Wednesday, February 15, 2006

There's an old saying that you don't become a man until your father dies.

I don't know about that, but there may not be any posting here for a while.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Big people make for small snowstorms.

The weekend storm dropped more snow on New York City than any other in at least 137 years, since they began recording such events here in 1869. Yet the general feeling around is that the storm wasn't so bad -- not nearly as bad as the blizzards of years ago.

An explanation from the Times....
people were shorter then, so the drifts may well have seemed deeper. Seriously.

In 1947, New Yorkers were, on average, more than an inch shorter than they are today. In 1888, when the blizzard that is branded on the city's collective memory as the Greatest of All Time hit New York, people were, on average, about three inches shorter.

"That would affect people's impressions of getting through deep snow," said Richard H. Steckel, an economics professor at Ohio State University, who has analyzed changes in human height.
So economists now are into the psychology of snowstorms. They're really getting about, are they not?

Monday, February 13, 2006

Happy Valenswine's Day, you swine.

You know who you are...
If February 14 is a Hallmark holiday, the 13th should be sponsored by Victoria's Secret.

The night before Valentine's Day, as hush-hush tradition goes, is when every cheater in Manhattan will be out wining and dining his or her other significant other. Call it Valenswine's Day.

You can't take your mistress or boy toy out on the big day itself, for fear of getting busted - but on the 13th, anything goes. Said to be an old British custom, the practice is alive and well right here in New York.

"When I first started in the business, I said, 'This is very strange; the 13th is so busy,'" recalls Four Seasons restaurant manager Julian Niccolini, who says that night's often even busier than the holiday itself.

"Then I figured it out. The 13th is when people go out with their girl, and the 14th is when they go out with who they have to go out with."...

"This is the day we sell the most champagne, the most expensive bottles of wine," he says, adding that it also tends to be a much livelier bunch than on the 14th itself...

A middle-aged, divorced New York professional, who asked to remain anonymous for obvious reasons, concurs. He dated two women for years on end, without either being the wiser - thanks largely to the benefit of having two offices in two different cities (also known as the 50-mile rule, defined as the principle that your spouse and your lover should never live closer than that to one another).

"I think it's a common thing," he says of the February 13th tradition. "If you're dating more than one person at a time, you have to go out the day before and the day after."

"The day of," he says sagely, "you go out with your daughters."
[NY Post]

Odd Google search referral of the day.

The Google search "case for hybrid car subsidies" produces this site,, as its #1 referral (of 390,000) on the subject, quoting "There's a moral here: Beware tax subsidies, they may not be what they seem", from the recent post here on "How a tax credit can increase the cost of hybrid cars".

So it seems that either the search algorithms still need work on telling "for" from "against", or the oil companies have gotten to the guys out in Mountain View.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The joys of family life.

What children, the point of it all, bring us...
Depression may be lifelong parent trap

[A new study] finds parents have significantly higher levels of depression than adults who do not have children. Even more surprising, the symptoms of depression do not go away when the kids grow up and move out of the house...

...there is no type of parent that reports less depression than non-parents...
Well, already there, so how to make the most of the situation now?

A judge has ordered a soon-to-be divorced couple to live unhappily ever after in the Borough Park home they shared for 18 years - by having a wall built smack dab in the middle of their dining room...

Simon Taub was granted permission during divorce proceedings in August to divide the home with sheetrock walls, so he wouldn't have to relinquish it to wife, Chana Taub ... "I don't wish this on anybody," said Chana...
Stay married forever?
Couple celebrate with 50-year-old tinned chicken

A Manchester couple celebrated 50 years of marriage by eating a tin of chicken they were given on their wedding day...
Yeah, that's what I'll be doing after paying to send three kids through college.

Google searches bringing people to this site aren't encouraging...
"Husband chooses jail to escape nagging wife"
What to do???

Get intimate with a live chicken?

A retired nurse saved her brother's chicken, Boo Boo, by administering mouth-to-beak resuscitation last week after the fowl was found floating face down in the family's pond...

"I breathed into its beak, and its dadgum eyes popped open," Morris said... [CNN]

They look happy, don't they?

Story updates

The gay penguins of Bremerhaven? ... Update.

Death by flying shrimp? ... Update.

Senatorial comity.

Dear Senator Obama:

I would like to apologize to you for assuming that your private assurances to me regarding your desire to cooperate in our efforts to negotiate bipartisan lobbying reform legislation were sincere ... Thank you for disabusing me of such notions ...

I’m embarrassed to admit that after all these years in politics I failed to interpret your previous assurances as typical rhetorical gloss routinely used in politics to make self-interested partisan posturing appear more noble. Again, sorry for the confusion, but please be assured I won’t make the same mistake again....

I understand how important the opportunity to lead your party’s effort to exploit this issue must seem to a freshman Senator, and I hold no hard feelings over your earlier disingenuousness. Again, I have been around long enough to appreciate that in politics the public interest isn’t always a priority for every one of us.

Good luck to you, Senator.


John McCain

United States Senate

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The sensitive to religion New York Times.

My hometown broadsheet, editorializing about Those Danish Cartoons, states that responsible newpapers like itself...
have reported on the cartoons but refrained from showing them. That seems a reasonable choice for news organizations that usually refrain from gratuitous assaults on religious symbols, especially since the cartoons are so easy to describe in words.
It then promtly illustrates its own story on the Danish cartoons by showing a picture (click the link) of the famous, or infamous, "Dung Mary"...
a collage of the Virgin Mary with cutouts from pornographic magazines and shellacked clumps of elephant dung
One guesses the editors must have felt those words weren't an adequate description, making the picture non-gratuitous.

They never cease to amaze.

As if that's not enough, the article then goes on to charge hypocrisy about the whole thing ... on the part of the Bush Adminsitration.

political hypocrisy [is] now endemic in the culture wars. Last week a State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, simultaneously condemned the cartoons as "unacceptable" and spoke up for free speech, while the Joint Chiefs of Staff were firing off a letter to The Washington Post about a cartoon it ran in which Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, in the guise of a doctor, says to a heavily bandaged soldier who has lost his arms and legs, "I'm listing your condition as 'battle hardened.'" The letter called the cartoon, by Tom Toles, "reprehensible" and offensive to soldiers.

... apparently without having a clue about itself.

The good news and the bad news about the budget deficit.

First the good news: The projected increase in the budget deficit this year, to $400+ billion from $319 billion last year, doesn't matter.

Also, the cost of the Bush tax cuts ... of the Iraq war ... of the all those earmarks Congress doles out for its own benefit that the pork busters are so upset about ... they don't matter. The cost of cleaning up Katrina, and fighting in Iraq, and bailing out collapsing pension plans through the PBGC -- of all the items currently on the political agenda for rest of decade, taken all together, they don't matter. So don't worry about them!

So says Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the departing head of the Congressional Budget Office (in the WSJ)...

"I think this is self-evident," says Mr. Holtz-Eakin, chuckling. "... I wake up every morning saying it doesn't matter what happens in the next five years, and people say I am really weird."
Now the bad news: The reason why they all don't matter is that their cost is trivially small compared to the that of the mountain-sized avalanche of retirement entitlements that's heading to hit us around 15 years from now...

Holtz-Eakin again:

"The thing that I found most amazing is everybody thought the war in Iraq was a much bigger expenditure than the [Medicare] drug benefit. How could you possibly believe that? The war in Iraq, $6 billion to $7 billion a month, maybe $70 billion, $75 billion, a year, something like that. And the drug benefit is forever."
The accrued cost of the Medicare drug benefit is $8 trillion (with a "t") so far, after only two years, says the Treasury. The Iraq war, at $7 billion a month, would have to last almost 100 years to match this two-year cost of the drug benefit -- which is only a small part of Medicare.

A little more perspective: The cost of the Bush tax cuts in 2006 will be about $250 billion (according to enemies of the tax cuts, who give them little credit for spurring the economy and thus reducing their own cost, such as the Citizens for Tax Justice (.pdf)).

Meanwhile, the Treasury says the annual deficit is actually more than $3 trillion when computed on an accrual basis to include the current-value cost of unfunded accruing promises to retirees. Now "more than $3 trillion" is more than 12 times greater than $250 billion -- so the tax cuts account for about 8% of the actual debt the government is running up, worst case. They just don't matter that much in the overall fiscal situation.

Those who find this hard to believe can take a look at GAO's year 2000 budget projections. These (.pdf) were made pre-Bush, pre-9/11, pre-recession, counting zero tax cuts and assuming the boom economy and budget surpluses would last for years to come. The conclusion: The 75-year projection is cut off a little more than half-way through as the government collapses under the weight of annual deficits that reach 20% of GDP -- more than the size of the entire government today -- and are rocketing straight up, driven by costs of Social Security and Medicare that have reached 20% of GDP and rising. Hey, the economy and government collapse without Bush -- how much harm can he have done? ;-)

Not that Bush hasn't committed fiscal sin: his drug benefit's annual accruing cost is now over $560 billion -- more than twice the cost of his tax cuts -- says the Treasury. Who knows that?

The most recent Analytical Perspectives on the Budget gives the current value of the unfunded liability for Social Security as being $12.8 trillion, and for Medicare as "a staggering $68.4 trillion". Who knows that?

Almost nobody knows it. But why? Nothing is a secret -- it's all well published.

The first answer is that the politicians of both parties can agree on one thing -- they sure aren't going to talk about it. "The political system doesn't reward painful choices", as Holtz-Eakin notes. So the Republicans sure aren't going to mention that the tax cuts they all want will only increase a $3 trillion deficit, while the Democrats are hardly going to mention that the entitlements they use as the foundation of their party are on course to bankrupting the country. But politicians ... you never expect the truth from them.

The major fault here is that free press is silent about the silence of the politicians -- and is indeed itself constantly exorcised over trivialities of the budget process while being blind to the big picture. Or perhaps, since the press like any business provides pretty much what its customers want, it is just human nature for us all to be distracted by minutia until an avalanche hits. Either way, the average person is simply never told, and so doesn't know.

Take for example a recent post by the esteemed Jane Galt, endorsing an article in The Economist damning the Bush budgets in 1,100 words for such grave sins as...

a 2006 deficit projection [of] $423 billion, or 3.2% of America’s GDP.
... which actually is rather reasonable by historical standards. In fact, a 3.2%-of-GDP deficit would be the median for the last quarter century, 13th largest of the last 25 years. Moreover, deficits equal to a percentage of GDP smaller than the GDP growth rate can easily be sustained forever. So what's to be so upset about there?

... and also ...
for all their rhetoric, so far the Republicans have barely touched domestic discretionary spending
... just as if savings from cuts in discretionary spending could ever possibly amount to a significant portion of GDP.

Yet in 1,100 words there is not one of a $68.4 trillion liability for Medicare, or of a $3 trillion+ annual accrual basis deficit today (though that is more than seven times larger than $423 deficit that is lamented).

Oh, well ... everybody's going to find out about all this around 15 years from now, the hard way.

Until then remember this: the only thing that seriously matters for the budget is entitlements, and "entitlements" is spelled M-E-D-I-C-A-R-E, which amounts to about 80% of them.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Al and Betty.

Al "Grandpa" Lewis, renaissance man -- waiter, salesman, store detective, vaudeville performer, circus clown, trapeze artist, PhD in child psychology (Columbia), children's book author, basketball scout (for Red Auerbach), film and TV actor, Greenwich village restauranteur, political candidate (for governor of New York), radio show host... [pix] -- died on Saturday.

Betty Friedan, feminist, died on Saturday too.

A friend asks: "Did you ever see the two of them together?"

Friday, February 03, 2006

Europe gets another wake-up call about that cultural relativism stuff.

Sparked by newspaper cartoons, of all things.

Furious Syrians set fire to the Danish and Norwegian embassies on Saturday as protests over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad showed no signs of abating...

Chanting "God is Greatest", thousands of protesters stormed the Danish embassy, burnt the Danish flag and replaced it with a flag reading "No God but Allah, Mohammad is His Prophet"...

Demonstrators also set the Norwegian embassy ablaze... [Reuters, pix there and at CNN]


...the issue had gone beyond a row between Copenhagen and the Muslim world and now centred on western free speech versus taboos in Islam, which is now the second religion in many European countries.... [Scotsman]

Alexandre Adler, author of "Rendez-vous With Islam," criticized the newspapers. "We're at war," he said, citing the Iraq insurgency and the electoral victories of the radical Palestinian group Hamas and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. "And sometimes war demands censorship. In this context, anything that might strengthen the hate of the West is irresponsible."

"We're at war", says this Frenchman? (But then Chirac himself has been talking about bringing out the nukes against ... who?)

Geert Wilders, a member of the Dutch parliament who has proposed a law that would ban women from wearing burqas in the Netherlands and has been the target of death threats, posted the cartoons on his Web site Thursday under this explanation: "What is the price of freedom? As a token of support to the Danish cartoonists and to stand up for free speech, we will place their drawings here." [WaPo]

It's gotten so bad that Denmark's government called foreign envoys to a summit in Copenhagen today to head off an Islamic holy war against Europe [as] hundreds of Pakistanis chanted, "Death to Denmark" and burned French and Danish flags this week...

But that was only the beginning.

On Wednesday, Europe's news media fought back as newspapers in Germany, Italy, Spain, France and the Netherlands reprinted the cartoons. The BBC showed them on TV yesterday. Germany's Die Welt put the drawings on its front page and defended its "right to blasphemy." ...
[NY Post]

It's War! Between medieval theocrats and modern heirs of the Enlightenment defending the fundamental human right to blaspheme!

And when the defenders of right of blasphemy realize that, impressively armed with cartoons and newsprint as they are, the theocrats are armed with bombs and guns and the will to use them...

Is our children be learning good?

As I pay taxes to fund $12,000 worth of public education per student annually here, I note that the passing grade of my youth, 70, becomes 55, which becomes 27.


When does 23 equal 55? When it comes to grading the Math A Regents exam.

Never before has the state required students to answer so few questions correctly on the mandatory test to eke out a passing grade of 55 — and take one step closer to high school graduation — than it has this year.

Students who sat for the exam on Thursday needed just 23 out of 84 points — or about 27 percent — to earn a 55. Only last year, a score of 26 — or 31 percent — was required to reach the benchmark.

A score of 55 on five Regents exams is required for students to graduate with a local diploma. Earning the more prestigious Regents diploma requires a score of 65 on five exams. Getting a 65 on the Math A test required just 33 out of 84 points — or 39 percent.

... the raw score for passing has dropped 20 points since June 2003, when the state was forced to rescore the exam after two-thirds of students failed,... "It's getting more and more sickening," said one Queens math teacher...

The exam comprises of 30 multiple-choice questions, each worth 2 points, and nine computation questions, each worth up to 4 points.

Probability suggests that a student who guesses on the multiple-choice section would get eight correct — leaving him or her just 7 points shy of passing...
[NY Post]

So it's flip a coin for a while, then score 1 3/4 out of the nine on the computations, and go out into the world certified as a prepared citizen.

~Sigh~ ... Well maybe that's only here, things are better elsewhere...

Dorian Cain told me he wants to learn to read. He's 18 years old and in 12th grade, but when I asked him to read from a first-grade level book, he struggled with it.

"Did they try to teach you to read?" I asked him.

"From time to time."

His mom, Gena Cain, has been trying to get him help for years...

Gena's begging eventually got results -- just not results that helped her son. What the school bureaucrats did was hold meetings to talk about Dorian. (Bureaucrats are good at holding meetings.) At the meeting we watched, lots of important people attended: a director of programs for exceptional children, a resource teacher, a district special education coordinator, a counselor and even a gym teacher. The meeting went on for 45 minutes.

"I'm seeing great progress in him," said the principal. "So I don't have any concerns."...

Well, Gena still had a concern: Her son could barely read.

Was Dorian just incapable of learning? No.

ABC News did see great progress in him -- when we sent him to a private, for-profit tutoring center. In just 72 hours of tutoring, Sylvan Learning Center brought Dorian's reading up more than two grade levels.

In 72 hours, a private company did what South Carolina's government schools could not do in over 12 years...
[John Stossel]

Or maybe not.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

One day after Madison Square Garden [basketball] fans waited in vain for Kobe Bryant to break a scoring record, 18-year-old Epiphanny Prince did it instead.

The senior at Murry Bergtraum HS in Manhattan set a national girls' scoring record yesterday with 113 points in the Lady Blazers' 137-32 win over Brandeis in a Public School Athletic League game....

Bergtraum coach Ed Grezinsky was unapologetic. "... we only pressed a little bit," said Grezinsky ...

Brandeis head coach Vera Springer was not pleased with the decision to keep Prince in the game.

"It's bull----," Springer said... "This was an adult decision. Why would you do this against a team like ours?" [which] has won just four games in the league.

"She didn't earn this," said Springer, who added that her team stopped playing defense in the second half. "It was like picking on a handicapped person."

Grezinsky disagreed. "I'm not apologizing for her," he said. "She got what she was able to get" ...

Prince made less favorable headlines last year, when she was put on trial for assault and harassment charges after an incident involving a younger girl. She was acquitted of the more serious charges, but convicted of harassment and sentenced to community service...

Prince ... shattered Cheryl Miller's record of 105 points set with Riverside Polytechnic HS ... in a 175-15 win over Notre Vista, California in 1982.

WNBA star Lisa Leslie once scored 101 points in the first half of a game for Inglewood Morningside HS in California. The opposing team did not come out for the second half...
[NY Post]

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Noted around and about.

Still very little time for real blogging, but rather than let this site die, here's a random mix of some things seen here and there...

You've heard that many people say they'd rather die than give a speech in public? Well, next time you can't get out of giving a speech, here's a better idea.

Elvis's afterplay: "Would you mind calling and ordering me a fried egg sandwich?"

Shouldn't 84-year-old Germans maybe have other things to feel guilty about?

"... my 10-year-old, Spenser, asked, 'Dad, how can you write a Tuesday Morning Quarterback in a week when there's no football?' Five thousand words from now you'll know!"

Warning! Cute overload!

Oh, to be on a reality TV show, what people will do.

I thought Amtrak was bad.

The lawyer's coloring book.

A liberal's list of "The Most Loathsome People in America". Oddly, God Himself, who is responsible for all of them, is only #13.

Favorite Colbertisms via the Tivo during the past week:
Oedipus ruined a great sex life by asking too many questions.
"So, do you have any children?"

America needs more parades. You say that parades are for Imperial Powers? Well the sun never sets on Coca Cola. What are we waiting for, a horse in the senate?

And let us not forget the latest Carnival of the Capitalists, full of capitalistic greed-is-goodness.