Archive for October, 2006
There are some things in life I’ll never understand. Like this, for instance.
I understand why a three-year old would play the “Crane” carnival game to try and get a stuffed Spongebob Squarepants toy.
I understand why he’d crawl into the machine through a small opening after failing to get the toy with the crane.
I understand why the boy’s grandmother would be a nervous wreck when the arcade owner told her he couldn’t find the key and had to call the local fire department.
I understand how the boy would find all of this very amusing, rolling around inside the machine and hugging all the stuffed animals.
I understand how relieved everyone would be when the firefighters passed the three-year old a screwdriver, and talked him through opening the interior latches on the machine to free himself.
What I don’t understand is why, after having a 3-year old crawl into your machine, losing the key, calling the fire department, and watching as the firemen talk the 3-year old through freeing himself, why – after this entire, gut-wrenching ordeal – you would make the decision to send him home WITHOUT THE STUFFED SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS TOY!!!!
I mean, come on already, hasn’t the kid been through enough?
A quote from our potential next Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi:
The gavel of the speaker of the House is in the hands of special interests, and now it will be in the hands of America’s children.
Heh…well, she certainly acts like it sometimes, that’s for sure…
Does this mean we can give Congress a “time out” if we don’t like how they handle things?
Jason Bennion reports on this article, which heralds the extinction of the famed Pink Flamingo lawn ornament. It seems Union Products of Leominster, MA is going out of business due to increased costs, loss of financing, and because seriously – who buys pink flamingos anymore?
Robert Thompson, professor of popular culture at Syracuse University, provides the money quote:
Let’s face it – as iconic emblems of kitsch, there are two pillars of cheesy, campiness in the American pantheon. One is the velvet Elvis. The other is the pink flamingo.
But then, the principle of scarcity sets in. We all desire what we cannot have. Take Mike Smollon, firefighter from Boynton Beach, FL (had to be from Florida, eh?):
“I never owned a pink flamingo before,” Smollon said. “To be honest, I used to think this was the kind of a thing only a girl would put in her yard. But when I found out the factory was closing, I thought, ‘This is something historical happening.’ “
Smollon went to the factory and bought 11 sets of pink flamingos and one set of the commemorative gold flamingos that were made for 2007, which would have been the bird’s 50th birthday. He plans to keep a few and give the rest to flamingo-loving friends.
It gets better. He looked up the former president of Union Products, got him to autograph a couple of the birds, as well as a copy of his book, “The Original Pink Flamingos: Splendor on the Grass.” Here’s a man who will be sad to see the demise of our faux-feathered friends.
But wait! A small sliver of hope exists! The article is contains this picture, which is accompanied by the following caption:
FOR THE RECORD:
The article in Thursday’s Section A about Union Products ending production of its patented pink flamingo lawn ornament after 49 years included a photo of flamingos in a frontyard in Ventura. The ornaments shown were not made by Union Products.
If there were ever a case for evolution, this is it. A new strain of pink flamingo has been discovered in the wild. Hopefully, this species will find ways to propogate more successfully than the genetically inferior Flamingus Unionus Productus, who lost out to its most common natural predator – red ink.
Back in August, researchers posited a theoretical device that could make something invisible.
Today, they built one.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average broke 12,000 today (although it ended the day just shy of that mark, but still at a record high of 11,992.68). In honor of the event, here is some interesting trivia:
Time it took the DJIA to go from 10,000 to 11,000: 24 days Time it took the DJIA to go from 11,000 to 12,000: 7.5 years Increase in the DJIA thus far in October, 2006: 312 points Number of record highs set by the DJIA in the past two weeks: 7
What I like about this rally is that it isn’t a crazy climb into the stratosphere like we saw in 1999 and 2000. It seems more measured. Yes, the last two weeks have been impressive, but if the market stabilized for a while (or even went down a bit) in the next couple of weeks, I’d view that as good news. The more cautious investors are about bidding up stocks, the more likely they are to stay at those levels, rather than plummet back to earth when everyone realizes what they’ve done.
What the heck do I know – I’m just guessing like everybody else…
Finally, the only thing that can stop the persistent iPhone rumors: An iPhone.
The new Lancet Report is out, and the media headlines are saying “Study estimates 655,000 deaths due to Iraq war.”
The last time Lancet issued a report (November, 2004), the headlines said “Study estimates 100,000 deaths due to war.” At the time, though, very few articles were talking about confidence factors. What the 2004 report actually said, was that with a 95% confidence factor, the number of excess deaths (deaths over and above the amount expected to die in the same time period prior to the war) was somewhere between 8,000 and 194,000. Quite a range, huh? At the time, this reflected the poor conditions in Iraq, the difficulty in collecting the data, the lack of a random sample, etc. In order to narrow the range of the estimate, researchers would have had to lower the confidence factor. Logic dictates that pinning the number of dead to a single number (100,000) makes the confidence factor approach zero. In other words, it was just as likely that 8,000 people had been killed as it was that 194,000 were killed, and we had absolutely zero confidence in a single number like 100,000.
This time around, the confidence ranges are better, but still large: Total excess deaths is estimated at somewhere between 392,979 and 942,636 (95% confidence factor again). Violent deaths are estimated at somewhere between 426,369 and 793,663. The report also re-examines the first 18 months of the war (the span used for the 2004 report), and has narrowed the estimate to somewhere between 69,000 and 155,000. Better, but still a ~50% swing in both directions from the publicized 100,000 number.
No matter, though. Years from now, the only thing we’ll remember is “655,000 killed due to Iraq war.” File this one away with the NIE that said the war was creating more terrorists, even though that’s not what it said at all.
The report itself is only 8 pages long, but as is typical, most people will gladly read dozens of pages of commentary, rather than read the actual 8 pages in question. If we take the time, though, we notice Page 3, which provides the raw data from which the estimates were drawn. And when we look at the raw data, the numbers don’t seem to add up:
Researchers interviewed 12,801 people in 1,849 households and recorded 629 deaths in the past 54 months. Of these, 82 (13%) occurred prior to the invasion, and 547 (87%) occurred after the invasion. Of the post-invasion deaths, the raw data says that 247 (46%) were non-violent (e.g., heart disease, cancer) and 300 (55%) were violent (e.g., gunfire, explosive device, car bomb).
Now, if the 629 deaths, extrapolated across all of Iraq, comes to an estimated 654,965, then the number of post invasion, violent deaths should be 654,965 x 87% x 55%, which is 313,400 (as opposed to the 601,027 that is mentioned in the oft-quoted report summary). Either I’m missing something big here, or something is drastically wrong. Either way, I’m amazed that no one in the blogosphere has noted and/or explained this discrepancy…
I heard this over the weekend, but haven’t seen much coverage of it in the mainstream news:
Cory Lidle’s doomed plane didn’t just crash into anybody’s apartment.
It exploded into the empty bedroom of Kathleen Caronna, the Manhattan woman who was critically injured when a balloon knocked part of a lamppost onto her head during the 1997 Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Ms. Caronna was on her way home at the time, so the damage this time was emotional, rather than physical. Still, she’s gotta start feeling like the city is out to get her, no?
I blogged recently about how intelligent Bill Clinton sounds today, now that we’ve spent the last six years listening to George W. Bush mangle the art of public speaking. So imagine my surprise when I watched Bill Maher interview John Kerry on his HBO show, Real Time, and began longing for the content-rich, issue-oriented nature of a good Bush speech? Seriously. Many things have happened since the 2004 election that made me uncomfortable with the fact that I voted for Bush, but listening to this interview removed any “buyer’s remorse” (Maher’s words) that I might have felt. Not that I’m suddenly pleased with Bush’s performance, but I had forgotten just how vapid and digressive Kerry could be.
Let’s walk through it, shall we? News Busters has posted the transcript.
Maher: You took the high road [in the 2004 campaign], and lost. If you took the low road, do you think you would have won?
Kerry: I thought Americans really wanted to hear more about health care, the environment, energy independence, the real war on terror. And, obviously, [Republican] attacks make a difference. The great lesson is, and it’s a lesson for everybody in ’06 is don’t give ‘em an instant. Don’t give ‘em a breath of daylight, and if I ever do anything again I never will.
Really? Kerry thought we wanted to hear more about health care and the environment? Could have fooled me. I guess he’d claim that the Republican attacks on his character/war record forced him to constantly debate Homeland Security and the War on Terror, and ignore issues like health care and the environment. Fine. Let’s set aside the concept of “controlling the message” as a qualification for being President, and assume that’s true. Then certainly, in an interview with the left-leaning Bill Maher, he’ll take the opportunity to discuss these things, right? All he needs is for Bill to ask him an open ended question, so he can segue into one of these important issues…
Maher: So, what can you do differently when you run in 2008?
There it is! Here comes the platform speech…
Kerry: Look, um, we’re in a very different place from where we were two years ago. We were one year away from the start of the war. Katrina has just torn away the curtain, and all of America is seeing that there clearly isn’t any wizard behind the curtain. This is a failed policy beyond anybody’s imagination. And I think everybody understands that now. We have a Katrina foreign policy. I mean how can these guys possibly protect the United States of America from terrorists when they can’t even protect us from Congressman Mark Foley. These people are incompetent. I’ve never seen anything like it. You know, you have the Dubai ports, you have Katrina where CNN is broadcasting what’s happening at the Superdome, and they’re sitting there trying to pretend to America we didn’t know people were there. Every step you go here, there’s a disconnect to the real lives of Americans, and I think the American people know that now, so that we’re going to have an easier time making a clearer, simpler message.
OK, you know that sound that cartoon characters make after they’ve been hit in the head with a piano, and they need to make all the stars that are circling their heads disappear? Please imagine that sound now, because I don’t know how to spell it.
In one paragraph, Kerry has revitalized every flaw in his failed 2004 campaign. He was asked how he would differ from President Bush, and he spouted forth a laundry list of “bad for Bush” talking points. He never mentioned himself once, never mentioned a policy proposal, and never suggested a course of action. He also strayed away from the facts just enough to give even a below-average Republican spin-meister room to discredit what he’s said (examples: two years ago, we were one year into the war, not one year away from it. Also, Katrina was one year ago, so two years ago, it hadn’t torn anything away from anybody). For a guy who just finished telling us what he thinks we want to hear about, he is sure in no hurry to tell us. And this is what he calls a “clearer, simpler message.” Moving on:
Maher: What’s wrong with being like Western Europe in the ways they’re better than us? For example, you mentioned Katrina, I think if we could build levees like they do in Holland…
Kerry: I’m with you. I think that Americans have really realized that they’re not going to fall prey to the games these guys play anymore. I think the card has worn thin. You know, every time something happens in America, that begins to nibble away at the perception that these guys know what they’re doing they trot out the fear card. And they play the fear card again and again, and every time we did something, you’d turn around and there was an orange alert, there was a red alert. I don’t think there has been any fundamental alerts since the election. But, more importantly, I think what Americans really care about is what’s happening here. They don’t worry about Europe, they don’t need to worry about Europe. They’ve seen an administration that’s screwing up the marketplace, they’re losing jobs, their health care is disappearing, their pensions are disappearing, they see executives walking away with unbelievable golden parachutes while the average worker is struggling to pay the tuition, pay the gas bill and make things work. So, I’m not worried about what’s happening in Europe. I’m worried about what’s happening right here. And I think that’s what most Americans are concerned about today, Bill. And, I think there’s going to be a profound shift in about five weeks when we have the elections.
More of the same. A question about Katrina provides a good opportunity to talk about investing more in levee construction, improving the Army Corps of Engineers, or even restructuring our emergency response to natural disasters. Instead, we get “the fear card,” “screwed up marketplace,” “losing jobs,” “disappearing health care & pensions,” “golden parachutes” and “struggles paying tuition and the gas bill.” Vote for me because Bush is awful! At least he’s consistent. And again, the facts are suspect: The threat level at airports just went to “Red” for the first time in history this past August (when the London bomb plot was foiled). The economy’s added 1.7 million jobs in the last 12 months (and 6.6 million since August, 2003). And gas prices have fallen 74 cents since early August (source).
When is Kerry going to realize that the only votes he’s winning with this stuff are the people who already believe in President Chimpy McBushitler? When the campaign comes around, the Republicans will have answers prepared for each of these charges. Right or wrong, true or false, Kerry and his Republican challenger will debate these arguments for weeks on end, keeping the debate squarely where the Republicans want it. And at the end of the day, no one will have any idea what Kerry plans to do as President, and they’ll vote for the other guy (gal?). Then the moral outrage will begin, followed by claims of voter fraud, and we’ll spend another four years talking about the “stolen election” and Karl Rove’s dirty tricks. Yawn…
Barbra Streisand is on tour again (for what Variety is calling her “return-farewell tour”). The reviews are generally good – lots of Broadway showtunes, heartfelt ballads and classic standards. The only complaint most critics have is, ironically, the political commentary. Streisand has long played upon the common misperception that famous people are automatically well-informed and intelligent people as well. And so, she insists on taking advantage of the microphone, the stage, and the media attention that always surrounds her to enlighten us with her views on politics, morality, and the American way of life. If you don’t believe me, check out her website, which contains several political “Statements” on the homepage, but requires you to click through to find out anything about her music or other entertainment-related ventures.
All of this is well and good for the casual fan, who can buy her albums, listen to her music, watch her movies, etc. and ignore the political commentary if he/she wishes. But put a few thousand of them in Madison Square Garden, charge them anywhere from $150-$750 for the ticket, and watch how quickly the patience level drops when the music is interrupted for a lesson on representative democracy. Things get even worse when the commentary turns into sketch comedy (a la Saturday Night Live), complete with a George W. Bush impersonator. Here’s how E! Online described the scene:
[Babs:]“How would the President erase the national debt?
[Bush:]“Sell Canada; they don’t use half of it.”
[Babs:]How does Bush feel about his low approval ratings?
[Bush:]“If I cared about polls, I would have run for President of Poland.”
Some fans began to tire of the twosome’s routine, with one man going so far as to shout, “What is this, a fundraiser?”
Apparently, Babs can dish it out, but she can’t take it.
“Why don’t you shut the f— up?” she shouted back to the delight of her more sycophantic fans. “If you can’t take a joke, why don’t you leave and get your money back.”
Apparently, the man did just that. He left, and Streisand’s people refunded his money. The Daily Intelligencer spoke with some people about the incident after the show:
Among Streisand’s most natural constituency these things went over only somewhat better. “She’s got balls,” said George Gustafson, 49, of New Haven, after the show. He was there with his partner Gary Gustafson, also 49, but Gary wasn’t as forgiving. “He’s the leader of our country, and I think we should respect him.” Oy. On her way out, a woman behind us muttered, “We’re not paying money to see politics.”
And Variety panned it as well:
The angry audience member was a disgruntled Republican, responding to some ill-considered shtick involving George W. Bush impersonator Steve Bridges. No matter what side of the political fence you’re on, the material was lame. . . . The belabored spoken interludes don’t dampen the spell of Streisand’s singing, but they feel pat and counterfeit next to the real, expressive personality in her vocals. That’s why the lapse in self-control and the unleashed expletive were almost welcome.
The irony here is palpable. Streisand is in her hometown, New York City, where her popularity is arguably at its highest, and where the political climate is generally welcoming to anti-Bush or anti-Republican material. Nonetheless, people who are willing to shell out $750 to hear her sing are telling her loud and clear: We don’t care what you think of the President, the war, or the country. Shut up and sing another song.
Maybe this farewell tour should be the real deal, huh?
(SIDE NOTE: Blogger’s spell checker doesn’t recognize “Streisand.” It’s suggestion? “Stressing.” Hah!)
UPDATE: Audience members and other fans have begun writing to newspapers & websites with basically the same message: Shut up and sing!