Archive for October, 2006

Sports cause crime; porn and violent movies don’t

October 31, 2006

From the Freakonomics blog:

That is the argument of Sebastien Roche, a French political scientist. In writing about the French riots last year, Roche has challenged the conventional wisdom that sports provide a good outlet for young men and perhaps keeps them out of trouble. To the contrary, Roche contends, “the practice of sport never reduces the number of crimes” and, furthermore, sports can even “give the opportunity to develop physical abilities useful for street crime: running, how to use impulsive behaviour, how to master the use of force.”

This strikes me as a fascinating subject, and an interesting argument, although the proof offered by Roche and his like-minded colleagues seems very thin. Their research is based on interviews with young men and shows that the more time a young man spends playing sports, the more likely he is to have committed a serious crime. But does this mean that sports are the culprit? Couldn’t it just as easily mean that the kind of young man who’s criminally inclined a) doesn’t have a job; and b) therefore has a lot of free time; which c) he spends playing sports? The argument that sports and violence go hand and hand is a powerful one (though hardly new: Robert Lipsyte, for one, has written convincingly on the subject in the past); but I don’t find Roche’s arguments very persuasive.

(The full post contains the article with all the arguments and counterarguments)

And from Slate:

The bottom line on these experiments is, “More Net access, less rape.” A 10 percent increase in Net access yields about a 7.3 percent decrease in reported rapes. States that adopted the Internet quickly saw the biggest declines. And, according to Clemson professor Todd Kendall, the effects remain even after you control for all of the obvious confounding variables, such as alcohol consumption, police presence, poverty and unemployment rates, population density, and so forth.

OK, so we can at least tentatively conclude that Net access reduces rape. But that’s a far cry from proving that porn access reduces rape. Maybe rape is down because the rapists are all indoors reading Slate or vandalizing Wikipedia. But professor Kendall points out that there is no similar effect of Internet access on homicide. It’s hard to see how Wikipedia can deter rape without deterring other violent crimes at the same time. On the other hand, it’s easy to imagine how porn might serve as a substitute for rape.

If not Wikipedia, then what? Maybe rape is down because former rapists have found their true loves on But professor Kendall points out that the effects are strongest among 15-year-old to 19-year-old perpetrators—the group least likely to use such dating services.


Next, violence. What happens when a particularly violent movie is released? Answer: Violent crime rates fall. Instantly. Here again, we have a lot of natural experiments: The number of violent movie releases changes a lot from week to week. One weekend, 12 million people watch Hannibal, and another weekend, 12 million watch Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

University of California professors Gordon Dahl and Stefano DellaVigna compared what happens on those weekends. The bottom line: More violence on the screen means less violence in the streets. Probably that’s because violent criminals prefer violent movies, and as long as they’re at the movies, they’re not out causing mischief. They’d rather see Hannibal than rob you, but they’d rather rob you than sit through Wallace & Gromit.

I’ve often wondered about the conventional wisdom in these areas, as it never made any sense to me. I’ve never ever understood (or gotten a good answer on) what it is exactly that we’re “protecting children” from when it comes to porn, nudity, and sex. As violence goes, the last two decades have seen pretty clear declines in crime across the board, despite the ever-increasing prevalence of violent video games, movies, and television. While I see more cause for concern when it comes to violent media, I don’t see anything to justify the kind of moral panic that arises from the likes of Doom, Mortal Kombat, Grand Theft Auto, or the latest summer blockbuster.

Meanwhile, sports *are* unquestionably violent. They do cause injury. They lend themselves to a jock culture. They interfere with academics. They put undue pressure on participants. Millions of high school students bank their futures on getting into the NFL/NBA/MLB. They teach hypercompetitiveness. Etc. Etc. The list of negatives gets to be pretty long. Yet our culture views sports as “wholesome”, and reveres athletes as demi-Gods (or at least, reveres them enough to justify 7 and 8 digit paychecks)

The dissonance in our culture with regards to these topics is pretty astounding.


A little spam-love

October 25, 2006

This got passed Gmail’s spam filters today. I’m not sure what they’re trying to sell, exactly, but it’s damn funny:

Now and then, a power drill pees on another spider. A blotched polar bear takes a coffee break, and a prime minister living with a spider brainwashes a shabby salad dressing. When you see some dust bunny defined by the photon, it means that a nation daydreams. Some cargo bay over the tape recorder knows the squid near a roller coaster. Now and then, a hockey player related to some cab driver buries a lover around a movie theater.

Now and then, a power drill pees on another spider. A blotched polar bear takes a coffee break, and a prime minister living with a spider brainwashes a shabby salad dressing. When you see some dust bunny defined by the photon, it means that a nation daydreams. Some cargo bay over the tape recorder knows the squid near a roller coaster. Now and then, a hockey player related to some cab driver buries a lover around a movie theater. Most people believe that a satellite falls in love with a loyal tape recorder, but they need to remember how ostensibly a load bearing burglar wakes up. The inferiority complex thoroughly secretly admires the power drill. A frustrating briar patch satiates a boiled recliner. An overripe blithe spirit is muddy.

A non-chalantly fat turkey

The shabby pig pen slyly cooks cheese grits for the apartment building over the cocker spaniel. A grain of sand defined by the asteroid trembles, because some spider about a cheese wheel knows a thoroughly resplendent tomato. Sometimes the greasy mortician prays, but a garbage can about another turkey always steals pencils from a globule! Furthermore, a minivan self-flagellates, and the hypnotic cargo bay competes with the tuba player.

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Journalism at its finest

October 19, 2006

The New York Times (“All the news that’s fit to print”) broke a shocking story today: Some women use Halloween as an opportunity to dress like sluts. I know, I’m shocked too.

Does anyone else miss the days when the newsmedia actually set out to educate and inform the electorate, instead of printing stories about the bleedingly obvious as an excuse to print this picture alongside it?


One ring to rule them all

October 18, 2006

“As the hobbits are going up Mount Doom, the Eye of Mordor is being drawn somewhere else,” Santorum [Senator, R-PA] said, describing the tool the evil Lord Sauron used in search of the magical ring that would consolidate his power over Middle-earth.

“It’s being drawn to Iraq and it’s not being drawn to the U.S.,” Santorum continued. “You know what? I want to keep it on Iraq. I don’t want the Eye to come back here to the United States.”


I saw this yesterday and I just thought it was yet another dumb thing to come out of Rick Santorum’s mouth. But then I started thinking more about the analogy, and strangely, it fits (most notably, I can’t get the image of Karl Rove as Wormtongue out of my head now). Santorum is just drawing the wrong comparisons.

The eye is more like “public attention”, with Iraq being the siege on the gates of Mordor, to distract Sauron from the One Ring, AKA, Dick Cheney’s Precious (oil).

Alright, so maybe it’s not a good analogy and it really was nothing more than a stupid thing for Santorum to say (thankfully, he’ll be out of the Senate in a couple of weeks). Still, it’s fun to cast the Bush Administration as Lord of the Rings characters. Bush does strike me as having Gollum-like qualities, and it’s easy to see Rice and Rumsfeld as Nazgul, with Cheney being the Witch-King. The religious right would be the orcs. Not sure who’d get to play the role of Sarumon though…

In celebration of another arbitrary round number

October 17, 2006

Today’s post was brought to you by the number 300,000,000 and the letter R.

In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue…

October 16, 2006

Alright, so I know Columbus day was last week, but I thought I’d throw this out there anyway, as it’s been a perennial mystery for me.

One of the myths we tell schoolchildren is that “Columbus discovered the Earth was round”. Now, anyone with half a brain today knows that anyone with half a brain back then knew the Earth was round already. Columbus knew it, and so did the Spanish royalty he pitched his idea to.

The amazing thing though has nothing to do with the Earth being round vs flat, but rather, just how big the Earth is. You see, as early as the ancient Greeks, people knew the Earth was round. They even had a pretty good idea of just how big it was – Eratosthenes nailed it to within about 2% in 240 BC and Ptolemy was another one who got pretty close a little later in history. There was a steady stream of scholars after that who estimated the modern number pretty closely using various methods.

So, here’s the problem: Europeans didn’t know that the Americas were there. So using the most accurate numbers available to them, that put 12,000 miles of ocean between the west coast of Europe and the east coast of Asia. Basically, an impossibly long voyage in 1492.

Columbus however, he got the idea in his head that the distance wasn’t 12,000 miles, but rather 3,000 miles (coincidentally, roughly the distance to the east coast of America). Wikipedia explains it:

Following Washington Irving’s myth-filled 1828 biography of Columbus, it became common supposed knowledge that Columbus had difficulty obtaining support for his plan because Europeans believed that the earth was flat. In fact, few people at the time of Columbus’s voyage, and virtually no sailors or navigators, believed this. Most agreed that the earth was a sphere. Indeed, knowledge of the Earth’s spherical nature was not limited to scientists: for instance, Dante’s Divine Comedy is based on a spherical Earth. Columbus put forth arguments that were based on the circumference of the sphere. Most scholars accepted Ptolemy’s claim that the terrestrial landmass (for Europeans of the time, comprising Eurasia and Africa) occupied 180 degrees of the terrestrial sphere, leaving 180 degrees of water.

Columbus, however, believed the calculations of Marinus of Tyre that the landmass occupied 225 degrees, leaving only 135 degrees of water. Moreover, Columbus believed that 1 degree represented a shorter distance on the earth’s surface than was commonly held. Finally, he read maps as if the distances were calculated in Italian miles (1,238 meters). Accepting the length of a degree to be 56? miles, from the writings of Al-Farghani, he therefore calculated the circumference of the Earth as 25,255 kilometers at most, and the distance from the Canary Islands to Japan as 3,000 Italian miles (3,700 km). Columbus did not realize that Al-Farghani used the much longer Arabic mile of about 1,830 meters.

The problem facing Columbus was that experts did not accept his estimate of the distance to the Indies. The true circumference of the Earth is about 40,000 kilometers, and the distance from the Canary Islands to Japan is 19,600 kilometers. No ship in the 15th century could carry enough food to sail from the Canary Islands to Japan. Most European sailors and navigators concluded, correctly, that sailors undertaking a westward voyage from Europe to Asia non-stop would die of starvation or thirst long before reaching their destination. Spain however, only recently unified through the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella, was desperate for a competitive edge over other European countries in trade with the East Indies. Columbus promised them that edge.

So Columbus thought the distance was 3,000 miles. The rest of the world thought it was 12,000. Columbus was really, really wrong – and had to have been really, really sure of himself to ignore the wisdom of all the scholars in his time; he’d have been committing suicide if he was wrong.

I don’t know about you, but that strikes me as just downright odd. Columbus had almost no support for his belief about the size of the Earth, yet he was willing to put his life on the line to prove it. I’d love to know why.

The best theory that I have is that Columbus, somehow, knew that the Americas were there before selling out – or at least that there was land 3,000 miles to the west. That would at least explain why he believed the Earth was so small, and he was not, after all, the first European to get actually get there by a long shot. But even if that’s the case, it begs the question of how exactly he knew this and what made him so sure of what he was told.

It’s a bit of a mystery that I think has been overlooked. I’d love if anyone had any additional insight into it. Any thoughts?

From a Jesus Camp Survivor

October 15, 2006

I just wanted to point to this great essay found on Daily Kos written by someone who grew up as one of those “Jesus Camp” kids.

Mark Warner decides not to run in ‘08

October 12, 2006

It’s a damn shame; for a long while I’ve thought he was the Democrats best candidate for the next election. The most frustrating part is the reason he gave for the decision.

I have decided not to run for President.

This past weekend, my family and I went to Connecticut to celebrate my Dad’s 81st birthday, and then we took my oldest daughter Madison to start looking at colleges.

I know these moments are never going to come again. This weekend made clear what I’d been thinking about for many weeks—that while politically this appears to be the right time for me to take the plunge—at this point, I want to have a real life.

And while the chance may never come again, I shouldn’t move forward unless I’m willing to put everything else in my life on the back burner.

Who was it that said “The best men don’t get into politics”? It’s a bloody shame that the people with exactly the right attitude are excluded from the Presidency because of it.

As far as 2008 goes… if it’s another contest between slimeballs I’m moving to Canada.

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Announcing My Candidacy for the Presidency of the United States

October 5, 2006

In 2020 anyway, as that’ll be the first election I’m eligible to run in. I figure I’ll need at least fifteen years to build grassroots support for my candidacy though, so I’m getting started on it now.

As your President, I pledge not to d any of the stupid shit that politicians do now, and have been doing for the last fifty years. Yeah, that’s right, I’m not just talking about Bush here – the whole thing has made me sick. It’s so dishonest and so fake that I’ve had enough of it, I think he rest of America has too.

I pledge to bring integrity to the office. No, seriously, I will. Face it – anyone in that office is going to make some mistakes. But I’ll own up to them. You’ll hear me take responsibility and apologize for them. You’ll know exactly what I’ll do to correct the errors and what steps I’ve taken to prevent their recurrence. I’ll learn and adapt.

I’ll surround myself with the very best and brightest people that I can get, irrespective of their ideology or affiliation. In fact, I’ll be more likely to hire someone who I disagree with; someone who knows their shit and can challenge my own ideas about a subject. Which isn’t to say I won’t also look for people I know and who I know I can work with; but qualifications will reign supreme and when I say one of my people do a “Heckuva job” it’ll only be because they in fact did a heckuva job.

I will run the most transparent Administration in history. I will keep a blog explaining all my actions and thought processes. Me. Not a press secretary of political advisor. I intend to have an ongoing conversation with the American people; new technologies have enabled that and it’s about time they get adopted by our Democracy. You’ll know where I am, who I’m talking to, and what I’m working on at all times. The same will go for my whole Administration.

I’ll be candid. As much as possible, I’ll say what I mean and mean what I say. I’ll speak the truth as clearly and concisely as possible, given that the truth is often fuzzier than we’d like. Everything will be laid out on the table, because I respect the American people enough to give them the bad with the good; there’s a downside and upside to every decision the President makes, you deserve to know that.

There will be no room for lobbyists in the White House. Instead, I’ll seek out the people who are affected by the issues under consideration myself. If there’s an issue I’m not considering that I should be, mention it in the comments area of my blog.

On the issues, I’ll listen to you as much as possible. My own views matter far less than the will of the people, and I’ll try to exercise your decisions as much as possible (so long as that will doesn’t infringe on Constitutional law). I won’t ever try to “sell” you on a policy I want to implement.

A few other things you should know. I won’t ever wear a suit and tie to work. They’re stupid. I’ll refuse any royal treatment – I can’t stand that stuff anyway. None of these fancy dinners and honorifics. I am not royalty. I will accept a salary no greater than the median income at that time. In return, I’ll work my ass off for four years. I might take an hour to myself here and there, and try to stick to a six day week to avoid burnout. But given the responsibilities of the job, I think it’s mostly a 24/7 thing.

That’s all for now. As the campaign evolves I’m sure I’ll develop this further, based on feedback from the citizenry.

List of Constitutional Amendments Bush has NOT violated (yet)

October 1, 2006

Why? Simply because this will make for a shorter list than trying to list all the ones he’s pissed on.

2nd Amendment

To the best of my knowledge, Bush has not in any way infringed on the right to bear arms.

3rd Amendment

Bush hasn’t tried to quarter soldiers in private residences.

11th Amendment

I don’t think Bush has violated this suits against states provision yet, but maybe someone has an example of it.

12th Amendment

I’m putting this one here tentatively. Given the shenanigans that went on in both 2000 and 2004, I don’t think it rose to the level of violating the way the Electoral College was supposed to work.

13th Amendment

Well, slavery hasn’t been reinstituted officially, at least.

16th Amendment

I guess the only way to actually violate this would be to force Congress not to collect an income tax…

17th Amendment

Well, he hasn’t mucked with the election of Senators, to my knowledge. Though he hasn’t exactly gone out of his way to uphold the integrity of elections, either, which is why I’m reluctant to say he hasn’t violated any of the amendments dealing with voting rights. But hey, I’ll give him this one, just because he has so few points in his column to begin with.

18th and 21st Amendments

I can still get a drink. Thank God for that.

20th and 22nd Amendments

Well let’s just see if he steps down in 2008.

23rd Amendment

Congress still runs DC. Check.

24th Amendment

Well, I haven’t seen any poll taxes, at least no direct ones. But again, the whole Bush and elections thing…

25th Amendment

Cheney is still next in the line of succession *shudders*

26th Amendment

Yeah, the right of Congress to give itself pay raises hasn’t been touched.

So I count 15 out of 26 Amendments left un-violated (though only 2 out of the original 10). Honestly, it’s better than I’d thought, but then again he’s got two years left…