Thursday, February 26, 2004

I am Shocked, Jocked!

Clear Channel, everybody's favorite radio network, has decided to respond to the horror of seeing Janet Jackson's breast on live TV by isssuing new guidelines for their shows. The "Zero Tolerance" policy apparently went into effect on Wednesday. By today they had listened to Howard Stern's show and decided it was inappropriate and suspended him. They also fired "Bubba the Love Sponge" (?). Their reaction seems a little contrived, however. I assume that after some 20 years on the air, they knew what Stern's show consisted of, but they still felt the need to listen to him once before they could announce that they felt he didn't meet their decency standards?

More on the Board

Fester adds some more details to the makeup of the Financial Oversight Board here in Pittsburgh. In particular, he notes that the majority of the board has a strong vested interest in maintaining the city's current (under-)funding structure.

... two of the five members are leaders of companies which are under mercantile tax exemptions. ... Another member, the Duquesne University President is head of a tax free non-profit. ...

Perle of Great Price

Apparently Richard Perle was starting to cost the administration too much goodwill. Having called in recent weeks for the resignation of George Tenet, Colin Powell and DIA head Admiral Lowell Jacoby, he quietly turned in his resignation letter from the Defense Policy Board a week ago. The letter apparently indicates that he doesn't want to become an issue during the President's reelection campaign.

"We are now approaching a long presidential election campaign, in the course of which issues on which I have strong views will be widely discussed and debated," Perle wrote. "I would not wish those views to be attributed to you or the president at any time, and especially not during a presidential campaign."

The implications of this for Iraq policy in the next few months are fascinating. In particular, dumping one of the architects of the "New American Century" may indicate a softening on the US stance regarding multi-lateralism and the United Nations.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Fixing Pittsburgh

The Act 47 authorized city oversight board has been named, and I am shocked, shocked! to see that the board consists entirely of white men over 50. This is probably a result of the structure of the board. Each of a series of stakeholders got to make a single decision &mdash each party in the state house, each party in the state senate, and the governor. With only one choice to make, each had old paybacks and a desire to be risk-averse, which made this makeup of the board pretty much inevitable &mdash nobody ever got fired for buying IBM! (Hmm, does that reference date me?)

While the Post-Gazette thinks we should wait until the board does its job before criticizing it, statements by the Mayor suggest that that may be too long. In the meantime by choosing such a monocultural board, the stakeholders have guaranteed that any decision that is made will be the subject of arguments, fights, and quite possibly lawsuits.

The other fundamental problem with the board is that it is extremely representative of the thinking that got Pittsburgh into this mess in the first place. People wedded either to the idea that Big Steel will come back to save the 'burgh or so thoroughly in bed with the existing Victorian politicial structure, that they seem unlikely to recognize the need for some sort of radical changes. The board's first action has hardly been innovative &mdash they want the city to stop spending money while they look at the problem. While that may be necessary, one would hope that they would already have an idea what the problems are. After all, they are supposed to be insiders and veterans of the smoke-filled rooms.

Without some sort of serious city/suburban compromise on infrastructure funding and support, the heart of the region will start to collapse, and it will take the suburbs down with it. This board seem very unlikely to come up with the sort of significant proposals that will be needed to effect such a change, however. And I fear that even if they do defy the odds and make such suggestions, there will be significant delays before any plan can be implemented. As a consequence, come the fall I expect to see emergency cutbacks that will start to cause serious damage.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Pot Calls Kettle Black

Marc Racicot has accused the Democrats of negative campaigning. As far as I can tell, if you point out that the Repbulicans are running a negative campaign, you are being negative and lowering the tone of the campaign.

The GOP seem to be spending a great deal of time this campaign season asking the Democrats to unilaterally disarm &mdash campaign spending limits, negative campaigning, and other issues. I hope this means that they are starting to feel the pressure, and getting worried. After all, even Fox has Bush's approval numbers down at 48%. Perhaps they are starting to worry that only an October Surprise will save him now.

Notes on Rockingham

NASCAR went to Rockingham, North Carolina, this weekend. As expected, they had to struggle mightily to fill out the field. In the end, the two cars who started last dropped out on laps 1 and 19 for being uncompetitive, but were paid about $54,000 each for showing up. Nice work if you can get it!

Once again, we saw a car flipping down the backstretch, this time on a much lower speed race track. Although it makes for multiply-viewed highlight reels and lots of exposure on the eleven o'clock news, it really isn't good for the sport to lose cars like that. In this case it was one of the field-fillers who wrecked his only car. I guess he won't be showing up to more races any time soon. If this happens again soon, I expect that NASCAR will probably have to take some kind of action in the interests of driver safety.

The TV coverage was amateurishly bad. I can only suppose that Fox has changed directors since their last race in July, or are a little rusty, or something. They managed to cut to commercials during green flag pit stops and seemed to be reveling in pointless information on the grahics that did nothing but fill up the screen and obscure the race. More about useful information and information presentation once I've worked up a good head of steam on the matter.

Meta-Blogging

Apparently it was a year ago today that I started blogging. Which reminds me, I need to file my taxes today &mdash a partial working year has left the IRS owing me some money. In that time, I have apparently had some 8,500 or so visitors (or, to be more accurate, some 15 visitors who have come by 570 times each, or twice a day!)

I have also lost my job, sold my house, bought a new house (save the closing) and lost some 25 lbs. Since I really didn't like my job any more, it's been a pretty good year. Now if I can only persuade someone in Pittsburgh to hire me...

Friday, February 20, 2004

Slow Week

Well, actually it's a slow week for blogging, but it's been a surprisingly busy week for other reasons. Still, I wanted to comment briefly on something odd that I've noticed. In the coverage of the San Francisco Wed-A-Thon, nearly every picture that I've seen in the major media outlets of happy couples has featured two women. I guess it just shows that most photo editors in newspapers are male, or something like that.

Like I said, just something I noticed...

Monday, February 16, 2004

Abstinence

The administration's abstinence program is being promoted at full bore. Now I'm all for reducing teen pregnancy, the spread of STD's and so on, and for the most part I agree with critics who suggest that abstinence-only programs don't work for everyone, or even for most people.

One thing I haven't seen is any study of the effect of abstinence programs on divorce rates which surprises me a bit. I went to high school in rural Utah, where the dominant culture is very conservative and frowns strongly on pre-marital sex. Partially as a result of this, many of my fellow high-school students were rather sexually frustrated[1] and a lot of them were married within a couple of years of graduation, and a lot of them were divorced a few years after that.

I do, of course, have an opinion about why this happened. In the end there are a lot of reasons to get married, but wanting to get laid just doesn't seem to me to be a strong foundation for a life together. At some point you're going to wake up and realize that you've pretty much exhausted the Kama Sutra (link not work-safe), and you don't have much else in common. Unless you can find additional common ground, it seems like divorce is going to look pretty attractive at that point. So where are the studies linking dedicated abstinence-minded teenagers and subsequent divorce rates? Or are there just so few of the former that no study could be statistically significant?


[1] This shouldn't be construed as implying that I wasn't. In addition to being too interested in math by half, I was in the band and on the debate team. 'nuff said...

Daytona Wrapup

As expected, the "Big One" happened. A crash on lap 72 damaged 12 cars (about 1/3 of the remaining field), including a rather spectacular tumble by Michael Waltrip. No one was seriously injured, and the race went on to the unsurprising conclusin that Waltrip's teammate Dale Earnhart Jr won the race. His team, DEI, has been dominant on large tracks for the past few years.

Looking at the photograph linked to above, you might notice that the dominant feature of the picture is not the accident, but the airplane. The race was started by none other than George Bush himself. He even managed with a straight face to claim that this was the people's business, rather than a campaign stop to capture the NASCAR Dad vote, so taxpayers funded his little jaunt down to Florida. (Un?)fortunately, a TiVo miscalculation meant that I missed the Bush portions of the event, and only turned on the race about a quarter of the way in &mdash someone had scheduled the machine to record Star Wars instead of the race. Thus I was spared the spectacle of the motorcade around the track and other key elements of the pre-race show.

One other development may come out of the Waltrip accident. After the tumble, safety crews spent about ten minutes trying to cut the car away from the driver before flipping it back on its wheels. At that point, he climbed out, waved to the crowd, and walked over to the waiting ambulance for a mandatory post-crash checkup. Afterwards, he claimed that he spent the entire 10 minutes telling the safety crew to flip the car over so he could get out, but they wouldn't listen to him and kept trying to cut through the safety cage. Last year some controversy started because NASCAR doesn't have a dedicated race safety crew, or even a single Chief Medical Officer. Instead they use local teams at each venue. These guys are experts at cleaning up after highway accidents and similar events, but don't know much about race cars since they only see them twice a year, at most. Waltrip is an outspoken guy. If he keeps complaining about this long enough, NASCAR may have to relent (as they have on a number of other issues) and finally hire a dedicated safety team to at least run the emergency operation at each track. Most other major racing series have such a group, and NASCAR is way behind the curve on this one.

Release the Hounds

This just in. Ruth Ann Dailey, one of the weird neighborhood columnists for the Post-Gazette, has started attacking Teresa Heinz Kerry as someone unfit to be First Lady. Why? Well, apparently she has yet to forgive Rick Santorum (R - PA) for saying unspeakable things about her late husband, John Heinz (also R - PA). So here we go:

But her record warns us that she'll be more of a character than she will display character. Her lack of graciousness in local politics is particularly startling since it comes from someone to whom the fates have been so generous.

Oh, and for good measure Heinz-Kerry has an inflated sense of her own importance:

To see this in action again, consider Heinz Kerry's decision to change her political affiliation. When she officially became a Democrat last year, a spokesman said Heinz Kerry had "felt for a long time the Republican Party is leaving her."

The 150-year-old party of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan is abandoning the dictates of an heiress's conscience?

I'm not entirely convinced that Abraham Lincoln or Teddy Roosevelt would recognize today's GOP, and <CheapShot> I'm pretty sure that Ronald Reagan doesn't recognize anything at the moment </CheapShot>.

Job Qualifications

Chuck notes the impending trade of Alex "A-Rod" Rodriguez to the Yankees, mostly to cut their payroll. In the course of his commentary he notes:

Tom Hicks is quickly cementing a reputation as the dumbest owner in Major League Baseball, and this would finalize it.

Now I assume that Tom Hicks is the owner of the Rangers (I really don't follow baseball much &mdash a natural reaction to living in the same town as the Pirates &mdash but I digress) in which case, I would assume that being dumb is pretty much either a job requirement, or an unavoidable hazard. After all, look at the miserable failure who used to own them!

Friday, February 13, 2004

The Importance of Being Perfectly Clear

Via NTK today, I found myself reading &mdash with the level of fascination normally reserved for a car wreck at the side of the road &mdash A Family Proposal. Now I spent a fair amount of time in a mountain state that is normally considered stranger than Colorado, but Bill is ... odd.

Racing

The Daytona qualifying races were held yesterday, and the starting grid for the race on Sunday was set. As expected, two people of whom almost nobody has heard went home. The only interesting development is that apparently NASCAR and GoodYear have got together and spec'd a truly awful tire for this race. It is very soft so it gives good grip for the first 5-10 laps of each stint, and then no grip whatsoever for the rest of the stint (25-35 laps is the fuel window). This actually opens up the remote possibility that race tactics will have to be employed! In fact it is possible that this year's race will have some racing, instead of 3 1/2 hours of 43 cars driving very fast inches from each others bumpers (until "The Big One" reduces the field by half). But I'm not holding my breath.

Friday Fiddling

Once again I have had the chance to play with Blogger's template editing features, and once again I understand why people who do this sort of thing a lot switch to another system (say, Movable Type). In an attempt to get around the teeny-tiny window that Blogger gives you to edit the template it, I cut'n'pasted to a text editor on my system, made some changes and cut'n'pasted back again. Two hours later, I think I've sorted out the mess caused by flying line breaks and mysteriously disappearing characters.

Anyway, I've recategorized my sidebar to better reflect my blogscanning. The Pittsburgh section is my attempt to start to emulate the Rocky Top Brigade of Tennessee. So far these are the 'Burgh blogs that I've found, but I'd like to hear about any others. Friends are people who I knew (or at least met) in the flesh before I started blogging. I figure that since these are sites I hit pretty regularly to find out what's up with them, I'd like to keep them distinct and accessible. The Blogroll is what's left, aimed mainly at sites I visit at least once a week. I also re-ordered it alphabetically since a number of the more prolific sites (e.g., Eschaton) don't seem to ping Weblogs.com anyway, so they never move around in the recent update order.

Hey, it's a slow day!

Friday Fiddling

Once again I have had the chance to play with Blogger's template editing features, and once again I understand why people who do this sort of thing a lot switch to another system (say, Movable Type). In an attempt to get around the teeny-tiny window

On the Subject of Hypocrisy

There was a story on Morning Edition today about the apparently succesful cloning of a human embryo in South Korea. The story included the following comment (any transcription errors are mine):

[Senator] Brownback [R-KS] says he's disappointed by the news from South Korea, and he is sorry the South Korean scientists proceeded before the world opinion has had a chance to reach a consensus.

Brownback's insistence on a sovereign nation's need to wait for world opinion to catch up with it seems to be a new development, however.

Changing the Tune

Senator Rick Santorum, in an article about the transportation bill in today's Post-Gazette (I can't find it online there, but the LA Times original is here):

Added Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.): "The signal we're sending here is the throttle is still wide open. We're going to spend, spend, spend."

That was from the original article, but the local version goes on to add:

Santorum later published a statement critical of the bill's funding formula: "To me, it's an outrage that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is being treated in this fashion. It's unlikely that the proposed 19 percent increase for Pennsylvania over six years will keep pace with inflation, amounting to a cut in Pennsylvania's highway funding."

As far as I can tell, he is criitcizing the bill for both spending too much and not spending enough! But more than that. Throughout the 90's the GOP claimed that a dollar increase in funding was a funding increase, whether or not it kept up with inflation &mdash mostly in relation to medicare and other great society programs.

Now it appears that even an dollar increase of almost one fifth over six years is actually a funding decrease. Of course, according to this page, the forecast rate of inflation right now is 1.88%, so I'm not entirely sure how 19% over six years fails to keep up with that either.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Satisfaction

Our driveway has a flat bit at the top outside our garage, and a sloping bit down to a road. I have been very careful all winter to keep the sloping bit clear and dry so that we don't often have to take the car down in a four-wheel skid, and so the VW (Front-wheel drive) can access the house. The Subaru doesn't have any trouble at all, but I digress.

Two warm (i.e., above freezing) days in a row prompted me to tackle the flat part of the driveway this week. I managed to remove the ice covering it, which turned out to be a slab that varied from one to two inches thick! In the middle of an apparently futile job search, it is rather satisfying to actually achieve something by main force &mdash two shovels and a lot of hard graft.

Monday, February 09, 2004

Runup to Daytona

Pole qualifying for the NASCAR Daytona 500 was yesterday, and the pole sitter is a surprise, as was last year's pole winner. Greg Biffle is so little known that the Post-Gazette spelled his name "Biddle" in the back page headline for the story. Daytona qualifying is a little odd and drawn-out, so we don't know who will be where in the race outside the front row. We do know, however, that with only 45 qualifiers looking for 43 starting spots, nearly everyone who shows up will get a berth. last year there 51 cars entered for qualifying, the year before 53. Now racing is an expensive sport, but NASCAR can't be happy at the drop off in interest at the highest level just as the new series sponsor takes over. This also doesn't bode well for races in smaller markets this year &mdash tradionally there are a number of teams that only attempt the marquee events (Daytona, Talladega, Indianapolis) and can't afford to go to smaller venues.

Encouraging Signs

It's probably too early to be hopeful about November, but as I listened to the election coverage on NPR over the last week, I couldnt' help but feel faint stirrings of optimism in my gut. Over and over again in the coverage of the elections the person-on-the-street interviews expressed an overwhelming desire to defeat Bush by any means necessary. Since these are, in theory, partisan Democrats speaking, that in itself wouldn't be much of a story. When it is attached to the fact that turnout in the primaries and caucuses is much heavier than expected, I can't help but hope that the President's negative ratings are strong enough to drive a heavy turnout in November for whomever the Democratic nominee is. Of course, that could all be negated by an October Surprise. (That's my pathetic attempt at pre-emptive googlebombing).

In the meantime, I have long thought that Kerry would make the President of the Democratic nominees. I have not been so sure that he would make the best candidate. However, with electability apparently being the biggest issue on primary voters' minds, and Kerry sweeping the field the way that he is, I am willing to concede on the second opinion and hold fast on the first.

Friday, February 06, 2004

Local News

Fester has already pointed this out, but Pittsburgh has received some new government largesse in the form of a light rail subsidy to pull the system under the Allegheny river and onto the North Shore. While this is all fine and dandy, and I support the expansion of mass transit, I've got to wonder why this is so little. The map shows the total extension to the North shore is two stations within easy walking distance (over the Clemente Bridge) of the existing route.

The article seems to imply that this is to encourage use of new commuter garages going up on the North shore, but the hike in the parking tax should be doing that already with no problem. While the north shore garages will remain at $6-7/day, the city garages are going up to $12/day or more. That's going to bring people out of downtown whatever the transit system does. If you are going to stretch the light rail to the north (which is a good thing &mdash it will be closer to our house) then stretch it. Get a line running up the Parkway North or something and put the park'n'rides further away. According to the traffic reports on the radio, the congestion in town isn't downtown, it's on the freeways leading back to the suburbs. This "solution" doesn't address that issue at all, it just raises the possilbility that a couple of mostly empty bridges will be less used.

The Week in Racing

The week started promisingly with the Rolex 24 12 hours of Daytona. It was meant to be a 24 hour race, but astoundingly heavy rain put pretty much 12 of the hours under either the yellow or the red flag &mdash no racing! That made it much easier to watch on the TiVo, however, since I skipped a solid 3 hours of morning coverage in less than 5 minutes. As a result of the lack of racing, attrition was surprisingly low, and the race was close enough that when the leading car from Howard-Boss developed suspension trouble (well, its wheel fell off) some 20 minutes from the end of the race, the next four cars on track passed them and they were bumped off the overall podium, although they still took 3rd in class. For a race that has been won by a solid 30 laps (maybe 45 minutes on the track) that's considered very close indeed.

CART has decided to follow NASCAR's lead and go for a Special Olympics-like points system &mdash everybody scores a point! Yesterday a new points system was unveiled that gives points all the way down to 20th place, up from the 12 points scorers under the old system. I am somewhat doubtful that any of the races this year will field 20 cars, so that is essentially an appearance bonus for even the slowest of drivers. But I could be surprised by the field. Officially there are 13 teams listed on the CART web site, but only 19 cars.

Meanwhile over in F1-world, silly season is continuing long past its regular use-by date. Bernie Ecclestone, normally referred to as the "F1 Supremo" has suggested that the series will be leaving Europe for good. Why? Because tobacco companies are finding it harder and harder to advertise there, and too many teams are sucking at the hind teat of big tobacco. Since all the teams are based in Europe, and most of them in England, this would lead to significant additional travel costs and stresses for them, so it is unlikely to happen soon. In the meantime, Imola is apparently hosting its last race this year. That makes sense however &mdash if the series is trying to expand its global reach, the first place that cuts should be made is in the countries that have two Grands Prix already, Germany and Italy. Imola was Italy #2, and I would expect the Nurburgring to follow it soon.

Finally (for F1,anyway) Eddie Jordan and Jos Verstappen are still playing footsie, even though it was announced that talks between the owner (Jordan) and the driver had broken down. During testing last week, the EJ-14 was displaying advertising for Jos's main sponsor, which suggests that Eddie is still trying to woo him.

Over here in NASCAR land, the season kicks off this weekend with the non-points race for last year's pole sitters, the Bud Shootout. It's at Daytona, I think it's at night, and I'll probably watch it because by this time of year any racing is good racing.

Update: Well that didn't take long. It's only a few hours after I wrote the above, and Verstappen is stating that all talks with Jordan are at an end. This leaves Jordan with only one of it's two drivers named, and just a month until the team needs to be in Melbourne qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix.

I also edited for sense and a couple of typos.

Monday, February 02, 2004

Playing Games with the Law

Today's paper profiled a recently developed Patriot Act Game, which is intended to help people undertand the consequences of the law. A few details:

The object of the game? Get every player to Freedom Corner before the homeland security threat level reaches "severe" and the player holding the "snitch" card turns everyone in to Attorney General John Ashcroft.
The brightly colored game is a takeoff on Monopoly -- but instead of "No Visitors Allowed" on the Jail square, it's "No Lawyers or Visitors Allowed." Instead of play money, there are "freedom fries." Players who have game tokens that are colored red, white and blue are at a greater advantage than those with tokens colored black, brown or yellow. "Community Chest" and "Chance" cards have been replaced by cards named "Justice," "Surveillance," "Protest" and "History."

Elizabeth Male, a law student and member of the Federalist society, found the game to be "not particularly fair and balanced." (Can anyone actually use that expression with a straight face?)

"The reality is, we didn't have blond-haired, blue-eyed Swedes flying planes into buildings on Sept. 11th," said Male. "As much as we would like to not racially profile people, the facts are what they are.

Hmmm... Driving rental trucks full of ANFO into a building, however, is something completely different, I guess.

Raising the BAR

British American Racing has revealed the BAR 006 to resounding yawns from the crowd. The car itself looks to be a workmanlike construction. They have some kind of weird circular wing-thingy above the sidepods, and fairly ordinary front and rear wings. Their biggest problem last year was reliability, which is a bit embarrassing for Honda who are pouring a lot of resources into engines that seemed to turn to shrapnel with alarming frequency.

This year the one engine per race meeting rule is going to make it that much harder for the cars to compete effectively. Despite this Dave Richards, the team principal, is claiming that this is the year that they will effectively challenge the top three teams -- McLaren, Ferrari, and Williams. Yeah right. Why not set the sights a little lower and aim to produce the first race win that you promised would happen six years ago?