2/16/2002

House update We made a contingency offer on the house we've been looking at. T and I spent an hour with our real estate agent initialing and signing a boatload of papers pertaining to this. We made the seller a slightly lowball offer, but the house has been on the market for a long time (longer than we originally thought), so I'm sure they'll listen.

We had our house painted this week, which led a couple of our neighbors to ask if we were planning to sell. They were pleased to hear that if all goes well we'll still be in the neighborhood. We're happy with the paint job, but the flower beds got trampled in the process. We did some triage on it this morning, so hopefully it'll look OK by the time we get our house on the market.

There are still a couple of minor things to fix inside, mostly to repair some dog-related damage. Our dog Harry has a favorite window from which he likes to bark at trucks, other dogs, and miscellaneous passersby. He's dinged the sheetrock on the wall and taken some big gouges out of the windowsill with his claws. The new house has lower windows and faces an esplanade that's popular with dogwalkers, so we've been plotting dog containment strategies. The layout of the new house is conducive to keeping him in the back area, in and around the kitchen, so that's likely to be our plan.

The fun really begins when we hear back from the seller, and when we put our house up for sale. March and April are gonna be hella busy.
Let's try this again Megan misses the point when she responds to my question "why is it a problem if Ivy League professors skew left?" She starts by asking how I'd feel if the shoe was on the other foot:

The first is to ask how you would feel if Oral Roberts and their ilk were the gateway to the good life for your children? Would you be happy that the only way you could get your children the most prestigious education was by sending them somwhere where the political center was around, say, the National Review -- and there were no professors in many departments with any other point of view?

Are you suggesting that an Ivy League education is the only gateway to the good life? I'm sure all of the graduates of UT and Texas A&M here will be surprised to hear that. You are overvaluing the prestige of an Ivy League education, which is something that folks on the East Coast tend to do relative to the rest of the country. The way to get ahead here in Texas is to go to UT or A&M, where you'll get a perfectly decent education at a low cost, and where you'll plug directly into the good ol' boy network. I guarantee you that in business and in politics, both here and in a lot of non-Northeastern states, being an alum of one of the state schools will carry more weight than being a Harvard grad would.

Before anyone points to our president as a counterexample, I'll remind you that Bush was plugged into the good ol' boy network here long before he started college, regardless of where he went. And in the 2000 Presidential election, which candidate was generally portrayed as a stuffy egghead, and which one was thought to be the kind of guy you could have a beer with? Dubya got no bonus from his Ivy League education. He overcame his Ivy League education.

The reason why I say that Horowitz's survey is meaningless is because any college education is a good start to the good life, though of course it's far from the only way to acheive it. Ivy League alumni comprise a tiny percentage of the American population. If they're the only ones who can truly succeed, then our capitalist system isn't working too well, wouldn't you say?

Look, an Ivy League diploma is considered more valuable than a diploma from another school because an Ivy League education is perceived to be better than that which can be had from other schools. Now, either the Ivy League education is in fact better or it isn't. If it is, that invalidates the hypothesis that there's something damaging about an excessively liberal faculty. If it isn't, then the market will adjust to correct for that. I can't believe I have to explain this to a libertarian.

And to a certain extent, the market is already moving that way. There are a fair number of schools that now position themselves as offering an equivalent education to the Ivies at a much lower price. Take a look at the US News rankings of best value, where you'll find Rice right up there with Harvard. The more expensive Ivy League tuition becomes, the more people will look for good alternatives. I daresay the same thing will happen if people begin to believe that the Ivies are just a refuge for empty liberal rhetoric.

Megan then goes on to say

The total dominance of the left is encouraging intellectual complacency, shutting down debate in many areas, and in general creating an unhealthy atrophy in the intellectual atmosphere of many humanities departments -- just as it would be if 94% of the academy hailed from the right.

Wait a minute - Horowitz only surveyed Ivy League profs. How do you get from there to the claim that all colleges are 94% liberal? If there's a flaw in Horowitz's survey, it's taking the results of a specific sample and generalizing it to people who are not part of that sample. You'll have to show me a survey that includes profs at Brigham Young, Baylor, and Notre Dame before I grant you any validity here.

I'll say it again. Horowitz commissioned this survey for one reason: to validate his worldview that the liberals are out to get him. The result, which I'm perfectly willing to concede is statistically valid, means nothing.

One last thing: If you're going to cite my arguments, please cite them correctly. I made a joke about affirmative action for right-wing profs. I even called it a "cheap" joke. If I had really been advocating that position, I assure you that I'd have had more to say about it than a single throwaway quip.

2/15/2002

Canadians win gold, become bigger than Britney The IOC has awarded a second gold medal to Jaime Sale and David Pelletier, thus ending the biggest scandal of these Olympics. Canada whoops it up, and Russia pitches a fit.

Meanwhile, I've been getting a ton of Google hits from people searching for "Jaime Sale". Between this post and the one about Britney, I'm really pimping for some numbers. Watch that counter shoot skyward, baby!
Hypocrisy, liberalism, and considering the source I'd like to do a little followup on my post from yesterday in which I discussed David Horowitz's survey which claims to prove that Ivy League professors are more liberal than most Americans. I'll start by explaining why this claim doesn't impress me.

Suppose you come across the following sentence in an op-ed piece: "This move is an attempt by President Bush to appease the extreme right wing of the Republican Party." How likely are you to accept the word of the author that the president has done something bad?

Well, if you are on the right-hand side of the political spectrum and those words were written by someone like Molly Ivins or Michael Kinsley, I'll bet the answer is "not bloody likely". You expect someone like that to view most things that President Bush does in a negative light, and thus to portray them negatively in their words. Their idea of what "extreme right wing" means is probably not the same as yours, and they're more likely to consider something that "appeases" them to be bad than you are.

Now suppose the writer is Robert Novak or Bill Kristol. You're more likely to sit up and pay attention, right? You know these guys don't consider "right wing" to be dirty words, and you know they don't make cheap jokes about President Bush's intelligence or legitimacy. In short, they're credible, and if they have something negative to say about Bush or the Republicans, it's worth your time to listen to them.

If that makes sense to you, then you understand why those of us on the left-hand side of the equation, upon hearing of Horowitz's latest crusade, react by saying "Wow, David Horowitz thinks liberals are bad. Film at 11." Every single column or article ever written by Horowitz can be summed up as "Liberals bad. Conservatives good. See what those nasty liberals are doing to these good conservatives? Why don't they ever realize how bad they are?" Bless my pointy little head, he's got just such a column in Salon today. It's Premium, so you may not be able to see the whole thing, but the subhead is "Liberal intellectuals who praise Bush for prosecuting the war but still insist he's stupid are the real dummies". Need I say more?

I'm not saying anything profound here, just that it's often worthwhile to consider the source. Writers like Horowitz have a vested interest in making their guys look good and the other guys look bad. It's to be expected. If he ever wants to be taken seriously by someone who isn't already in agreement with him, he's gonna need a big heaping dose of intellectual honesty.

Which brings me to my next point, about hypocrisy. Sgt. Stryker recently posted that "[h]ypocrisy isn't the sole domain of the left", followed by a couple of quotes from The Corner on National Review Online. The first complained about "New York elites" who consider most people to be "cultural retards", and the second called Houston Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee "a trash-can diva".

Full marks to the Sarge for recognizing the hypocrisy, but a brickbat for being surprised by it. Hypocrisy is the domain of those who believe they and those who think like them are always right. It is the domain of those who only see and accept evidence that supports their position, and discard and discredit evidence which contradicts them. It has nothing to do with which direction you lean and everything to do with refusing to acknowledge that there might be something in those other directions.

In sum, to quote John Kenneth Galbraith: "Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof." That's hypocrisy.
When pop queens attack It's hard to fully appreciate the horror that is Britney Spears' new movie Crossroads. I have a really hard time wrapping my mind around this professional virgin pop singer who gets to star in her very own Mary Sue. How much more can we be expected to endure?

But it occurred to me this morning that if you hate all things Britney, perhaps her making a movie is the best thing to happen. Think about all of the other annoying pop singers who made awful, critically panned and financially disastrous movies, and how many of them essentially disappeared from the limelight afterwards. Condsider: Has Vanilla Ice done anything since Cool as Ice? Didn't Mariah Carey have a breakdown and get released from her recording contract after Glitter came out? Has anyone seen Andrew Dice Clay since The Adventures of Ford Fairlane? Okay, technically Dice wasn't a pop singer but geez was he annoying.

This method isn't perfect, I'll admit. Whitney Houston survived The Bodyguard, though it's been rough for Kevin Costner since then (not that this is a bad thing). Mandy Moore will probably survive A Walk to Remember. But there's hope, and that's all that we can ask for.

In the meantime, content yourself with this incredibly funny and biting review from MaryAnn Johanson aka the Flick Filosopher, from whom I shamelessly borrowed the title of this blog entry.

2/14/2002

What to do about liberal professors? Megan McArdle has an interesting thread going about a survey commissioned by David Horowitz which claims that professors at Ivy League universities are much more liberal than the American population at large. The thread starts here, with followups here, here, and here.

I'm going to make one side comment first, just to get it out of the way. David Horowitz is, in my humble opinion, a complete nutbag. He sees Left-Wing Conspiracies everywhere he looks. He's a shameless publicity hound, and as his slavery-reparations advertisement debacle showed last year, an expert in playing the Professional Victim game. It's very difficult to believe that he commissioned this survey with an open mind, especially given that he hired Republican pollster Frank Luntz, who's been known to bend facts to suit his beliefs (see this Virginia Postrel archive page, and search for "Luntz").

All that said, it's certainly possible that they're right and that Ivy League professors are in fact way out of step with the rest of us Just Plain Folks. Well, then what? McArdle isn't sure:

It's important to look at the whole academy, but especially at humanities at elite schools, because that's where a majority of the media, especially the major media, derive their ideas, and there is data that suggests that they perceive the world to be centered considerably to the left of the country's political center, and that they tend to discount the bona fides of conservative intellectuals. Moreover, it would be better for the academy as a whole to have all sides represented in debates, so that students could develop sharper analytical skills. However, while it is important to address hiring bias, or self-selection due to perceived discrimination, it would be folly to enact remedies that lower the rigorous intellectual standards of the academy. The only caveat is that we must ensure that the existing professors don't set up the rigorous standards to exclude conservative thought.


Now, how do we bell the cat? Any suggestions?

There's a cheap joke about affirmative action for right-wing professors to be made here, but it's not what I came here to do. I'm genuinely interested in what sort of remedies might be acceptable to address this problem (and I'm not yet willing to concede that there is a problem; more on that later).

After all, why isn't the Free Market the solution here? Let everyone know the political leanings of every professor and institution, and thus let the informed consumers (i.e., those who plan on going to college) decide what best suits them. If the Ivies are too damn liberal, start your own college with a greater diversity of viewpoints, or just one which only allows right-wing professors. It's not like there's any restriction on founding a university. It simply takes money and people. Sure, you may not have the cachet of Harvard or Princeton, but if you truly believe that those schools are doomed to obsolescence by their slanted politics, then the market is ripe for a competitive alternative. Who's to say that in twenty or fifty years Reagan University can't be a top ten school? One of the commenters on Megan's last post explicitly makes this point.

Getting back to this issue of whether this is a problem at all if Horowitz's claims are true: I didn't go to an Ivy League school, but I did go to a very good private liberal arts institution. At the time I attended, many of the professors were relatively new hires. Most of them were children of the 60s, with the liberal creds to go along. I had my fair share of classes taught by unapologetic lefties. I like to think that my critical thinking skills came out more or less intact. Of course, I was a math major, and I managed to avoid some of the fluffier lib-arts classes.

But even still, my recollection of many of these liberal professors is that they were really good at their jobs. They were good teachers who respected their students and those students' opinions. I'd have to doublecheck with some of my Republican classmates, but at the time I don't recall any of them complaining about bias. Was I just lucky? I don't know.

This is just anecdotal evidence, so take it with the grain of salt it deserves. All I'm saying is that if the evidence does in fact show that Ivy League profs are Too Liberal For Our Own Good, that still doesn't mean that taking classes from them will turn you into a zombie of the radical left. Whether true or not, the Ivies have had the reputation of being a haven for lefties for years now. Anyone who goes there without knowing this beforehand has no real right to complain about it, and anyone who goes there with this foreknowledge is presumed to be forearmed. So what's the fuss?
My favorite Valentine's Day story My alma mater, Trinity University, featured two all-school semi-formal dances per year, with the spring dance being, appropriately enough, a Valentine's Day dance. In 1987 during my junior year, my roommate Greg and our suitemates made plans to go to the spring fete, to be held at a downtown hotel.

(Historical footnote: There's a picture that survives from this event. I had really shaggy hair back then, and my only tie was a blue knit. Thankfully, there's no scanned image of this photo, so you're in no danger of seeing it any time soon.)

My roommate Greg drove a little white 1964 Volvo sports car, which I nicknamed Lazarus for its propensity to die and be brought back to life by providential forces. As the day of the dance approached, his car died on him again. He tried to start it but eventually gave up and called his sister Susie, who attended college at Our Lady of the Lake University, which is also in San Antonio. Susie drove over to the TU campus, gave the keys to Greg, hopped in the passenger's seat so he could drive her back to OLLU, and watched in horror as her car sputtered, gasped, and croaked. Yep, Greg had become an automotive serial killer. Nonetheless, I loaned him my beloved 1969 Nova to take Susie back to her campus, secure in the knowledge that my car could take care of herself.

So Greg called Dana, his date, and confessed his plight. No problem, said Dana, I just got my car back from my dad. Dad's a mechanic and he just tuned it up, so we'll use my wheels. Little did she know...

Now Greg is nothing if not romantic. He heard an ad on the radio for a Valentine's Day dinner special at a local Italian restaurant, featuring dinner for two, wine and dessert for a reasonable price. As V-Day was that Friday, the day of the dance, he made a reservation for 8 PM. The dance was slated to go from 9 PM to 1 AM.

We others, too cheap and/or unromantic to follow Greg's example, got to the dance at 9, just before a torrential downpour hit the River City. We ate, drank, danced, made merry, and as the hour grew later and their absence got more noticeable, speculated with increasing titillation as to just what the heck Greg and Dana were up to. Finally, one AM arrived with no sign of them. We headed home, and I wondered if I was going to find myself locked out of the dorm room.

The door was unlocked when we got there, so my date and I entered my room. There on the couch we found Greg and Dana, both fully dressed, slightly wet, and in Dana's case, a bit drunk. Greg told the sad tale: On the way down highway 281 in the midst of this biblical rainstorm, smoke and steam started pouring from under the hood of Dana's car. A radiator hose had burst, and the car had overheated. They were stuck. Fortunately, on such a night, freelance tow trucks cruised the freeways, and they didn't have to wait long before one showed up to tow them home. They glumly piled into the cab of the truck to discover that the driver's wife and two small children were also there. Apparently, Mrs. Driver didn't want her husband to be lonely on Valentine's Day, so she and the kids accompanied him for the night. Somehow, this made the ride back to campus a little nicer, albeit a lot more crowded. The rest of the evening was spent drying off and drinking wine.

When I first related this story to a coworker, it didn't strike me until I was finished that these events had taken place 10 years before. It's now been 15 years, and as I did then I wonder how Mr. and Mrs. Tow-Truck Driver are doing these days. Happy Valentine's Day to all, especially my old classmates and extra-especially to Greg, who only killed one more vehicle that year as far as I can recall.
An even better Valentine's Day story can be found here, in this tale of a WTC survivor and his wedding ring.
The readers write back I got a reply to this post from Joe Morales, brother of Democratic candidate for US Senate Victor Morales. With his permission, I'm reprinting his note to me:

It is not unusual that a lot of people don't know of Victor Morales' strength in this year's primary. What most people don't know is that for the last 5 years Victor has been touring the state of Texas ( and other states to a lesser extent) as a Motivational speaker, speaking at the major Texas colleges, high schools, and elementaries. All of those kids (which would add up to the thousands) would go home and naturally in some if not most cases tell their parents about their school experiences.

Victor was doing this full time but of course it was not newsworthy so many people did not know except those of us involved, such as family, friends and students, that his name and face was out in the public eye almost non-stop since 1996. That was one of the main reasons given our discussions, that Victor decided to run. Many hundreds of adults still remembered him, liked his sincerity and knowledge of issues (which were never reported in the media) and encouraged him to run again. After all, he was a high school civics and government teacher for years and years so he had more knowledge than given credit for.

So his strength to those close to him was no surprise even to the Democratic higher ups who were calling him trying to get him to not run for office. One Democratic leader went so far as to offer a high government office (which I won't divulge to prevent embarressment for that person) if he would support their candidate, work in his campaign and not run for office. Even Mayor Kirk called to ask for his support. I could go on and on about what happened behind the scenes but let's just wait and see where this Senate race ends up. I'll bet more folks will be surprised by the outcome. After all, the polls show Victor only 5 points behind The AG in a head to head matchup in Nov.

This article in Roll Call mentions the mere 5-point gap between Victor Morales and presumptive Republican nominee (he's unopposed in the primary) John Cornyn. Of course, the same poll shows Ron Kirk trailing by six points and Ken Bentsen by eight, so it may be more about Cornyn than Morales. Still, given what a GOP stronghold Texas has become and given that the Attorney General and former judge Cornyn is a well-known name, that's encouraging for the Dems.

Whether you viewed Victor Morales' 1996 quest as quixotic or energizing, the fact that he scored 45% of the vote against a powerful incumbent who outspent him 14-1 is impressive. If he wins the nomination, he's once again likely to do better than anyone thinks. I sure won't make the mistake of forgetting about him again.

2/13/2002

Today is Ash Wednesday, the day after Mardi Gras and the first day of Lent. Tiffany traditionally gives up chocolate for Lent. I figure that means that I don't have to give up anything. I'm going to be living with a chocolate-deprived wife for 40 days. Haven't I suffered enough?
Sherron Watkins to testify before Congress The Enron exec (she's still with the company) and whistleblower has placed no limits on what questions she'll answer. Keep quiet, Kenny Boy. It ain't gonna matter.

Meanwhile, the oh-so-poor Lays have sold their cottage in Aspen for $10 million, "fetching the highest price per square foot that real estate agents can remember in this haven for the rich and famous." They bought the place for $1.9 million in 1991. Nice to hear that they've got resources beyond Enron stock, no?
Also taking the Fifth this week was Craig Rosebrough, an alleged leader of the radical Earth Liberation Front. I say "alleged" here because he's never been directly linked to any of their activities, he's only ever claimed to be a conduit for their communiques. The ELF, in case you're not familiar with them, makes their political statements by destroying new developments that they dislike, usually via arson. In 1998,they burned down a ski resort in Vail, which caused $12 million in damage.

So far, no one has been killed by the ELF's actions, as they tend to do their thing when buildings are known to be empty. As FBI counterterrorism official James Jarboe said, "[I]t is only a matter of time before they accidentally kill someone". Firefighters have in fact nearly been killed, according to Jarboe. Think the ELF will get any sympathy from the public if a firefighter dies while dealing with their handiwork? I don't.
Not so fast The new 55 MPH speed limit signs are continuing to go up, despite the request of the Harris County attorney to suspend implementation. Now we're waiting on a ruling from the state, which seems to be saying "we can go along with this if you want, but if the feds crack down it's your ass". I won't shed any tears if they abandon the lower speed limit, but I sure hope the local powers that be know what they're doing.
Speaking of inscrutable Olympic sports Fritz Schranck defends curling, quite possibly the only Olympic sport which can be played by people with beer guts, at least until bridge gets certified. I'm glad you like it, Fritz, but curling strikes me as shuffleboard on ice. On the other hand, unlike figure skating, at least the outcome in curling is objectively determined.
Figure skating scandal Damian Penny points to the unfolding figure skating scandal in which French and Russian judges collaborated to give the gold to Russians Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze. Justin Slotman also has some good stuff.

I don't watch figure skating, so I can't judge the case that Jaime Sale and David Pelletier should have won convincingly. I will say that all joking about "Russian judges" aside, I haven't seen this much fuss about an official's decision since the 1972 US-USSR basketball game. I'm impressed.

There is a silver lining in all this, from the ESPN article linked above:

Until Monday, only a few diehard figure skating fans in North America knew who Sale and Pelletier were. That's all changed.

"Their agent told me he's had about a hundred calls," Brennan said. "I'm guessing they are now a household name, which never would have been if they'd won the gold medal with no controversy. I would imagine that they became millionaires in the last 24 hours. The sympathy factor is huge."

Living well is the best revenge, eh?

2/12/2002

How Enron actually works Andrew Hofer has explained the concept of derivatives to us non-financial whizzes, but though Hofer's prose is as lucid as one can be for such a topic, I guarantee that you'll enjoy Joe Bob Briggs' explanation of Enron's business more. Chuck Bob says check it out.
How government actually works On a more serious note, Fritz Schranck gives a good explanation of How Things Get Done In Government. It's well worth reading, and provides (as Schranck himself mentions at the end) another good argument against term limits.
A short rant about usability Dane Carlson, whose weblog is more technical than political, points to this interesting article on website usability. I'm definitely a technical user, so none of the concepts described within were new to me, but it reinforces the notion that many web sites suck from a user's perspective. They suck because they are designed by people who don't know and don't think to find out how people will actually use them.

Lest you think that I'm going to spend my time bashing web designers, I wanted to make the point that usability is an issue in many places, inside and outside the world of computers. Today a coworker and I spent an hour installing a component of some fax server software. We've been installing bits and pieces of this software for awhile now, and at every step there's been something about the install process that makes us swear. Today during the install we had to manually specify a bunch of directories that the program will use. There was no reason why the program didn't have a default set for these directories, with an offer to create them for us. Later, we had to specify a print queue for the software to use. The interface forced us to go through the godawful Network Neighborhood hierarchy in Windows NT, and never gave us the opportunity to type in the path we wanted to use. Unbelievable.

And then there's houses. I've already ranted some about clueless homebuilders. Last weekend we saw more examples of What Not To Do. One house we looked at had a den abutting the kitchen. The wall opposite had a fireplace with mantel and built-in bookshelves on either side. The adjoining wall had two windows, and opposite it was the stairs to the second floor.

In the corner of this room was the one cable outlet on the ground floor. The problem is, where would the TV go? Between the fireplace, bookshelves, windows, and stairway, there was no logical place for a TV. Plus, wherever you wound up putting the TV anyway, you'd either block the breakfast bar or the stairs by putting in a couch to watch the TV. Basically, once you attempt to furnish that room, it becomes useless. We really ragged on the builder for that.

That house and its neighbor, both built by the same construction company, both had finished attics on the third floor. They were intended as rec rooms, for kids or grownups, since there was no obvious place downstairs in either house. Unfortunately, there was no plumbing installed in either room, so you'd always be forced to go downstairs if you need to use the bathroom or want to have a drink. (You could install a fridge, but not one with an icemaker.) What's the point of that?

All of these things have a common feature, which is that the problems could have easily been avoided if someone had taken the time to think about how they were going to be used. Simple, isn't it?
I can't drive 55 The Harris County attorney is asking the TNRCC to reconsider implementing the 55 MPH speed limit, saying that a new study claims it will not achieve its touted air quality improvements. While I'm not surprised to see that an array of interests has sued the State Implementation Plan (SIP), I was surprised to see this statement:

Ramon Alvarez, a scientist for Environmental Defense in Austin, said the group has not promoted the 55-mph speed limit.

"We do not believe the strategy is as effective as the plan claims it to be. We think it will be difficult to enforce and involves the risk of creating public resentment of environmental programs," he said.

A better strategy, Alvarez said, would be to use financial incentives to reduce driving, such as basing auto insurance premiums on miles traveled instead of time, and allowing employees to pay transit fares out of pre-tax dollars.

First, the enforcement issue is one I'd wondered about. Houstonians (myself included) are notorious leadfoots. One reason why is that we can get away with it. I can't tell you how many times I've been doing 70 in a 60- or 65-MPH zone and been passed by an HPD car. I've been in Houstn over 13 years and the only speeding ticket I've ever gotten was not in town. I believe most people will ignore a 55 MPH limit unless enforcement is heavily stepped up, and even then people will take their chances more often than not.

On the flip side is the fact that you can't go 55, let alone 70, on most of the freeways here much of the time. There's too many cars out there. As I've said before, all the stop-and-go driving on the roads here has got to be worse for the air than going 70 MPH, but beyond the current MetroRail plans (which is more aimed at reducing non-highway inner city traffic) there are no hard plans on the horizon to bring rail out to where the heavy stuff is. Until there's a real alternative to driving to work, we're not going to make much progress on reducing auto emissions.

2/11/2002

Would you like fries with that? Got this off a mailing list I'm on:

Heinz launches chocolate french fries

Beginning in May, H.J. Heinz Co. will ship a new line of Ore-Ida frozen potato products called Funky Fries featuring five new shapes, colors and flavors, all intended to give kids even more say over their parents' grocery store lists.

The new products include French fries flavored with sour cream and chives, or cinnamon and sugar, and a new product called Crunchy Rings - basically Tater Tots with a hole in the middle.

Then there's Kool Blue - a sky blue seasoned French fry, and Cocoa Crispers -- a brown chocolate fry designed "for kids with a sweet tooth."

"We asked the kids what would make them want to eat more French fries," said John Carroll, managing director of North American potatoes and snacks for Heinz' frozen food division.

Man. No one ever had to do anything funky to get me to want to eat french fries. I always thought they were their own reward. That's great when you're a kid, not so great when you're an almost-36-year-old grownup with a desk job and a fondness for the couch. Even as I write this, I'm trying not to think about the excellent fries at Fuddruckers, which I regularly crave and am barely able to resist most of the time.

So I have a hard time understanding why anyone needs funky flavors as an enticement to eat french fries. I remember a frozen-french-fry-like product from my childhood called "I Hate X", where X was a vegetable. They made french-fry-like things out of the vegetable, on the theory that they would then be more palatable to finicky children since they looked and (sort of) tasted like french fries. It actually worked pretty well, though I still refused to touch the "I Hate Broccoli" ones. Haven't seen them in years now.

My old college roommate Greg used to dip his fries in mayonnaise. I once thought that was the best example of taking a basically unhealthy food and making it even worse for you. Then I was introduced to chili cheese fries. That sound you hear is my arteries hardening at the very thought.

I mentioned that to the other list members, and found that lots of people like dipping their fries in nontraditional condiments. The most popular, which I found moderately appalling, was Wendy's chocolate Frosties. Others voted for tartar sauce, and vinegar. Personally, when I go to Fudd's, I like to use their barbecue sauce. It's zippier than regular ketchup without being, you know, gross.

What's the strangest thing you've ever seen someone dip french fries into? Let me know, and I'll print any interesting replies I get.
Getting Googled Perusing my referral log (have I mentioned how addicting it is to look at one's referral log?), I see that a few people have found there way here via Google searches. So far, one person found me via a search for Rick Majerus and Temple, one by looking for "Arthur Anderson joke" (no doubt it helps to spell "Arthur Andersen" correctly), and two people have found me by searching for Angel Boris, one of whom also included "Fear Factor" in his criteria.

Dunno if these folks found what they were looking for, but the lesson is clear: Mention a Playmate, and the hits will come.

By the way, if you have some time to kill and a good vocabulary, give Googlewhacking a try.
Rany on the Royals Rany Jazayerli does a reality check on KC sportswriter Joe Posnanski, who is brimming with optimism about the Royals' chances in the upcoming season. Rany regularly writes about the foibles of his accursed favorite team, which centers around the fact that they have never figured out that scoring runs is a good thing, and to score runs you must get on base. The Royals are almost always near the bottom of the league in runs scored, walks, and on-base percentage, and their management shows no indication that they understand that these are Bad Things.

Rany bemoans the blind spot that the 1985 World Series victory has given the Royals:

The shadow of 1985 still hovers over this franchise like a giant albatross, brainwashing the Royals into thinking that offense is strictly optional for World Championship teams. The Royals won a World Series with George Brett and seven defensive specialists...In some ways, winning a World Championship with Buddy Biancalana as the starting shortstop was the worst thing that happened to the Royals.

The irony is that Buddy Biancalana had 15 minutes of fame immediately after the World Series when David Letterman invited him on the Late Night show. Part of Dave's schtick was showing highlights of Biancalana's World Series performance. What clips did Dave show? The five times that Biancalana walked. (In dramatic slow-mo, of course.)

Admittedly, a couple (two, I think) of these were intentional, as Buddy batted before the pitcher. But still, rather than lament his role on the last Royal World Series winner, I think Rany should celebrate him and hold him up as the model of the next World Series winner, whenever that may be.

2/10/2002

Women who kick butt Karin rants about Britney and the sad lack of powerful women in rock music nowadays. I hear what you're saying, but fercryingoutloud, how could you overlook The Pretenders? I wouldn't bet against Chrissie Hynde in any butt-kicking contest, regardless of the competition.

I suppose country music offers some hope, in the form of the Dixie Chicks and Mary-Chapin Carpenter. I'm at least as clueless as Karin as far as the hiphop world goes, so maybe the landscape is truly barren. Just don't forget about Chrissie Hynde, or it might be your butt she kicks next.
Governor race update Tony Sanchez appears to have a decent lead over Dan Morales according to the latest poll of Democratic primary voters. Sanchez's advertising, which I've mentioned before, is helping him.

Over in the Senate primary, Victor Morales has a small lead over Houston Congressman Ken Bentson and Dallas mayor Ron Kirk. This surprises me, since Morales (last seen during his 1996 race against Phil Gramm for this same Senate seat) has done nearly no advertising or campaigning so far. Heck, I'd forgotten he was in the race. Much as I admired Morales back in 1996, I'm not sure he's the one this time. It's still too early to call this race.

It should be noted that having Hispanics Democrats in the main races could be very bad news for the state GOP. Hispanics historically have not been much of a force as a voting bloc. Too many are unregistered, and too many who are registered don't vote. That could be changing, though. The lesson we learn from Orlando Sanchez's run for mayor in Houston is that Hispanic candidates will draw Hispanic voters, even (as was often the case with Orlando Sanchez) if the voters don't necessarily agree with the candidate's politics. The state GOP is hoping to capitalize on former Governor Bush's popularity with Hispanics, but I think they're going to take the historic opportunity to vote for one of their own.

Not that the Dems should get too smug about this. Governor Perry has good popularity numbers and will certainly play up his ties to the President. The GOP is also pretty adept at turning out its voters. There's no indication that Tony Sanchez or either Morales would have coattails, either, so John Sharp better make his own effort to court these voters if he wants to become Lieutenant Governor. Finally, while Orlando Sanchez may have invigorated Houston Hispanic voters, he still lost the race. Hispanic voters may have a lot of potential to determine political races, but as we know from sports, "potential" means "ain't done nothin' yet".

UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias and Ginger Stampley also have words of wisdom on this topic.
Referrals, we get referrals If you've come here via the link on Matt Welch's Warblog, please note that his URL contains a typo, which is why you're here at the top of the page instead of here, which is where he intended to send you.

Regardless, I'm glad you're here. Don't be a stranger, take off your coat and stay awhile.
What I'd like to see at the Olympics It's nearly de rigeur to complain about the coverage of the Olympics. From the extreme glut of Oprahesque stories about athletes conquered obstacles on their way to acheiving the Olympic dream, to "plausibly live" coverage, to too much focus on American athletes in events where they have no chance, to banishing the less-sexy sports from the airwaves, everyone has a gripe about what they do and don't see on NBC.

Well, here's what I think. I think NBC or whoever should look for a way to create personalized Olympic coverage. Offer a subscription for $25 or $50 that would allow a household to pick and choose exactly what events they want to see on a given day. Nonsubscribers can still watch whatever the network suits choose to air on the main station, anyone else can be their own executive producer.

I have no idea whether this is financially feasible for a network, and it may only be realistic for folks with some combination of digital cable and TiVo, or perhaps a satellite dish and TiVo, but ask yourself: Wouldn't you pay a reasonable fee for guaranteed coverage of what you want to see? It can't be that much different than established premium services like ESPN College Game Day. Why hasn't anyone thought of this?

UPDATE: Got a note from Duncan Fitzgerald, who recalls that a pay-per-view scheme was tried before, in 1992. Guess it wasn't much of a success, but surely the technology has advanced enough that it could be done better now. I think people are more used to the idea of paying for premium coverage now, which argues for another attempt. Tying into TiVo/ReplayTV technology also means you can work around the problem of when the games are in an awkward time zone for American audiences, as the 2004 Games in Athens will be. C'mon, guys. There's synergy to be captured here!
House update We're getting close to making an offer on the house we've been looking at. We toured three other houses yesterday, and though one of them was very nice we came away more convinced that we're not going to find anything better. Now we're getting worried that someone else will come to that same conclusion and beat us to the punch. So, we've asked our agent to see if the owner of that house will consider a contingency offer. We'll see.

In the meantime, we are getting our house's exterior painted. Today we're planning on doing some of the fixup jobs inside that will need to be done before we can start showing this house. That will be either some repair to the walls in the master bath (reinstall a robe hook that fell off, patch a hole for an ill-placed towel rack, etc), or repair the window sill that Harry scratched up while barking at trucks and other dogs.

Next up is the mortgage qualification process. Then the fun really begins.