just suspects, but the really bad guys are the "Most Wanted Terrorists," a separate list.

The other side of terrorism is the list of eco-terrorists, white supremacists, and would-be revolutionaries that fall under the "domestic terrorism" umbrella. Four out of the ten are women, including two ecoterrorists marked with "may have light facial hair" or "may have a light facial moustache."

Then there's the motley crew of murderers, child molesters, racketeerers, rapists, frauders, etc. found under the simple heading "Crime Alert." I like the logo:
There's also a short list for Cyber Crimes, the 21 people listed under White-Collar Crimes, this list of 66 murderers, and several others, including this list of unknown bank robbers full of security camera shots of guys wearing hooded sweaters and baseball caps. The really sad list, though, is the general "seeking information" list, full of unsolved murders. That's got to tear apart the people who knew the victims.

Oh yeah, add the word "alleged" where appropriate on this post.