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December 2003 Archives

December 1, 2003

Worldly wise

Some legends just can't be stopped from spreading, and even smart people fall prey to them. Case in point: Eugene Volokh writes about chutzpah:

It's almost as bad as some people naming a championship contest a "World Series" when the only eligible teams come from two countries, and all but two of the teams come from one country.

UPDATE: Yes, I had heard that the name "the World Series" came from the name of the newspaper that sponsored it. I lack the inclination to check this out in detail, but even if it's true, that's not quite how it's actually understood these days by 99.44% of baseball fans, no?

In fact, Eugene's initial comment was more-or-less correct, and his update was wrong.

As Doug Pappas, who heads the Society for American Baseball Research's Business of Baseball Committee, wrote:

In fact, the postseason series between the AL and NL champs was originally known as the "Championship of the World" or "World's Championship Series." That was shortened through usage to "World's Series" and finally to "World Series."

This usage can be traced through the annual baseball guides. Spalding's Base Ball Guide for 1887 reported the results of the 1886 postseason series between Chicago, champions of the National League, and St. Louis, champions of the American Association, under the heading "The World's Championship." As the editor noted, the two leagues "both entitle their championship contests each season as those for the base ball championship of the United States," so a more grandiose name was required to describe the postseason showdown between the two "champions of the United States."

[...]

Moreover, the New York World never claimed any connection with postseason baseball. The World was a tabloid much given to flamboyant self-promotion. If it had been involved in any way with sponsoring a championship series, the fact would have been emblazoned across its sports pages for months. I reviewed every issue of the World for the months leading up to the 1903 and 1905 World's Championship Series -- there's not a word suggesting any link between the paper and the series.

I suspect this myth sprang into being because, while seeming plausible, it enabled those spreading it to sound slightly more sophisticated than the average person, who leaps to the conclusion that World Series is to be taken literally. But sometimes first guesses are correct, and this is one of those times.

(Note further that the charge of "arrogance" is not entirely fair; when the series originated, American baseball was world baseball. Also note that while the involved teams themselves are based in only two countries, the participating players come from around the world.)

December 9, 2003

Noam-more lies

I've been a little busy to blog lately, but for the moment, check out this post from Damien Penny pointing out a typical Noam Chomsky rhetorical trick.

December 10, 2003

Because Our State Legislators Have Too Much Time On Their Hands

Like a fat man who eats bowl after bowl of ice cream, legislators pass law after law after law. Probably because it feels good. Or perhaps simply because they can. Are all of them necessary? I highly doubt it. Case in point:


Legislation mandating the registration of beer kegs sold in New York, and which will require beverage stores to increase the deposit on the kegs to $75 and mandate new record-keeping obligations, has been signed into law by Gov. George Pataki.

The problem with laws such as these is that there is never anyone to stand up and say "Hey, wait a second! Doesn't the state have more important things to do than inspect keg records? Haven't we been doing well enough as a society for the past six or seven decades without government control of our kegs? Is creating more paperwork for retail stores and restaurants and bars to do a worthy goal of government?". Most likely, anyone who objects would just be branded a tool of the alcohol industry who wants to get our children drunk or some such.

Anyway, having just passed the law last week, legislators can now get back to the important and demanding task of... amending the law. Apparently, they didn't do it right the first time:


But where the new law is defective, [State Senator Nancy] Hoffmann says, is the requirement that the keg be returned within one month or the purchaser forfeits the $75 deposit.

"Beer in properly refrigerated kegs stays fresh much longer than one month," Hoffman points out. "The last thing we want to do is to force anyone to drink faster than they want to, or should."

Good job, guys. Me, I'd say the entire law is defective. But hey, as long as they don't come after my barrels of wine, why should I complain?

December 16, 2003

Where were you when you heard the news?

Me, I was enjoying a sunny morning of skiing with my wife. The whiteboard in a lift operators' booth read, and I quote:


NPR is reporting that So Damn Insane has been caught

Nobody on line could decide whether the scrawlings of some teenager are exactly the most trustworthy news source, so we had to hold our excitement all day. Sad, really, that we couldn't exult in the news then and there. Sadder still that I had these thoughts:


  1. Man, I'm cold
  2. I can't wait to hear people attempt to put a negative spin on this

So before even knowing a single detail other than the sentence above, the wife and I discussed what such a negative spin might sound like: (Begin weenie voice) Oh, we shouldn't sound like we're gloating. We shouldn't get cocky. We shouldn't have paraded him around after being captured. We must ensure that he receives a fair trial in The Hague. We didn't have the right to do this. The war wasn't about Saddam anyway. The war isn't over, let's bring everyone home. The war *is* over, let's bring everyone home. It wasn't worth the effort anyway. It's not fair - this makes Bush look good. Et cetera. (End weenie voice).

You know, if you want to get away from world events, a ski resort is a pretty good place to be. We didn't hear any confirmation of the news until we got in our car that afternoon and turned on the radio. It didn't take long to hear the first naysayer. Less than five minutes, actually. As one of a group of newscasters asked to give their impression of the news, NPR's Anne Garrels started, and I quote:


I don't mean to rain on anybody's parade, but...

Then she proceeded to rain on everyone's parade. We just knew that *someone* was going to do it.

Now, I wasn't expecting the whole death-penalty mini-flap, but I should have, considering that I fully expected crap like this:


Human-rights groups condemned the idea of a speedy trial, saying it would take at least a year to prepare for a complicated case like Hussein's. They also challenged the legal right of the U.S. occupation to establish the tribunal and the lack of more international as well as Iraqi participation in that process.

(Complicated? Maybe for the defense.)

I head the same condemnatory sentiments from a trio of academics last night on All Things Considered. To which I say: What in the holy heck is wrong* with these people? Screw human-rights groups, screw academics, screw caring about "legitimacy" in the eyes of "the international community". If it were up to me, Saddam would languish in Guantanamo for three or four years, then he would be turned over to an Iraqi court so kangaroo-like it bounces into its mother's pouch, then he would be released to be strung up by the Iraqi people, a la Mussolini and Ceaucescu.

Then let the self-described "activists" wring their hands so hard they burst into flames.

Cigarettes Can Kill

I don't usually disagree with James Taranto's Best of the Web, but then again, he's not usually so way off-base. Taranto writes:


Michael Bloomberg's New York

High cigarette taxes may be deadlier than secondhand smoke. "A bootleg cigarette war in Brooklyn has claimed the lives of at least three people since the summer," reports the New York Daily News. "With city and state taxes boosting the price of cigarettes, hundreds of streetwise hustlers are selling cheap tax-free smokes--an illegal but lucrative trade that is becoming nearly as cutthroat as dealing drugs."

The most recent victim of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's antismoking crusade: 19-year-old Cody Knox, who was buried Tuesday, "two weeks after he was chased by two fellow bootleggers and fatally stabbed because he was undercutting cigarette prices by a buck, stealing his rivals' business."

Now I'm no fan of higher taxes, but come on. This kid wasn't killed because of higher cigarette taxes. This kid was killed because a couple of no-good thugs killed him. Let's assume that cigarettes were being given away for free on every corner, thus ending the illicit tobacco trade. Anyone willing to kill over a few bucks a pack would sadly have found another outlet for their violent tendencies. Like say, shooting a few unfortunate bodega owners. Who by and large manage to cope with price competition without resorting to murder!

December 17, 2003

The Coalition of the Whiny

Yep, they're wasting no time in making Saddam's capture look bad for us. Jerks.

(Hat tip to Hit & Run)

Victory Is Mine!

I'm sure you've heard the term "South Park Republican" recently. That pretty much describes me. But I'd also say I'm a "Family Guy Republican", so this is just about the best news I've heard all year:


In a sign of the growing importance of DVD sales to Hollywood, 20th Century Fox is considering a plan to resume production of Family Guy, a sometimes crude animated comedy that the Fox network took off the air more than 18 months ago.

Family Guy fans of all political persuasions rejoice! Keep buying the DVDs, because the more you buy, the more likely we'll see new epsiodes!

December 23, 2003

That's Quite Enough Freedom, Thanks

I want whoever was in charge of set design for the Lord of the Rings movies to design the new World Trade Center and memorial. Something Minas-Tirith-like would look good there. Or better yet, a giant tower with a huge flaming eyeball. Or two towers with eyeballs. Anything but the insipid memorial finalists. And whatever anyone does, don't anyone listen to this guy


The Statue of Liberty should be allowed to stand alone without competition. We do not need another symbol of freedom.

Sheesh.

December 24, 2003

Reporters And Teachers Who Don't Know Basic Math...

...and the bloggers who mock them. Joanne Jacobs has the scoop. (Warning: if you think fractions and quadratic equations are hard, you might not understand what is so mockable about these stories...)

December 29, 2003

But Thesauruses are still okay, right?

For various reasons, including computer problems which are no longer an issue, I've been behind in my blogging, but intending to jump back in any minute. As soon as I was inspired to do so.

And lo and behold, someone passes me this story, which sounds like it came from The Onion:

FBI Issues Alert Against Almanac Carriers

The FBI is warning police nationwide to be alert for people carrying almanacs, cautioning that the popular reference books covering everything from abbreviations to weather trends could be used for terrorist planning.

In a bulletin sent Christmas Eve to about 18,000 police organizations, the FBI said terrorists may use almanacs "to assist with target selection and pre-operational planning."

It urged officers to watch during searches, traffic stops and other investigations for anyone carrying almanacs, especially if the books are annotated in suspicious ways.

Fortunately, the FBI is not (yet) calling for a zero tolerance policy:
The FBI noted that use of almanacs or maps may be innocent, "the product of legitimate recreational or commercial activities."
Whew. Glad they cleared that up. I was afraid they were going to start conducting sweeps through bookstores and school libraries, and sending those with suspicious reference books to Guantanamo.

And we pay these people to keep us safe? Have they ever looked at an almanac? The only way one could help a terrorist is if he was using it to study for Jeopardy! so he could win money for future terrorist operations.

Hmm. I wonder if the FBI recommends being suspicious of anybody carrying a computer -- after all, I hear that some computers can access some newfangled invention called the World Wide Web, and that facts can occasionally be found there.

December 30, 2003

Lousy government

In the book The Burden of Bad Ideas, Heather McDonald spends some time on the topic of the New York Times Neediest Cases charity appeal. As a part the appeal, the newspaper highlights a different charity case each day in order to tug at our heartstrings. Her thesis is that the evolution in the types of cases reported by the Times illustrates something important about changes in society. Whereas at the turn of the last century the Times would single out those who were the victims of circumstance -- orphans, those who lost their home in a fire, etc. -- in more recent decades these cases began to be replaced by those who were the "victims" of bad personal choices -- drug abusers, pregnant teenagers, and the like.

But then there's the other sort of case: those who are the victims of government:

She Survived the Khmer Rouge. Now the Language Barrier
That's the headline, but (as is so often the case with the Times) it doesn't reflect the reality of the story. Neary Kiet is a Cambodian immigrant, yes, but she's not a newly-off-the-boat refugee who doesn't speak the language and has no skills. Actually, she has been in the country since 1998, has a "working grasp" of English, and is trained as a hairdresser.

So what's the problem? It's not the economy; she is employed in a salon now. It's not that her skills are poor; in fact, they seem to be fine:

Ms. Kiet proudly shows off her diplomas from USA Beauty School in Chinatown, where she graduated in 2002. She passed her practical exams qualifying her to work on hair, skin and nails.
No, Ms. Kiet's problem is something far more sinister: the government -- the American government, not the Cambodian one -- won't let her work.
She was granted a six-month temporary license which she is allowed to renew twice but she still needs to pass the written New York State Board of Cosmetology exam, which she has failed three times.

Ms. Kiet explained her difficulty: "Like the root of the hair, the cuticle, everyone understands that: `cuticle.' But they have another name for it. And pediculosis. Lice on your head, it's called pediculosis. I thought, `what?' I couldn't understand that name."

Well, I can understand the name (though I don't recall having heard it before); what I can't understand is why anybody would need to know the name in order to be a hairdresser. But, hey, if a salon wants its employees to know the name, fine, that's their business. But why on earth is the government preventing someone from earning a living as a hairdresser simply because she doesn't know it? Since when did hairdresser become a profession from which the public needed to be protected?

Those are rhetorical questions; I know the answers. These sorts of rules may keep Ms. Kiet unemployed, but they provide jobs for many other people: bureaucrats who administer the rules, schools which train people for the exams, companies that develop the exams -- and let's not forget those already in the industry, who face reduced competition thanks to these sorts of barriers to entry. And did I mention bureaucrats?


My point here is not to criticize Ms. Kiet, or the Times' choice in highlighting her situation; she seems like a reasonably worthy cause. Rather, I'm trying to point out how, once again, big government and high taxes work against the public, rather than for us. We have an ambitious immigrant who wants to better herself, who wants to work hard, and the government is interfering. And then the Paul Krugmans of the world rant about the need for even more taxes to fund government to reduce the gap between the rich and poor. As if that's what they're doing with the money.

About December 2003

This page contains all entries posted to Jumping To Conclusions in December 2003. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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