Friday, April 30, 2010

Jogging in Moscow

The Moscow Times has a hilarious article about the trials and tribulations that joggers face in Moscow. It starts with an anecdote about a foreign correspondent in Moscow in 1981 who was trailed by the KGB because his jogging routine aroused suspicion, but here's the best part of the article (especially the last paragraph):

Greg Walters, a former Moscow Times reporter and now a guitarist in Brooklyn-based indie rock group Red Wire Black Wire, used to jog in Chistiye Prudy when he lived in Moscow.

“If I ran through after 2 p.m., I’d get heckled by groups of men drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. A couple times, some of them sarcastically jogged along with me, laughing uproariously. They thought I was hilarious,” Walters said in an e-mail.

The woman who answered the phone at the Russian Athletics Federation simply sneered. “We have nothing to do with people who just run around outside for exercise. We have athletes, professionals who run in competitions.”

Now that I think about it, I never saw people jogging when I lived in Bucharest.

...and I've said it before and I'll say it again: The Moscow Times is a great paper.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

To beg the question

Mark Liberman, of the famously descriptivist bloggers at Language Log, has just posted an intimidatingly long treatise on the phrase "to beg the question." After tracing the genesis of the now-misused phrase's corruption back to a medieval Greek-to-Latin translation, he advises the following:

My recommendation: Never use the phrase yourself — use "assume the conclusion" or "raise the question", depending on what you mean — and cultivate an attitude of serene detachment in the face of its use by others.

Bimonthly, too. Totally ambiguous – is it every two weeks or every two months?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Military press conferences as "hypnotizing chickens"

The NYT has a weird article about PowerPoint (over)use in the military, but the last-liner is the funniest thing I've read in the NYT in months:

Senior officers say the program does come in handy when the goal is not imparting information, as in briefings for reporters.

The news media sessions often last 25 minutes, with 5 minutes left at the end for questions from anyone still awake. Those types of PowerPoint presentations, Dr. Hammes said, are known as “hypnotizing chickens.”

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Apple's secrecy kills...literally

In the wake of the leaked iPhone 4 there has been a lot of discussion on the interwebs about Apple's notoriously tight controls on its yet-to-be announced products, and while reading about them I found this fascinating and slightly chilling article published last December about Apple's "Worldwide Loyalty Team," a.k.a. the Apple Gestapo. Here's an excerpt:

The operation, as Tom calls it, is not anything special. It is not one of a kind event. It's just a normal practice, and the process is pretty simple: The manager will instruct all employees to stay at their desks, telling them what to do and what to expect at any given time. The Apple Gestapo never handles the communication. They are there, present, supervising the supervisors, making sure everything goes as planned.

All cellphones are then taken. Usually, they collect them all at the same time, which means that the process could take a long time. If you need to contact the exterior during the time your cellphone is under examination, you will have to ask for permission, and your call will be monitored.

They don't ask for cameras because there are no cameras at Apple: Employees are not allowed to get into the campus with them. If the cellphone is an iPhone, it gets backed up onto a laptop. "In fact, at the beginning they used to say that the iPhones were really their property, since Apple gave every employee a free iPhone," he points out. All the employees are asked to unlock and disable any locking features in their cellphones, and then the special forces will proceed to check them for recent activity.

They back up everything and go through all the other phones' text messages and pictures. If you have porn in your phone, they will see it. If you have text messages to your spouse, lover, or Tiger Woods, they will see them, too. Just like that. No privacy, no limits.

In fact, the pressure to keep secrets is so strong that Foxconn – one of Apple's Chinese supplier who produces the iPhone – once had its "security team" drive an employee to commit suicide after he lost an iPhone prototype. Not Apple per se, but I have a feeling that if he had lost a Palm prototype, he'd still be alive today.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Supreme Court struggles to understand what a text message is

The Supreme Court, struggling to understand what a text message is:

The first sign was about midway through the argument, when Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. - who is known to write out his opinions in long hand with pen and paper instead of a computer - asked what the difference was “between email and a pager?”

Other justices’ questions showed that they probably don’t spend a lot of time texting and tweeting away from their iPhones either.

At one point, Justice Anthony Kennedy asked what would happen if a text message was sent to an officer at the same time he was sending one to someone else.

“Does it say: ‘Your call is important to us, and we will get back to you?’” Kennedy asked.

Justice Antonin Scalia wrangled a bit with the idea of a service provider.

“You mean (the text) doesn’t go right to me?” he asked.

Then he asked whether they can be printed out in hard copy.

“Could Quon print these spicy little conversations and send them to his buddies?” Scalia asked.

I've heard stereotypes of Supreme Court justices as old and out of touch, but damn! John Roberts is barely 55!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

DC public schools spend as much as private universities

I see this fact every now and then, and I'm sure I've posted on this blog about it before, but it still astounds me every time:

The District of Columbia public school system spends over $28,000 per child annually.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

NYT links to Lew Rockwell essay on medieval Iceland

A New York Times article about Iceland's reaction to the (perhaps overblown) volcanic ash hovering over Europe has this extremely uncharacteristic link to an anarcho-capitalist history of Iceland posted on kinda/sorta/maybe racist Lew Rockwell's website:

It may seem to outsiders that Iceland has leapt on to the world stage, but Icelanders say otherwise. Sparsely populated with about 310,000 residents, they say it has long had a streak of influence elsewhere far out of proportion to its economic power or population. Settled in the ninth century by Norsemen, it was for several centuries thereafter a zone of experimentation in radical free market economics known as the Icelandic Free State, with no taxes, no police or army, and certainly no bureaucrats.

It was those settlers’ descendants — spiritually, at least, and known, unflatteringly, as “the Vikings” — who ran all over the globe in the last decade brokering wild, overleveraged deals that led to the crash in 2008.

Based on the context and the subprime dig, I'm going to guess that the author just thought it was interesting and clever and isn't actually an anarcho-capitalist sympathizer. But even so, I'm surprised that it got by the copyeditor – there aren't many links to outside sites in NYT stories (though their bloggers and columnists have more).

In any case, the link is quite interesting. In general I'm wary of Lew Rockwell and his circle (mostly due to this little scandal, which forever tarred Ron Paul as a racist), but I think that one thing that anarcho-capitalists do well is history (especially founder of the ideology, Murray Rothbard, with his masterful, underrated four volume history of pre-Revolutionary America, Conceived in Liberty), so I'm inclined to believe that it's probably at least close to accurate.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Labour's new manifesto, for the slow ones

Just in case you were under the impression that UK politics were somehow more enlightened than America's, via the Browser:

Aliens in America

Quote of the day:

"We have dealt a severe blow to an alien-smuggling industry in Arizona that feeds thousands of aliens into the far reaches of the U.S., including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles," said ICE chief John Morton.

Aliens, you say?

The whole article is about a record ICE raid that dismantled a Nogales-centered human smuggling network that was tied up with shuttle bus services. Interestingly enough, unlike the market for smuggling drugs, the market for illegal entry of humans looks to be more competitive and less oligarchical than drug smuggling (I'm talking specifically about Latin America-to-US drug smuggling, not domestic dealing):

"We have dealt a severe blow to an alien-smuggling industry in Arizona that feeds thousands of aliens into the far reaches of the U.S., including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles," said ICE chief John Morton.

I'm guessing this is because the political barriers to entry in the human smuggling industry are lower than with drug smuggling. Drug cartels and control of certain plazas are determined often times politically, through access to corrupt political figures, which leads to oligarchy. The reason is the nature of the product – drugs are distinct and need to be constantly handled, and when they show up in a marketplace anywhere near the border they're bound to be discovered. People, on the other hand, don't leave much of a mark, and can disappear on their own, it being their mission to go unknown. Also, you don't need much monetary capital to smuggle people – no buying of expensive drugs.

I also like this part, where Janet Napolitano claims this strategy is somehow more humane:

Hitting the smuggling network, rather than the immigrants themselves, is one of the hallmarks of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's approach to border enforcement. Ms. Napolitano, a former Arizona governor, also has stepped up inspections of U.S. companies that hire unauthorized workers.

Alcohol prohibition caused people to go blind and cocaine, heroin prohibition causes people to die of overdoses and shoot-outs over drug territory, and migration prohibition is no different. The laws as they are marginalize immigrants enough as it is – with things like this happening – and further enforcement is just going to drive illegal immigrants further and further underground. As with drug prohibition, sure, some people might choose not to come to America/do heroin, but those people are coming at the expense of those who do continue to come and to use.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Seriously, Reason? You think this is a libertarian thing to do??

The Case for Privatizing California's Prisons: They'll cut state costs and save taxpayer dollars.

At least its commenters get it. Commenter Danny says it best:

This is the new "Libertarian" message? How to do mass incarceration on the cheap?

Gee, I wonder how Libertarians got tagged as being nothing more than Republicans who are gay.

To be fair, the article seems to have leaked out of, which tries to be more politically feasible than, but ends up supporting anything with the word "privatized" in it, regardless of how much it reeks of corporatism.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

David Leonhardt: The rich hide their income from the IRS, but the poor don't

In an otherwise relatively informative column, David Leonhardt makes an assertion that I don't think holds water:

If anything, the government numbers I’m using here exaggerate how much of the tax burden falls on the wealthy. These numbers fail to account for the income that is hidden from tax collectors — a practice, research shows, that is more common among affluent families. “Because higher-income people are understating their income,” Joel Slemrod, a tax scholar at the University of Michigan, says, “We’ve been overstating their average tax rates.”

Is he really claiming that, proportionally, the rich hide their income more than the poor? Aren't the poorest of the poor the most likely to be earning their income from under-the-table (or even outright illegal) jobs? Literally every person I know on welfare (be it 3+ months of unemployment, or food stamps) also currently (and often) has a significant second source of unreported income.

Sure, very rich people have off-shore bank accounts and accountants who fix things so that they pay lower taxes, but the average person earning $150k+ isn't getting large amounts of unreported income. The average person reporting less than $15k in yearly income, on the other hand...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Match fixing scandal rocks Korean gaming scene

I guess this mean Starcraft is officially a big-time least in Korea?

The largest scandal in e-sports history is currently unfolding in Korea, with revelations that a number of current pro gamers are involved with match set-ups and illegal betting.

While the gamers are un-named at this point, the story is said to touch many A-list StarCraft celebrities – including sAviOr, Ja Mae Yoon – one of the best-known and most successful players of all time.

At this stage, we hear that various pro gamers have been found intentionally losing matches, as well as leaking their team’s replay files to illegal gambling groups.

The article als includes this interesting bit about the Korean legal system:

As part of Korea’s human rights laws, it is illegal to release criminals’ names – they can only be implied – which means that as the police have now gotten involved, we may never be officially told who was involved in this drama. Unofficially, however, it’s only a matter of time before fingers are pointed and pro gamers find themselves without a job.

I know Japan has a notoriously high (99.8%?) conviction rate, so it's surprising that (South) Korea affords so much protection to the prosecuted. (Not trying to conflate Japan and Korea, but I know they share a similar cultural and legal [I think?] heritage.) I'm guessing it has something to do with East Asian shame culture – prison is one thing, but the shame of having gone to prison is probably worse.

John Edwards' Asian sex scandal

The National Enquirer might not have won its Pulitzer (though, considering the contenders, it probably should have), but maybe it's for the best after all, because the Buffalo Beast has beasted them in the John Edwards sex journalism genre with this exclusive (yet still relatively unreported) mega-scoop:

“In order to give rise to close to nearly one billion children, [John Edwards] must have begun sexual activity in the late 5th century, sometime during his first marriage to a woman who had ovarian cancer,” said Dr. Eli Irving, a geneticist at Northwestern University. “It really is quite remarkable.”

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Tea Partiers have farm subsidies principles

Apparently some Tea Partiers are bothered by the fact that their Tea Partying reps are taking farm subsidies:

But for one important detail, Stephen Fincher could be a perfect "tea party" candidate: a gospel-singing cotton farmer from this tiny hamlet in western Tennessee, seeking to right the listing ship of Washington with a commitment to lower taxes and smaller government.

The detail? Fincher accepts roughly $200,000 in farm subsidies each year.

Some tea party activists say Fincher, a Republican candidate in Tennessee's 8th Congressional District, isn't "pure" enough to deserve the backing of a movement built on the idea that government must spend less. But others have pledged their support, highlighting a division over what constitutes orthodoxy in the amorphous cause -- and who gets to decide.

Though some (including Gawker and its commenters) see this as hypocrisy, I'm inclined to see the glass as half full and say that the fact that the Tea Partiers even recognize the problem and are trying to do something about it is a relatively positive step. Few (no?) Democrats or Republicans are principled enough to let something like that get in the way of them supporting a candidate, and the fact that the rep promised (sort of) to vote against them is a good sign.

John McCain – surprisingly enough – is also generally against farm subsidies, although who knows if the rhetoric would have translated into action come the bidecennial farm bill scam.

That having been said, it sure would be nice to have a real mainstream advocate for a free market in agriculture – in either party – but sadly I don't see it coming anytime soon.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Hamid Karzai on drugs

Hamid Karzai, apparently, has a "fondness" for opium/heroin. Which he probably buys from his brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, reputed to be the nation's biggest drug dealer.