Saturday, June 30, 2007

Hillary and Electability

There is much hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth over on Matthew Yglesias's blog on Hillary Rodham Clinton's electability, or lack thereof. Special guest comments by me. I'm getting antsy for Obama to make his move, but sometimes it's hard to remember that it's still 7 months before the primaries.

Toy Soldiers

Is there anything that isn't on the Internet (besides a complete listing of AAA maps)? Here's a website all about those dubious toy soldiers that sold for $1.98 for 100 figures on the back of comic books.
Remarkably enough, they even have pictures of what the toys actually looked like. And different types of sets, too: Civil War, Roman, WWII, Vikings, pirates, knights, all sorts of stuff. I never sent away for these myself, but boy, those ads sure made them look attractive. I think my mom or dad warned me that the actual toys would be really cheap, and hey, they were right. With the way people are so sensitive to what gets advertised to children these days, I wonder if this would've flown today. If you look at an old comic book, they're full of ads trying to rip kids off. It was something of an early lesson in media criticism to wonder what the difference was between how things looked in the ads and what was actually being sold. And holy moly, was there ever a better textbook in media criticism for kids than Mad Magazine? I don't think so.

Here's a Distinction

Emilio Marcos Palma, born January 7, 1978, was the first person born in Antarctica. According to Wikipedia, he's the only person known to be the first person born on a continent, and also had the southernmost birth in history. How'd you like to be that guy? Palma was born at Argentina's Esperanza Base, which is slightly more southern than Chile's Eduardo Frei Montalva Station, where two Antarctic children were born in the 1980s.

Personally I've spent a minute or two as the southernmost person in the United States, during a 1996 trip to Ka Lae, Hawai'i, and another couple of minutes in 2003 as one of the two northernmost persons in Mexico, when my friend Mike Benedetti and I visited Los Algodones, Baja California.

Geographical Oddity

The United States Range is the world's northernmost mountain range. Despite the name, though, it's in Canada.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Dodgers not-so-fun fact

At the beginning of play today, James Loney, who was called up June 10th, had as many home runs (3) as regular or semi-regular players Nomar Garciaparra (1), Tony Abreu (1), Rafael Furcal (1), and Juan Pierre (0) combined. Loney's done it in 38 at-bats, while the other four guys have combined for 974 ABs. Nomar's slugging has dropped from .505 last year (when he hit 20 homers over the course of the season) to .321 this year.


Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme perform Black Hole Sun.

From the comments:
Johnny Cash can take credit for many things, but I’m not sure postmodernism is among them.
One of the weirder covers I've heard lately was Fergie doing a more-or-less straight cover of Heart's "Barracuda." It wasn't horrible in an Orgy-covering-New Order kind of way; it was actually surprisingly OK, but still very head-scratch-worthy. Apparently she recorded it for the Shrek the Third soundtrack.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Eric Lichtenfield at Slate analyzes the action movie one-liner.

This is your brain on drugs

Man Busted at Checkpoint with Pot Confused about Law:

Charles Barnes, 24, had 67 marijuana plants in the trunk of his car when he was pulled over on U.S. 70 last week, police said.

"Dude, I totally thought weed was legalized in New Mexico," Barnes told police.

Monday, June 25, 2007

McDonalds is stupid again

Almost a year ago today I wrote about how lame it is for McDonalds to talk about their 100% pure beef burgers as if that were proof of their superior quality. Now tonight I just saw one of their commercials where the announcer states that "With 100% beef, nothing tops the Big Mac." Um yeah, I suppose that's true in the sense that nobody has 110% beef hamburgers. What made the commercial extra-special, though, was the fine print on the TV screen:
100% USDA inspected beef
Wow! Inspected! Who needs sirloin burgers, angus beef, or never-frozen beef when you can have your beef INSPECTED?

UPDATE: Curious, I checked out the USDA's website to see what the deal is with meat inspection. It turns out that essentially ALL the beef you can legally buy in this country has been inspected, and that inspection just means that it's been tested for safety, not that it isn't a lousy grade of beef. From Inspection and Grading: What's the Difference?:
Inspection for wholesomeness is mandatory and is paid for out of tax dollars. Grading for quality is voluntary, and the service is requested and paid for by meat and poultry producers/processors.
Under the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Poultry Products Inspection Act, FSIS inspects all raw meat and poultry sold in interstate and foreign commerce, including imported products.
In addition, FSIS monitors state inspection programs, which inspect meat and poultry products sold only within the state in which they were produced. The 1967 Wholesome Meat Act and the 1968 Wholesome Poultry Products Act require state inspection programs to be "at least equal to" the Federal inspection program.
What kind of tards do they think their customers are?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Against U-Haul

The L.A. Times is in the midst of a three-part series raking U-Haul over the coals for all sorts of safety and ethical violations. I believe it. For a long time I had always rented with U-Haul when I was moving and just accepted their crappy trucks as a fact of life. Then, two years ago, my sister Dorothy was moving back to California from New Orleans (she beat Katrina by two months) and I co-drove a Penske truck 2000 miles for the job. I had never before realized that there were nice trucks for rent that didn't feel like they were going to fall apart if you drove over a seam in the freeway at the wrong angle. Driving a U-Haul always felt like I was gambling with my life, but the Penske truck felt like a good machine designed and maintained to actually do its job correctly and comfortably. And it didn't have ugly-ass warning sticker clutter everywhere, either.

Vegas, Baby

Bill Simmons's description of the drive to Las Vegas is pretty much spot-on.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Redistricting Game

The Redistricting Game, put together by USC, is a tremendous amount of fun. You get the opportunity to be a partisan hack gerrymandering districts to your party's advantage. I played through the whole sequence. I remember being really disappointed when California voters rejected nonpartisan redistricting; the concept seems like it should be a no-brainer to me.

My one caveat is that I'm not really convinced that geographic compactness should be placed at such a high priority over more conceptual cohesiveness. What I mean is that it should be more important for district boundaries to follow well-established regional boundaries than for the districts to be shaped roughly like a square. Regions may follow coastlines, narrow valleys, railroads, highways, rivers, or other linear features, and if that is the case, then a congressional district following such a shape should not be tagged for violating geographic compactness.

There's a fine line, of course, between following a linear feature and gerrymandering to insure a safe seat for an incumbent party. A district following the narrow coastline of Santa Barbara, for example, would be perfectly reasonable, but the tortuous lengths to which the actual districts in California stretch themselves in order to capture areas of similar demographics is inexcusable.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Eating in Chicago and Indiana

So, I just got back last night from Indiana, where I had gone for six days to visit my wife Jen, who is there for the summer working at Eli Lilly in conjunction with her fellowship that's paying for her Master's degree in pharmaceutical economics. Over the weekend we drove up to Chicago for two nights, where we had never before been. While in Chicago we ate at the following places:

1. Late Saturday night: Miller's Pub, downtown. Open-faced prime rib sandwich. Hit the spot.

2. Sunday lunch: Hot dogs at Superdawg.

3. Sunday dinner: Deep-dish pizza at Lou Malnati's.

4. Monday early lunch: Coq au vin at the cafe at the Art Institute.

5. Monday late lunch: Italian beef at Mr. Beef.

I liked the food in Chicago. The famous "Chicago hot dogs" are basically just good all-beef hot dogs in a poppyseed bun filled with a bunch of toppings. Since I don't eat much in the way of toppings, I just had a good hot dog in a poppyseed bun with ketchup and onions. Good but not really as distinctive as they might make it seem.

The Chicago deep-dish pizza is quite distinctive. It seems odd to compare it to regular pizza; it's more kind of halfway between pizza and lasagna. It was very good, though, and quite filling.

An Italian beef sandwich is also something I can stand behind, although I should point out that aside from the topping, it's very similar to a French dip sandwich. But hey, I like those a lot. I think if I lived in Chicago I would eat a lot of these. I loved Mr. Beef's "elegant dining room" (actually a cinderblock room with three long formica tables seating about 16 people each).

More Midwest food:
1. We stopped for a snack at Culver's, which is a chain that advertises "butterburgers" and frozen custard. We didn't eat any burgers, but we did eat frozen custard, which we liked a lot. Actually, it was a sundae with cashews and caramel, a tasty combo. The key: use salted cashews.

2. On our way back we stopped for a late dinner at the Sonic Drive-In in Kokomo. Since I've been to Sonic several times before, I wouldn't mention it except that (A) the carhop was actually on rollerskates, which is rare, (B) it bugs me how there's only one Sonic in all of Southern California (it's in Anaheim), and (C) I couldn't get that idiotic Beach Boys song "Kokomo" out of my head.

3. There's no way to defend White Castle as quality dining, but gosh darn it, they certainly have appeal. Very inhalable. A White Castle burger is distinct from a regular burger; it's little, it's square, it has five holes in it, and it's sort of steamed on a bed of grilled onions. Weird, but kinda good. And they have CHICKEN RINGS. These are like chicken nuggets shaped liked rings. I went for lunch on Tuesday; I had eaten at one once before a year ago in Kentucky.

4. One good chain around Indianapolis is Steak n Shake. Like fast food, it's clean, shiny, quick, and has a limited menu (the "steak" refers to their "steakburgers"), but you get table service, the burgers are made to order, and you eat on real plates. The burgers and shakes are high-quality, and it's nice to be able to get soup with your burger.

5. I should point out one oddity around Indiana is that there's a local chain called Waffle House that's different from the national (but not in California) chain of the same name. The Indiana Waffle House has a totally different-looking logo, and is basically like a Denny's or IHOP. Not bad, but not anything really special. Confusing matters is that eventually the national Waffle House moved into Indiana, too, so now there are two chains called Waffle House in Indiana. For a while the national Waffle Houses used the name "Waffle and Steak" in Indiana, apparently now the Indiana Waffle House has started to use the name "Sunshine Cafe" instead and so the national Waffle House is free to use the name Waffle House. On this trip, though, I saw both chains using the same name.

I remember driving through Panama City, Florida a couple years ago on US-98, where I saw a Waffle House, then an Omelet House, and then an Omelet and Waffle House.

6. Jen has still not found any good Chinese restaurants in Indianapolis. We did find a Thai place, Sawasdee, that was good but not great, and a very good Korean BBQ, Mama's House, on Pendleton Pike. We went to Chicago's Chinatown, but it just had about two blocks of tiny, old, poorly-stocked markets and restaurants. Pretty pathetic. I fear that the closest good source for Chinese food for her may be in Toronto.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

“Tengo una remera del Che y no sé por qué.”

This article is two years old, but it's worth reading, a thorough damning of every high school wanna-be revolutionary's favorite t-shirt subject, Che Guevara.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Hittin' the road again

Hey folks, I'm hittin' the road again (yes, I have a lot of free time these days; email me if you'd like to know the details). My basic plan from Friday to Monday is to circle the Sierra Nevadas in a counterclockwise direction, spending the first night in Reno, the second camping somewhere in the vicinity of Lassen Volcanic National Park, and the third night somewhere north of Sacramento before heading back.

Why? To sightsee, to clear my head, to take walks in the forest, to maybe catch a couple of minor-league baseball games, and to visit counties I haven't yet bagged. If everything falls into place right, there's a possibility I might be able to visit all 9 of California's 58 counties that I haven't yet been to. If you look at that map, what you'll see basically is that I haven't been to the northeastern corner of the state and I haven't explored much between I-5 and US-101 north of the Bay Area. That's kind of a best-case-scenario version of this trip, though; what's more likely is that I'll miss Modoc County and at least one other. I should be able to fill in some gaps in Nevada, too.

Either way, I've felt kind of cooped up for the past week or so and am itching to get out. Bye!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Polynesians beat Spaniards to South America

This looks like fairly conclusive evidence that Polynesians were in South America before the Spaniards got there. It makes sense, considering what amazing sailors they were. It should have been a lot easier to send out a mission and hit a continent than it was to send out a mission to successfully find Hawaii.

The Vatican Goes Solar

The Vatican is replacing the panels on the roof of the Pope Paul VI Auditorium with solar panels. Cool!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Courts Thwart FCC

Does it really make a big difference whether or not celebrities on award shows are allowed to occasionally let a curse word slip out? No, but it is heartening to see the courts put something of a smackdown on the FCC's efforts to infantilize the populace.

Monday, June 04, 2007


I'll be posting the answer to Friday's trivia question tomorrow. Anybody want to take a stab at it?

Kaus, the L.A. Times, and Paris Hilton

Have you looked at Mickey Kaus's blog lately? It's like 90% immigration. Zzzz. Even Sullivan never devoted that much space to one subject. And he has the gall to call the L.A. Times boring:

Why the L.A. Times is doomed: The following teaser appears, not on the front page, but at the bottom of the first page of the B section in today's Los Angeles Times.

Lindsay Lohan arrested The actress, 20, is arrested on suspicion of drunk driving after hitting a curb and shrubbery in Beverly Hills. B3

P.S.: By the time LA residents got up to get the Sunday paper, the Lohan story had already led Drudge and been replaced by a fresher bit of news. Meanwhile, the New York Post featured an inch-and-a-half headline, plus picture, on its tabloid front page:

LINDSAY DRUG SHOCK Stash found after DUI bust

That's the New York Post of the same day as the LAT, even though the story happened in L.A. and the Post is produced in New York. ... The Post account is also juicier. ...

That's right, Mickey Kaus is holding up the New York Post as an example of what the Times should strive to be. It was just a couple years ago that Mickey himself would write about interesting things going on with L.A.'s mover/shakers. Now I have L.A. Observed, LAist, Defamer, and, oh yeah, the L.A. Times for that. I don't know what Mickey's value-added is these days.

But lest Mickey accuse me of being boring, I'll direct you to, where they have footage of Paris Hilton surrendering to the L.A. Sheriff's office. Yep, she's in jail now. I should warn you that the actual "Paris Surrenders" footage (no, it's not WWII vintage) is actually pretty boring. Even though it's about a hot celebrity! Who knew?

UPDATE: So, then, today Mickey Kaus has an op-ed article in the pages of the L.A. Times. And with an article about immigration policy, naturally, not drunken celebrities. But Mickey, I thought you said the Times was a useless dinosaur. I'm confused.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

More on the conspiratorial mindset and skepticism

Over at Slate, Ron Rosenbaum talks not only about his evolution away from a conspiratorial mindset, but also reminds us that certain conspiracies have been shown to be real, and that we need to be able to keep a healthily open mind to detect the real ones.

Similarly, a few days ago I posted a link to a series called "How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic," and I think I'd like to slightly retract my endorsement of it. Not because I found anything of substance to disagree with in the series, but because I'm a little off-put by the title, which implies that skepticism is bad.

But in truth, a healthy dose of skepticism is essential for scientific inquiry. I would, in fact, hope that a thinking person would be skeptical of any scientific conclusions (regardless of subject) they see presented by the media. A true skeptic would not allow that skepticism to just become ignorant denial, though, and would instead let that skepticism lead them deeper into the research. And if the research were, indeed, sound, then the skeptic would reach the same conclusion.

Of course, there are far too many subjects in this world for us to be skeptical of all of them. I've never done any particular delving into Holocaust research, for example, but there comes a point where we have to use our power of discernment to know when to accept what authority tells us and what should be a red flag. The concept of Holocaust denial stands in such stark opposition to common sense and the historical record that personally, it's not the sort of thing I care to look into any further (but I'm glad that there are people who have scrupulously debunked the deniers). The science behind global warming looks pretty airtight to me; some debates on the specifics remain, but the real question now is "What do we do about it?"

Friday, June 01, 2007

Trivia for Today

What does the following ranking represent?
  1. Los Angeles
  2. San Francisco
  3. San Diego
  4. Burbank
  5. West Hollywood
  6. Sacramento
  7. Oakland
  8. Long Beach
  9. El Segundo
  10. Glendale
  11. Oxnard
  12. Emeryville
  13. Cabazon
  14. Berkeley
  15. Foster City
  16. Costa Mesa
  17. San Jose
  18. Orange
  19. Palo Alto
  20. Irvine
Feel free to use any resource you can to figure this one out. I can't 100% guarantee the accuracy of this list, but it's based on information from one online source (no, not Wikipedia).

Another Racist Nativist

It's about 5 minutes into this 6-minute video clip, but like Pat Buchanan before him, Bill O'Reilly here makes an explicitly racist appeal to limit immigration, as he laments that open borders would break down the "white, Christian, male power structure" in America. John McCain (being interviewed, and defending the immigration bill), to his credit, sort of changes the subject before saying he agrees, making it not really clear how much of O'Reilly's argument he agrees with.

Personally I think it's a wonderful thing that people with origins all around the world find the American system attractive enough to want to come here. What's important in immigration is not preserving the whiteness of the power structure here, but preserving the ideals of democracy that America is based upon. When legal channels are open to immigrants, there can be mechanisms in place to teach them the essential foundations of America and better assimilate them into society. Under the immigration status quo, in which millions of illegal immigrants exist as a permanent underclass, these mechanisms do not exist and they are unable to participate fully in society.