Saturday, January 28, 2006


With their win over Memphis last night, the Pistons improved their record to 36-5. I'm always on the look-out for teams in any sport that manage to amass a 35-5 record to start the season. The reason for this is my beloved 1984 Detroit Tigers, who set the record for baseball's best record after 40 games at 35-5 en route to a World Series championship. I figured that the Pistons, who have now matched the Tigers' feat and followed it up with another win, would easily have the record for the best start in NBA history. After all, Major League Baseball's regular season is almost twice as long as the NBA's regular season. As it turns out, the best record 40 games into the NBA season is a stunning 37-3, a mark that has been reached by three different teams (da Bulls in 1995-96, The Lakers in 1971-72, and the Sixers in 1966-67). Every NBA that has amassed a record of 35-5 or better at the start of the season has gone on to win the NBA title (so far).

Friday, January 27, 2006

Courting Disaster

I had a very strange dream a few nights ago. I dreamt that I was the newest member of the Supreme Court. I really haven't been paying all that much attention to the Alito confirmation hearings, so I'm not sure why the high court was on my mind. In my dream, I had no recollection of the confirmation hearings that I presumably went through before becoming the court's youngest and least-qualified member. Apparently, the stature of the court was no longer what it once was (possibly due to my confirmation) so instead of hearing cases in Washington, DC, the justices all travelled to the plaintiff's hometown and held court in a local courthouse or possibly a school gymnasium. My first case was located, conveniently enough, in Ithaca, NY, so I headed down there and met up with my new colleagues.

My waking self could probably pick 4-5 of the current Supreme Court justices out of a lineup, but when I arrived in Ithaca, I didn't recognize any of them. They all must have figured that I knew who they were because they didn't introduce themselves when they shook my hand. I was freaking out at this point. I knew it was only a matter of time before my complete ignorace of constitutional law would be exposed. I started trying to figure out people's names by process of elimination, but I couldn't even eliminate Clarence Thomas from the group. There were a couple guys who had darker colored skin, but neither looked like Thomas (or African-Americans, for that matter).

After the introductions, we all headed to the courthouse. I didn't know any details about the case until we arrived. The case involved a man who had donated a bunch of signs to the city of Ithaca. Some of them were the orange pylons that construction crews put on the road when they are doing construction, some where the yellow signs they put in the bathroom after they mop the floor. The problem was that some of the signs had religious symbols and messages on them (crucifixes, Bible verses, etc.). The question was whether or not it was constitutional for the city to use these signs in public places. The justices started giving their opinions and citing precedents, one after the other. Meanwhile, I was thinking to myself how stupid the whole thing was. I was about to blurt out "Who the hell cares!" during the debate, but I stopped because I realized that such an outburst might expose me as a fraud. If I was going to convince people that I was fit to be a Supreme Court justice, I had to care about the constitutionality of a municipality accepting a gift of traffic cones with Biblical verses painted on them. I woke up before I had to give my expert legal opinion on the issue, thankfully.

I wonder how often real Supreme Court justices feel the way I did in my dream? The cases that make it all the way to the Supreme Court are generally pretty important, but a lot of times, it seems like the justices have to split an excessive number of hairs to arrive at a ruling. We may someday have a case where the justices rule 9-0 in favor of who gives a damn.


Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Worst Dictator Ever, Again

Parade Magazine published its annual survey of the world's worst dictators this week (read my review of last year's installment here). There were no major upsets in the world of tyranny last year. The top three dictators from the year before, Omar al-Bashir (Sudan), Kim Jong-il (North Korea), and Than Shwe (Myanmar) held onto their spots at the top of this dubious fraternity (still no ladies in the top 20). The big mover this year was Uzbekistan's Islam Karimov, who shot up from 15th place into 5th thanks to the massacre his regime engineered at Andijan in May. Iran's Ayatollah Khamane'i shot up from 18 place into ninth, presumably due to saber rattling on the part of Iran's new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. As the author notes, both Muammar Qaddafi and Pervez Musharraf have moved out of the top ten this year, "not because their conduct has improved but because other dictators have gotten worse."

I thought Hu Jintao was overrated at number four last year, and I still think that he is overrated at number six this year. Of the 20 countries listed in this year's survey, China is the only one that I would even think about living in, and one of the few that I would even consider visiting. China is of course run by a very repressive regime, but they at least give some of their citizens the chance to live a life that would be considered somewhat normal by free world standards. I don't think you can say the same thing for Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, or Iran, three countries supposedly governed by more benign dictatorships than China.

This was definitely a tough year for dictators, no one got any rewards for good behavior this year. There was no mention of Saudi Arabia's small experiment with democracy and the author chose to criticize China for having no minimum wage instead of complimenting them on their continued economic expansion.

I still can't figure out why Parade Magazine devotes one issue a year to ranking the world's worst dictators. My cynical side says its yet another installment in the campaign to inspire irrational fears in the hearts and minds of Americans, which will in turn increase their appetite for "news" stories about things that they should be afraid of. Why else would a magazine that makes Reader's Digest look like The New Yorker spend any time writing about geopolitical affairs?


The Frozen Tundra

The AV Club has a good feature this week ranking their top XXII Superbowl highlight reels produced by NFL Films. As you would expect, most of them (8) are from the John Facenda era. I haven't seen all of the films included in this list, but I have seen at least a handful of them. Of the ones that I've seen, I'd have to go with Superbowl III as my all-time favorite (#2 on the AV Club's list). If anyone can find a recording of that corny Joe Namath fight song that they play in the film, please send out a link to it.


Monday, January 23, 2006

The Truth is Stranger Than Satire

As a fan of both satire and sports, I initially held out a lot of hope for publications devoted to sports satire, such as Sports Pickle and The Onion's Sports Section. More often than not, I find the stories that they write lacking in humor, creativity, and wit. I have come to realize the real news that comes out of the sports world is usually so ridiculous, tragic, ironic, or funny that trying to satirize it is generally an exercise in futility.

Nothing illustrates this point better than this recent post on Deadspin. The post is a bitterly sarcastic take on the new Ultimate Arena Paintball League, a renegade extreme sports league that was either too cheap or too stupid to acquire the rights to for their official league website.

Until the sporting world decides to stop providing us with Fark-quality headlines on a daily basis, get your sports humor fix from places like Deadspin or even your local sports section, where the truth is always stranger than fiction, and usually funnier to boot.


Sunday, January 22, 2006

Fascist Gourmet

We do a lot of Chinese and Asian Fusion cooking at home, so we are no strangers to the mushroom section at our local Wegmans. My favorite mushroom variety is the tasty and versatile shiitake. The conveniently pre-sliced shiitake's that we usually get are grown in Avondale, PA by our good friends at To-Jo Fresh Mushrooms.

Am I the only one who finds it strange that a company that grows Japan's most treasured mushroom has a name eerily reminiscent of that country's wartime Prime Minister and convicted war criminal, Hideki Tojo? What's next? Hit-Ler's Choice sauerkraut? I'm guessing To-Jo is a combination of two red-blooded American names like Tom and Joe and is neither a tribute to Imperial Japan nor a deliberate attempt at irony.


Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Superbowl Shuffle

The Superbowl is coming, which means that it's time for companies to start blitzing the airwaves with promotions that promise a free trip to the Superbowl for a few lucky customers. We saw a couple of these commercials on TV last night, one sponsored by Sprint and the other by Burger King. It seemed like business as usual, until Michelle pointed out that neither ad mentioned where the Superbowl is being held this year (Detroit). I'm not positive, but it seems like in the past, these promotions included the destination in the commercial, i.e. win a trip to Jacksonville to watch Superbowl XXXIX. I checked out the online versions of these promotions today. Sprint doesn't mention the destination on their contest page, but Burger King does. I can understand how a free trip to Detroit in February (or any month of the year, for that matter) isn't as enticing as one to San Diego or Miami, but I would think the number of people who would be interested enough in a free trip to Superbowl to buy the sponsor's product would be roughly the same regardless of where the game was being played.


Friday, January 13, 2006

Where Dinner Is the Show

I'm going to do my best Ace Cowboy impression and write about some news of the weird from Long Island and the New York Rangers. Check out this story about a guy who died from complications after neck surgery. Neck surgery that was required after he "wrenched his neck" dodging a flying shrimp at a Benihana restaurant. A staggering, yet statistically insignificant, number of people die undignified deaths every year in this country, but this has to be one of least dignified ones that I've come across in a while. Could you imagine having to tell your family, friends, co-workers, etc. that one of your loved ones was done in by a flying shrimp? The family is suing Benihana for $10 million. It seems to me that suing the hospital where the neck surgery was performed or possibly even Jackie Chan would be a better legal strategy, but I am not a lawyer so I don't really know how these things work.

In happier news, the Rangers retired Mark Messier's number last night. I haven't been paying much attention to hockey this season, but I caught the end of the game and it really reminded me of what I like about hockey. For starters, the game was exciting. Jagr won the game for the Rangers 14 seconds into overtime after the Oilers failed to maintain control of the puck after winning the opening face-off. Both coaches wore a 'C' on the lapels of their suits in honor of Messier. They televised the three stars of the game ritual after the game, which was something that I had nearly forgotten about. Even Jagr, who is a prima donna by NHL standards, at least acted like he was happy to have been named the number one star of the night and acknowledged the crowd when he skated out during the ceremony. Most hockey players seem to genuinely enjoy playing hockey for a living, and that's not something that you always see with other professional sports.


Thursday, January 12, 2006

Manifest Destiny

As I sort of predicted yesterday, the recently hired employees of Destiny USA got the axe today. While this is certainly bad news for the 190 people who lost their jobs, their hiring back in August was such a bald-faced publicity stunt that I can't say I am at all surprised. The whole thing was scripted to play into the hopes and fears of the average resident of a dying rust belt city. Local developer goes out and hires 200+ locals, many of whom have no post-high school education and gives them high-paying jobs ($60K/year) where they get to do exciting work. Destiny launched an all-out PR blitz after hiring these people, featuring testimonials from the new employees in television and radio ads whose common theme was: thanks to Destiny, I don't have to leave my family and friends behind to go find gainful employment elsewhere. This is a huge issue in Syracuse, and I'm sure the commercials were designed to milk it for all its worth.

If you haven't already guessed, I don't think that Destiny is the solution to Syracuse's problems. For that matter, I don't think that it's ever going to get built. The one good thing that came out of today's announcement is that it shows Syracuse how the 21st century job market works. A bunch of people in Silicon Valley or New York or any other place where high-skill employees cluster probably lost their high-paying, exciting jobs yesterday too. Most of these people are probably not too worried. If they were working for a company that, like Destiny USA, hired too many people they didn't need and paid them more than they could afford, they may have to take a pay cut at their next job and might have to do more actual work than they were doing before. Ultimately, most of these people will find new work that engages them creatively and allows them to maintain or increase their standard of living. I don't think that this will be the case for all of the former Destiny employees, but hopefully, they will get back on their feet quickly and be a little more skeptical of anyone else who offers them gobs of money to do a poorly defined job with little connection to a viable business model.


I Ate Beef Jerky

Here is an interesting article about how Mandarin is replacing Cantonese as the Chinese dialect of choice in business and conversation in North America. Cantonese, which has far fewer native speakers, is the dialect of the original Chinese immigrants and the dialect of Hong Kong, which was mainland China's main contact point with the west prior to the rise of China's economic market. With plenty of immigrants coming from Mandarin-speaking areas these days and China's rise to prominence in the global economy, it's not surprising that Cantonese is losing its priviledged position. I'm in no position to judge the quirkyness of the Cantonese dialect, though if this is the case, I have even more incentive to study it since I am a big fan of linguistic quirks.

Michelle's family is from Hong Kong/Southern China so they speak Cantonese. Michelle speaks it too, and while she's not fluent, she is better than she lets on. She has taught me a handful of words and phrases in Cantonese that I can manage to pronounce correctly on occasion. I'm still not sure if I have ever pronounced her middle name properly, however. The important thing is that I know the names of a number of different food items. When we make it over to Hong Kong, I fully intend to spend most of my time there eating, so I should be all set.

Hat tip: Marginal Revolution


Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Tag Team

Astute readers will notice that I have started added tags to my posts. These tags are little more than hyperlinks that link back to Technorati, which is a blog searching tool. The main reason that I did this was because I think that tagging is a really great idea. I was very enthusiastic about tagging from the get-go, and this article from Technology Review last year helped seal the deal for me. It's a simple way for content producers to associate metadata with their content that makes it much easier for search engines to find relevant content. I definitely think that it's going to become a lot more common over the next few years and I am fairly certain that new and better ways of tagging information will emerge. I wish Blogger supported tags natively like some other blog publishing software. Ideally, I'd like the tags on my blog to take readers to all of the other posts that I have written that contain the selected tags instead of taking them to the Technorati search engine, but the system that I have right now is a start.


Marching Orders

Allow me, if you will, to enjoy a little bit of schadenfreude. According to today's Post-Standard, Destiny USA tried to organize a march in front of the Onondaga county courthouse yesterday, where a judge was trying to sort out the latest battle in the ongoing dispute between the city of Syracuse and Destiny. Destiny tried to press some of its recently hired workers into service, but after waiting almost an hour for anyone to show up, they called off the march.

For those of you who are unaware, Destiny USA is project that has been trying to get off the ground for at least seven years now. The idea is to take Syracuse's already large mall and turn it into a shopping and entertainment complex larger than Minnesota's Mall of America. As far as I can tell, the developer (Bob Congel) is a huckster who is trying to extort funding and tax breaks from the city to finance what will at best be a minimal expansion to the existing mall and at worst be a boondoogle that will make Auto World look like Disneyland.

Regardless of whatever happens to the dream that is Destiny USA, I have to admire the pluck of the soon-to-be-laid-off employees who didn't bother showing up for the march on the courthouse. I'm not the kind of person who can easily avoid following rules, no matter how asinine or counter-productive they may be. Because of this, I take great pride in refusing to do anything that is suggested by an authority figure, regardless of how I actually feel about it. At my previous job, I was out visiting a client in the middle of the whole debate about the Medicare prescription drug act. The client I was visiting stood to profit from this piece of legislation, so the CEO sent out an e-mail to the whole company urging employees to write to their representatives in Congress and urge them to vote for the bill. I wasn't privy to this e-mail, but the guy I was working with mentioned it to me while I was there. I still get steamed when I think about this for some reason, and it really has nothing to do with how I feel about the Medicate prescription drug act. The whole thing is about as pathetic as a guy who protests his company's dress code by wearing white athletic socks underneath his dress socks, but I'm ok with that.


Sunday, January 08, 2006

Jump Start

Jump Start, a comic strip that usually concerns itself with the life of an affable African-American family and their humorous friends and relatives, threw its hat into the intelligent design debate today.

I am totally stumped by this one. The moon appears to be talking to the earth, which the sun misinterprets as the voice of God. Perhaps it is an attempt to link the big bang, evolution, and intelligent design under the umbrella of some kind of super Gaia theory where all planets and celestial objects are self-aware and debate each other about culture war touchstones.



We saw Munich this weekend, and while I'm not going to review the film, I would like to address some of the criticism that I have read about the movie. Some people have argued that Spielberg made the terrorists look too sympathetic. I don't know what movie these people were watching. Without giving too much away, the film featured a bone-chilling reenactment of the Israeli Olympic team being taken hostage by Black September and the botched attempt to free the hostages. If this wasn't enough to establish the depravity of terrorists, I'm not sure what would Spielberg could have done to assuage his critics. The story was told from the perspective of the Israelis who were sent to Europe to hunt down the people who orchestrated the massacre in Munich with little more than a list of names. The lack of specific information about the targets affected their mission and affected each man in a different way, and the movie was much more compelling this way than it would have been if Spielberg had depicted each target as a cartoon villain who was kicking puppies or stealing candy from babies when he wasn't plotting to destroy Israel.


Thursday, January 05, 2006

Good Game

I've got to say that last night's USC-Texas game was one of the few super-hyped sporting events that actually lived up to its hype. I was on the edge of my seat for most of the night and I had no real rooting and/or betting interest in the game. Even the crowd was amazing. I can't recall any time during the game that the crowd wasn't making a ton of noise. They were probably screaming during the commercial breaks and TV times-out (does Keith Jackson always pluralize time-out that way? Is it grammatically correct?) When Texas cut their deficit to five with about 4:00 left, I scripted out how I wanted the game to end: Texas' defense comes up with a stop, Texas drives, scores a TD with < 1:00 left, USC takes over and tries to win/force OT as the clock expires. That's what I wanted, and it was exactly what I got. I can't really fault USC for not punting at midfield on 4th and 2 with about 2:00 left. Normally, I'm a big believer in field position, but when you're the defending champ holding onto a small lead with 2:00 left, you have to go for it and count on your defense to make a big play if you don't make it. The Vince Young touchdown that put Texas up for good with 0:19 left was amazing. When they lined up for that play, I had a feeling that Young was going to run it in for the score. I think most of the viewing audience, spectators, and players had the same feeling too. It was an incredible night of football.