Charles Oliver - Econ/Media-Boy
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Charles C. Watson - Science/Tech-Boy
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Ron Campbell - sushi-bait.
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Even a blogger needs to eat. This blog is primarily Charles' hobby. But if he is intent on continuing to woo the Hooter's waitresses in Chatanooga he needs something that pays.... wings don't come free you know. Here's a link to his day job where he works the education beat and, assuming he can't annoy enough people that way, is sometimes allowed to write opinion pieces.


Need perspective? Watson offers readers all they could possibly eat. For a unique view on current events, namely how they look from orbit, here's Chuck's Real-Time(ish) Satellite Imagery of Areas of Interest. Whenever it strikes his fancy, and there's good telemetry, Chuck will process and post near real-time images of locations in the news. Eminently engrossing.


Wanna get into the head of a Japanese salaryman? Why, for Chis'sakes?! Well, assumin' you do, feel welcome to check out the on-line journal of Campbell's English class. Everyday, a group of disaffected salarymen are required to spill out their inner-most thoughts about life, the universe and everything in broken English. Amazingly prosaic.




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Shoutin' across the Pacific
Chiizu taberu koufuku shiteiru saru ga kangei-saremasen.
 
Friday, March 29, 2002
 
This will probably be my last post for at least a week. I'm heading from L.A. to Georgia this weekend. And I'm going to take a somewhat leisurely drive. I'm not in a big hurry, so I think I'll try to see a little of America, just like Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady. Or Hal Jordan and Oliver Queen. Except I'll be by myself.

Ron may try to pick up the slack while I'm gone. But he is suffering a problem with his phone line that NTT can't even diagnose, much less fix. So he's unable to access the Internet from home, or make or receive phone calls. So he may not be able to post either.


posted by Charles at 1:31 PM
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Now Billy Wilder is gone. Two and a half entertainment legends passed in just two days.

posted by Charles at 1:29 PM
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Thursday, March 28, 2002
 
The local news had a story on the slavery reparations lawsuits last night. For some reason they interviewed actor James Avery as part of the package. He's best known as Will Smith's uncle and guardian on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. But he has a ton of movie a TV credits. Avery said that there is still "white skin privilege" in America. Those with white skins have an advantage in life, he said. Maybe. But I'll trade my white skin for his residuals any day.

posted by Charles at 1:13 PM
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Tuesday, March 26, 2002
 
Well, AT&T just disconnected my cable. The big move is just a few days away.

posted by Charles at 4:17 PM
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Monday, March 25, 2002
 
One More Reason to Hate Soccer Moms (And Maybe Those Proctor & Gamble Rumors Are True)

There's a great article in the New York Times about country music's reaction to the success of the O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack. Radio programmers have literally told the music companies that nothing has changed. They didn't play that album, and they aren't going to play real country music in the future. Here's why:

If there's one culprit in the current state of country music, it may be Crest Whitestrips. Yes, Crest Whitestrips, the new dental whitening system. Because when you point a finger at Crest Whitestrips, you're pointing at Procter & Gamble, the product's maker and one of the largest purchasers of radio advertising time. And the major advertisers are the people who really control what you hear on the radio, especially country radio.

"Contemporary country radio is targeting young adult females," said Paul Allen, the executive director of the Country Radio Broadcasters, a trade association. "Now, why would you want to target them? Because that's what advertisers want. The young female adult is oftentimes a mom. She influences 90 percent of all the buying decisions in the household; she's a generation X or Y consumer, and not brand loyal. That's a very influenceable and key demographic to go after."

Thus, because of Crest Whitestrips and the machine behind them, not just country radio has changed; country music has changed, too. More than any other genre, country is a fine-tuned jingle. Most songs are written by a cadre of writers - some geniuses, most hacks - many of whom excel at finding universal emotions and translating them into greeting-card poesy. When it comes time for most stars to record a new album, they go shopping with their managers and record-label executives for hits. Thus, such artists are better able to roll with changes in taste, style and national mood. Ten years ago, Travis Tritt's biggest hit was "Here's a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)." More recently, his comeback hit was "It's a Great Day to Be Alive." Only those who don't listen to country radio still think the music is about beer and heartbreak. Today, the men are singing love songs and apologies to women while sassy women are
singing about dissing the men.


I couldn't have said it better myself. And by the way Screw KZLA!


posted by Charles at 1:50 PM
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Cael Sanderson just became only the second wrestler in history to win four NCAA championships. Many news reports have also called him the first wrestler to go undefeated in college. I'm not sure that's correct. But he is the first wrester since at least the mid-1960s to go undefeated, winning 159 matches.


I really can't add anything more to this column about Sanderson from The Wrestling Observer.

http://www.liveaudiowrestling.com/wo/news/headlines/default.asp?aID=4642


posted by Charles at 1:41 PM
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Things may or not be back to normal in the U.S. but they seem to be fine in Mexico. Down there, professional wrestler Danny Boy no longer wants to be called Boy. He's now Danny Anthrax. And, you guessed, it whenever the referees' back are turned, he pulls out a white powder and throws it in his opponent's eyes.

posted by Charles at 1:06 PM
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Friday, March 22, 2002
 
Ron,

I know your finances are tight right now. So here's page you might find useful. It's instructions for cleaning and cooking squirrel.

http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a1_014.html

Actually, the page rightly recommends not eating city squirrel for health reasons. But on purely culinary grounds I can't recommend it either. Red, grey, whatever, squirrel isn't very good.

Remember The Beverly Hillbillies? I know it was a joke, but I was always upset that the Clampetts continued to eat squirrel and possum after they moved to California. The fact is that such foods are poverty foods, not Southern delicacies. (Incidentally, I've never met anyone who admits to eating possum.) Those who could afford to eat better types and cuts of meat would. In real life, the Clampetts likely would have done what Elvis did when he got rich: Fry up several pounds of bacon each morning and leave it laying around the house in bowls to snack on.


posted by Charles at 5:41 PM
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Thursday, March 21, 2002
 
I picked up the latest issue of Soldier of Fortune today. It had a short but interesting article about what U.S. special forces have learned in Afghanistan and what they want for future missions. At the top of the list is better language training. Actually, that's something that they've wanted fora long time. Army Special forces soldiers are required to learn at least one language other than English. (I don't think SEALs have such a requirement.)

But in practice, most of them have only the most basic skills in their language. SF troops say it would e better to have four or five men on a team who are truly fluent in three or four languages, not an entire team that can just order a cup of coffee in one.

Next is better communications. Now, they have three or four radios per team. They'd like to have a personal communications device for each team member.

There are a few other things on the list, but I won't rewrite the piece. But what's interesting is how little money we are talking about here. While the Defense Department loves big flashy weapons systems, and Congress loves measure that can bring lots of jobs to many different congressional districts, sometimes it's the little things that can really make a difference.


posted by Charles at 2:55 PM
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Wednesday, March 20, 2002
 
But can I fly?

According to this article

http://www.guardian.co.uk/medicine/story/0,11381,665328,00.html

plastic surgeons will soon be able to attach wings and tails to us. I don't know why anyone would want to have this done. but I've never figured out why some strippers and porn stars pay thousands of dollars to have their breasts enlarged when that money would be better spent having their teeth capped.


posted by Charles at 6:04 PM
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I’ve been meaning to write something about the new Star Trek series for some time. Now that everyone else has written about it, I guess I’ll take my shot.

There’s a term for any series that’s blasted by both The Nation and Libertarian Samizdata on ideological grounds: mainstream.

I’ve seen almost all of the episodes of Enterprise. It isn’t great, but it’s probably the best first season so far for a Trek spin off. TNN has been running Star Trek: the Next Generation and I’ve seen all of the first two seasons of that show. I had forgotten just how bad those early episodes were. Clipping my in-grown toenail is less painful that watching anything from the first season.

Happy Fun Pundit went off on the economics of the later series. In the original Star Trek, there was some sort of Federation money. In Mudd’s Women, Kirk offers to pay the miners for Dilithium crystals in credits, but they want the women. Who could blame them?

But by Next Generation -- and the movies -- as HFP notes, the crew goes around telling the more primitive people that they have outgrown money. Not cash, money. Now, you and I have talked about just how unworkable such a system would be. But in the end, it doesn’t matter. Remember that series of books “The (Blank) of Star Trek?” Each one took some aspect – physics, biology, computers – and examined it. Actually, each one explained how just about everything in the Trek universe violated the known laws of the real world.

I figure that any civilization that can perfect faster-than-light travel, transporters that can move people tens of thousands of miles while only occasionally splitting them into good and evil twins and holodecks so realistic that the fake guns can kill people and the fake Moriarty can take over the ship can find a way to make Marxism work.

The real issues are whether there is a coherent logic within the series and whether there is dramatic conflict.

So far, the new series gets passing grades on both those counts, but not much more. The real problem is that the episodes too often seem to follow the same story arc. Against the advice of T’Pol, Capt. Archer rushes heedlessly onto some strange new planet at gets himself, some of his crew or his ship into danger. Fortunately, by the final act he, or T’Pol figures out how to solve the mess he has gotten himself into.

In The Nation, Donna Minkowitz claims that T’Pol is both an angry castrating woman trying to keep the boys from having fun and a surrogate Jew trying to lord it over the good-looking, more virile goyim.

I see her (T'Pol, not Minkowitz) as the voice of reason. (Not bad casting for a Vulcan.) So far, Enterprise hasn’t quite gotten into the trap that Voyager did in its final three seasons. In that show, Capt. Janeway was always blundering and getting her ass saved by 7 of 9. But Janeway’s mistakes were always prompted by her squishy left-liberalism. She always trusted aliens. Fortunately, 7 of 9 didn’t. But the writers' sympathies were clearly with Janeway. The never seemed to realize they were writing her as an idiot.

So far, Archer has displayed little of that sort of squishiness. (Though there have been a couple of episodes where he channels Janeway.) Rather, he is simply too brash. But he does seem to be learning, from T’Pol.

Yet if the series is to progress, it needs to get away from the easy formula scripts that it has relied on so far.


posted by Charles at 4:02 PM
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Tuesday, March 19, 2002
 
Charles, Thanks to the other bloggers I did see the photo and... boy... the Afghan years have not been kind. You can only imagine the hardships, stress and pain this woman has suffered. And every guy keeps the thought in his head, "a woman who looked like that at 13 or 14 would have been pampered in the Western world and her life would've been much better."

Maybe she wouldn't have become a model but she would have been showered with attention and her looks, if nothing else, would've opened so many opportunities for her, so many more than her life in Afghanistan offered.

The salad days of free content have come to an end. Drudge is linking to this story about the Financial Times cutting off the spigot. You can'take money giving away your content -- Weekly World News figured this out of few months ago and stopped offering free content for awhile. (*sigh* unable to find the Ed Anger notice.. ) But as more on-line content comes at a price I think blogs will take up the slack. Glenn, Matt, Damian and their lot will subscribe to an inordinate number of fee services and provide their digests for us plebs. They won't be able to quote at length for copyright reasons but they'll fill the same role as political and issue organizations' newsletters do now. In other words, I'll trust Den Beste to read the paper for me.

By the way... WHO bought the ad off the site? We should thank them by name, profusely. I know you didn't do it, you tightwad. :>

An UPDATE about the Krups Coffee Pot Ghost lady: she has her own site with MIDI music and WAV clips of her haunted pot (let the joke go...). You can find the java spirits here.

Gotta go back to work.


posted by Ron at 11:47 PM
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Ron, thanks for the changes. If you can explain that linking stuff to a techno idiot, send me an e-mail with instructions. This is a little late for anyone else reading this, but since you are in Japan, you didn't get to see the National Geographic special about the search for the Afghan Girl. You know, the green-eyed girl who was on the magazine's cover in 1985.

The magazine managed to track her down. If you ever want proof that our secular Western society is superior to Muslim fundamentalism, take a look at this special. It isn't just that Afghan Girl aged so much in the intervening 16 years. (She's just 29 or 30, but she looks ancient.) What was more striking was her personality. In the photo of her as a girl, she has this fierce defiant look on her face. But the woman we met was unable to make eye contact with anyone, and despite her husband's permission to show her face, she kept pulling her veil across her nose and mouth. It was a very sad sight.


posted by Charles at 4:00 PM
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Monday, March 18, 2002
 
Charles, Know you're busy but just a couple of housekeeping notes. First I've changed the posting sequence to "chronological within days" as oppossed to "reverse chronological order." That's always seemed more logical to me 'cause I tend to read from top to bottom... Glenn' site (along with 98.9% of the other blogs out there) drive me nuts when a post references an earlier post which I have to scroll down to read.... Huh?

Also, you'll notice some edits to your posts; namely, tasty linkage!

Time to dance!


posted by Ron at 10:51 PM
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Glad to have you back on board, even though I know you are guilty, guilty, guilty. I don't have time to post anything lengthy. But I would like to bring this to you attention.

Basically, this story claims that Southernisms are going out of style. I'm really dubious of a purely anecdotal story like this, especially one that bases its claims solely on advertising. But based on my limited experience there does seem to be more than a grain of truth to this. I guess I'll find out more in a few weeks. Does this mean that the U.S. is becoming less diverse culturally as we all melt into one mass culture? I don't think so, but I'll have to wait to post about that when I have more time.


posted by Charles at 1:38 PM
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Sunday, March 17, 2002
 
Just took the train into work so I could post this. Enjoy...

Taihen shitsurei shimashita!
OK, it goes without saying... this has become Charles' blog now... possession being nine-tenths of the law and all. Sure I still have the keys but I need to repaint the place (i.e. change the wording of the blurbs) to reflect the new owner's status. If'n it's OK I still would like to post now and then.

I've been AWOL ("gone Elvis" as the military used to say) for damn near three weeks. Why? I've been kicked in the teeth and had the smack laid upon me by my adopted home country. When you're desperately trying to avoid being jailed for a crime you didn't know you committed it takes the wind out of your blogging sails. Faced with the possibility of Takuya being your new cell bitch the urge to wax wittily about the latest Guardian offering doesn't hold the same promise it once did. So what happened and what is my current status vis a vis the Man? I can sum it up in two words "indentured servitude."

Long story short: Japan has a strange sense of Justice. You can kill a woman and her baby, rape her corpse, admit to the crime, have the prosecution ask for you to be hanged and still the Supreme Court will deem your crime worthy of only an indefinite prison sentence with the possibility of parole in seven years (See today's Mainichi Daily News for this story). But screw up on your taxes (or more specifically your 'social obligations') and you'll pay for it in spades.
Japan has socialized medicine. The value of it is grist for another series of posts (I tend to think it is why the country's health care has yet to surpass the level of service found in America in the 1950s). But there is no denying that the system exists and has a HUGE bureaucracy to support it. You are assessed a charge for that system separate from your state, city, income, car, property and national taxes.
When you receive payment notices for this service they are called "gikin" which my dictionary translates as "contribution." For four years I paid into the "hokenshou" because it was explained to me as being medical insurance. During year five of my stay someone decided to reassess my contribution levels into the system and determined I had not been paying enough. So they changed my monthly fee from $185 a month to damn near $320. (in US $)
I went to the office and through a translator tried to ask why the charge was so high and could we try to reduce it in some way. The older office manager pretty much was uninterested in my situation. A younger staffer, who was bilingual, told me the ministry paid him slave wages and he could understand my problem -- he also advised me, as one pauper to another, to just get on a plane and get the hell out of here. (Sorry now I didn't take his advice seriously.)
I don't make that much and between the cost of living, a weakening yen, credit card debt from my "high-flying" grad school days and a student loan to boot, I decided that I would just opt out of the system and not take advantage of the national insurance system. (I actually thought the system was semi-voluntary... there are after all medical insurance companies in Japan... I thought you had a choice between public and private coverage.) If I needed to go to the hospital I would pay out of pocket.

So I stopped making "contributions."

Didn't know that was illegal. Certainly didn't know the government deems it more serious than attempted murder or felonious assault.

Last month I got a notice that the government wanted about $4600 and if I couldn't produce it by Tuesday then all of my possessions and bank accounts would be seized. I have no possessions or bank accounts. I live paycheck-to-paycheck... all my extra cash (such as it is) goes to MasterCard every month.

No problem. If you have no assets we'll just put your ass in the pokey... for several years.

So here we are. Now over one-third of my gross income is going directly to the Japanese Health Care System. This is over and above the regular witholding and other tax charges I pay every month.


I am now a working slave for the government of Japan.

If I miss a payment I will go to jail.

I do not have the freedom to change jobs or look for new employment.

Slavery sucks.


posted by Ron at 2:24 AM
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More about journalistic ethics be damned (and still experimenting with posting links!) please check out this non-apology apology from the San Fran Chronic via Matt Welch.

Hey, ma? Did it work?


posted by Ron at 12:55 AM
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Saturday, March 16, 2002
 
Charles,

Still at home this morning and haven't gotten off the futon yet so the "Where were I?" post is still in abyance. But to respond to your miff with Drudge, 80% of success is showing up... 40 percent of that is showing up first in line... and 60% of that original 80% is being lucky enough to get sued by some high-level Clinton appointee.

Drudge is a rank amateur.. but he was the first, noted amateur. He was blogging before Instapundit was a gleam in Glenn's eyes. Drudge has said time and time again that he depends on leaks and insiders (read: media operatives with agendas) for his stories. He doesn't do 'reporting' by his own admission. This is a guy who quit his TV show at Fox for two reasons 1] he kept scheduling the same guests because he was too lazy to get others and 2] he couldn't get Ailes to agree to let him do the show from his apartment (!) because he was too lazy to haul himself down to the studios once a week.

He's a hack, and he has no problems with being a hack because that is the best operating mode for him. It's how he gets his stories, his publicity, his friends, his celebrity and his invites to wear the poofy shirt on Politically Incorrect.

Heck, take out the gay bar-hopping and I'd love to have his life... journalist ethics be damned.

Also, who wouldn't like to take Russell Crowe down a couple of pegs? Home-wrecker, pretty-boy, non-descript European-accent talkin', turning-point of a million women's nocturnal fantasies bastard that he is... yeah, I'd like to sucker punch the dickhead too!

And about that "Emperor of Antartica" thing.... didn't we all do that at some point in our undergrad years?

On another point, we've talked about James Randi and his $1,000,000 prize for proof of paranormal phenomena. This link will take you to a current applicant who claims that her coffee maker communicates with the dead. (no, I don't know if it talks with Joe DiMaggio.) And not just any coffee maker, it has to be the Krups Model 467.

To quote:
"I receive and record Electronic Voice Phenomena from a common household appliance.
It is a Krups model #467 coffee maker. I record the Spirits speaking through the coffee maker in their own voices with a Radio Shack Digital Voice Recorder and have hundreds of clear, often lengthy, meaningful statements from them. They will answer questions and they can also read. They will read and respond to notes placed in the vicinity of the coffee maker when it is running. ... In order to test this you may use your own equipment, (Coffee maker and recorder, though I prefer that it be a similar Krups #467) and the experiment can be done in any location."

This is from last week and it is the first step in the application for the prize. Go take a look and read Randi's response. You'll want to follow the progress of this application... it's hilarious.

I'm off.




posted by Ron at 9:02 PM
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Okay, Ron, now that you are back, maybe you can help me figure out why Matt Drudge is so intent on defaming John Nash. It's no accident that Drudge's site has been filled over the last few weeks with articles that attack Nash. Someone really doesn't want A Beautiful Mind to win any Oscars, so they've been leaking this stuff to Drudge. (He obviously hasn't read the book.) I'll bet that somone from one of the rival movie camps is behind it. Officials at Miramax were caught pointing out the stories on Drudge's site to mainstream reporters. When they were caught, Miramax head Harvey Weinstein apologized, but claimed they didn't plant the original stories.

But someone is using Drudge. That's no big surprise, Drudge has been used many times by people with an agenda. (Remember the Sidney Blumenthal report?) And Drudge is too lazy or too unethical to care. That's one reason I never took him seriously. Too often, he makes little effort to get the other side of a story. And he never gives you the context of a story.

Yeah, Nash said and wrote anti-semitic things when he was in the throes of his schizophrenia. He also claimed to be emperor of Antartica and thought he was communicating with angels, among other things. Maybe we should cut him some slack.

Drudge also broke the news that Nash is a homosexual. (I find the irony of Drudge outing somone to be tasty.) The problem is that Nash denies this, his biographer denies it, and all of his friends deny it. But why let that get in the way of outing someone? Incidentally, Andrew Sullivan jumped on that part of the story to further his own agenda. He wanted to make a point about how Hollywood isn't really that gay friendly. But since Sylvia Nasar has come forth to reiterate that Nash wasn't homosexual, Sullivan hasn't printed a retraction. I expect better from him, but not from Drudge.


posted by Charles at 1:26 PM
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Glad to have you back on board. I've going to be busy the next couple of weeks. I've got everything packed up and shipped off. I've still got to tie up a few loose ends around here. But around the end of the month, I'll start driving across country back to Georgia.

posted by Charles at 1:04 PM
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I'm back! After 25 minutes of typing every permutation of my name and of possible names for this website I finally hacked my own sushi-laden brain.

More posting after the sleeping.

Sorry I've been gone for awhile. I have a longish post written up and ready for publishing... alas it is on the company computer and I'm not. Suffice to say don't screw with the Japanese government and their tax officers.

Charles, thanks for keeping the blog alive while I've been off. (and I mean off) Starting in the morning I'll be pulling my weight around here.

UPDATE: As I told you this morning, when you're sitting in front of a computer at 2AM trying to remember your username by looking around on your desk for hints, notes or pictures of loved ones -- trying various mispellings of your own name you feel confident you'd consistently mispell (:>) it can leave you feeling a little existential. I finally got the right answer by calmly asking myself, "Now, If I were me, what would I have done?" Ruminate on that a bit; I'm not even in an intro philosophy course.
Ron


posted by Ron at 8:38 AM
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Friday, March 15, 2002
 
Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. Just a few days after gleefully fantasizing about the possibility of Washington, D.C. getting nuked, Lew Rockwell runs this piece on his site.


If anyone ever was guilty of "scapegoating," it's Rockwell and his guru Murray Rohbard. In their view, the state is inherently evil, and the U.S. government is the most evil of all. Anything it does -- from freeing the slaves to defeating the Nazis -- was evil and right-thinking people everywhere should see that. We just have to abolish the state, by any means necessary, and we'll have a utopia. I'm not going to defend Rand on every point. She was indeed apt to see any disagreement with her as a moral failure. But she has certainly had a more postive influence on libertarianism that Rothbard, who brought nothing but a juvenile anti-authoritarianism to the table.


posted by Charles at 1:35 PM
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I see that National Review and other bloggers have picked up on the Sports Ilustrated survey of Indians regarding their feelings about sports teams using Indian names and mascots. I wrote that up on March 1, so we were ahead of the curve. Others have picked up on the Fightin' Whities intramural team in Colorado. I don't have a lot to add to that. But here's one thing to consider: The Whities weren't the first team to use a white ethnic name. And no, I'm not talking about the various Vikings or Fighting Irish.

One of the most successful minor league baseball teams of all times was the Atlanta Crackers. Here's a good site devoted to the team.


Baseball wouldn't allow such a name these days, but if someone revived the Cracker name, it could be the best selling merchandising team in the nation.


posted by Charles at 1:11 PM
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Wednesday, March 13, 2002
 
The latest issue of the Utne Reader has a list of what it claims are the sexiest movie scenes ever. They are, in no particular order:

A Room with a View -- the skinnydipping scene
Microcosms -- a couple of snails humping
The Ice Storm -- Joan Allen and Jamey Sheridan in a car
The Hunger -- Catherine Deneuve's seduction of Susan Srandon
Skin Deep -- the scene with John Ritter and a glow-in-the-dark condom

This list proves that the people at the Utne Reader (and Nerve.com from which the list is reproduced) know nothing about sex. How can you make a list of great movie sex scenes and include nothing from any film by Zalman King?

Okay, the scene from The Hunger is pretty hot. And I'll admit that Julian Sands and Rupert Graves are good looking guys, so if your tastes swing that way, that nude-bathing bit might be a good scene. But the truth is none of the films they mention will ever make it to Cinemax on Friday night. And the scene mentioned from The Ice Storm is positively anti-erotic. In fact, that's the entire point of the scene. I guess the good folks who compiled this list never figured that out.


posted by Charles at 2:11 PM
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Monday, March 11, 2002
 
Okay, I got some mail asking what the point of my post on Roger Ebert and black-oriented films was. Basically, there are two types of criticism. The first helps you see things in films that maybe you haven't seen before. That's the sort of thing done in magazines and journals devoted to film. Ebert doesn't do that. He is basically a consumer oriented critic, the second type. You look to his advice when deciding whether to drop $7.00, plus parking and concessions on new film.

And like all critics, he has his own peculiar taste, and it helps to know what his preferences are when weighing his advice. For instance, he tends to dislike horror films. In fact, many years ago, he and Gene Siskel led a campaign to get Hollywood to stop making "slasher" films. So if you like horror films (as I do), a negative review of such a film from Ebert may not mean that much.

But Ebert is much less open about his preference for films from black directors and films that deal with black subject matters. Yet he does have one. And if Ebert gives such a film high marks, it still may not be that good. On the other hand, if he pans such a film, that's a pretty good sign that it really, really sucks.


posted by Charles at 1:23 PM
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Friday, March 08, 2002
 
On my way to the library, I listened to the Howard Stern show. Roger Ebert was the guest. Someone called Ebert on the fact that he grades black-oriented films on a curve, praising them more than they often deserve. I've said this for years, so I was interested in how he would respond to the charge. He accused the person who pointed this out of being a racist. Fortunately, Howard and Robin Quivers immediately agreed with the caller. the spent the rest of the segment cracking jokes about the fact that Ebert goes easy on black films. Ebert showed a little more grace when the criticism was coming from Howard. I'll never forget what Ebert reviewed the Jon Lovitz film High School High. It was a lame attempt at Airplane-type humor, and it roundly deserved to be blasted. But Ebert didn't attack it because it was a bad film. He attacked it because the plight of the inner-city school system is no cause for laughter.

posted by Charles at 1:26 PM
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I saw Ted Rall on CNN this morning trying to defend his war widows cartoon. Rall insisted that he wasn't attacking all of the widows, just a few who are going around trying to promote a "narrow agenda." The host didn't press him for specifics about what that agenda was, but he clearly implied it was some sort of right-wing scheme. Funny, I don't remember hearing anyone say "Well, I'm sorry my husband was murdered, but I'm glad to have the opportunity to call for an end to legalized abortion." There seemed to be a clear reference to Daniel Pearl's widow in the cartoon, and the only agenda she ever displayed was trying to get her husband home alive.

posted by Charles at 1:20 PM
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Thursday, March 07, 2002
 
The best new show on TV? It could well be "The Osbournes." Ozzy and his family let MTV follow them around with cameras. It's sort of like The Addams Family meets the Real World.

The best line of the first episode was when Ozzy tried to settle a fight between two of his kids: "I love you all very much, more than life itself, but you're all f***in' mad."

The entire family uses the F-word a lot. Between that and the numerous devil heads that decorate the home, conservatives will probably cringe if they see this show. But when all of the fighting and cursing is done, this family really seems to love each other. Ozzy and his wife can't seem to stop hugging their kids. Nor can they stop hugging and nuzzling each other, which embarasses the kids more than a little.



And Ozzy seems to be the fount of old-fashioned wisdom. In the teaser for the second episode, we find one of the family's dogs relieving itself all over the house. (It's a very nice house in Beverly Hills.) The wife brings in a doggy psychologist to help. But Ozzy points out that they don't need a psychologist: They just need for someone to get up at 7 a.m. and let the dog out.


posted by Charles at 7:23 PM
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Wednesday, March 06, 2002
 
According to press reports, Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts, a Navy SEAL who perished in the recent fighting in Afghanistan, "was captured by Al Qaeda forces" after falling from his helicopter "and later executed." I'm not an expert in international law, but I think that's a violation of the Geneva convention. So why haven't I heard of any complaints about the killing from Human Rights Watch, the Red Cross or any "moderate" Muslim groups?

posted by Charles at 5:36 PM
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I just heard that Harlan Howard died Sunday. You may not have heard his name. But you’ve certainly heard his songs. He was the dean of Nashville songwriters. His credits included Ray Price's Heartaches By The Number, Buck Owens' I've Got A Tiger By The Tail, Busted (recorded by Johnny Cash, Ray Charles and others), Patsy Cline’s I Fall to Pieces, the Judds' Why Not Me? and hundreds of others.

Because of his lyrical sophistication, he was often called the Irving Berlin of country music. Howard considered that a compliment. But many of his fellow songwriters preferred to say Irving Berlin was the Harlan Howard of pop music.

Howard dropped out of school in the 9th grade and spent his teens and his 20s as a manual laborer and in the Army. He didn’t hit it big until he was 31. But when he did hit, there was no stopping him. At one point in 1961, Harlan Howard had 15 songs on the country charts at the same time. That feat has never been equaled since.

But Howard was just as well known in Nashville as a mentor to dozens of singers and songwriters. He encouraged Waylon Jennings to write his own songs and convinced Conway Twitty to switch from rockabilly to country. He got Bobby Bare a recording contract. And many of the most critically acclaimed stars of today, such as Sara Evans and Nanci Griffth say Howard was one of the people who encouraged them and helped them make connections in Nashville.


posted by Charles at 3:29 PM
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Just caught a very good bluegrass concert on PBS. There were some real heavyweights giving some fine performances on this show: Ralph Stanley, Ricky Skaggs, Travis Tritt, and Del McCoury, among others. But I was truck by the fact that many of the songs they perform celebrated violent outlaws (Del McCoury’s excellent version of Richard Thompson’s “1952 Vincent Black Lightining”, for instance) or violence against women (Patty Loveless and Ralph Stanley’s duet on “Pretty Polly”).

What would have been the reaction if young black men had performed those same lyrics backed by drum machines instead of mandolins?

Oh says James to Red Molly "Here's a ring for your right hand
But I'll tell you in earnest I'm a dangerous man.
For I've fought with the law since I was seventeen,
I robbed many a man to get my Vincent machine.
Now I'm 21 years, I might make 22
And I don't mind dying, but for the love of you.

A white man sings those lyrics and he's a romantic outlaw. A black man sings them and he's a dangerous thug.



posted by Charles at 3:02 PM
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I’ve never watched an episode of the new Hollywood Squares. But as I was channel surfing last night, I caught the opening of the show and had to watch a bit of it. Arianna Huffington was one of the “celebrity” squares. Of course, most of the people watching the show likely had no idea who she was. And after the show was over, they still had no idea. She didn’t get any time to argue for limits on free speech, er, campaign finance reform. She mostly did the same lame scripted ad libs that all the other celebrities did.

I’ve always wondered why some people take her seriously. Even before her sharp turn left, I never got the appeal. Now, how can anyone run her columns or have her on a show as a pundit? It would be like asking Rose Marie to talk about election reform. Or Wally Cox to give his views on gay rights. Or asking Charlie Weaver to discuss Social Security reform. But now that I think about it, any of those persons likely could have made a more forceful and cogent argument than Arianna does.

On the other hand, how can the producers of a comedy show invite her on? Apart from her Zsa Zsa accent, she isn’t funny. Granted, the Hollywood Squares writers didn’t giver her much to work with. But I’ve never read a funny line in one of her columns. Nor has she had a real funny ad lib in any of her TV appearances. Bill Maher has her on his show all the time. But I suspect that’s because he mistakes her brand of centrist, goo-goo statism (which largely mirrors his own views) as being politically incorrect.


posted by Charles at 2:57 PM
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Friday, March 01, 2002
 
The editors of Sports Illustrated are clearly peeved. They commissioned a survey of Indians regarding their feelings about sports teams using Indian names and mascots. And to SI’s clear surprise, most Indians aren’t upset by these names. Eighty-three percent of Indians said teams shouldn’t stop using such names, mascots or symbols. Indians who live on reservations are more apt to oppose such names. But even among that group, 67% don’t want the names abandoned. When asked about the most specifically incendiary name – Redskins – 69% of Indians said they don’t object. Forty-eight percent of Indians don’t care about the Atlanta Braves tomahawk chop. And 28% said they actually like it.

In the story accompanying the poll, Indian activists dismissed such views. “There are happy campers on every plantation,” said Suzan Harjo, president of an Indian-rights group in D.C. Still, it’s clear that such activists don’t speak for their alleged followers on this issue.

But SI winds up arguing for abolishing such mascots and nicknames. Those symbols may not offend many people, according to the article. But if teams switched to other names and mascots, they could make a fortune from new apparel sales using the new symbols. Never mind the sales teams might lose from disgruntled fans who’ve invested their emotions in the old symbols.


posted by Charles at 4:20 PM
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