Wednesday, March 31, 2004


Today the Moscow Times reported that the last World War II POW who had been held in the Soviet Union died in Budapest. Andras Toma was captured in 1944 by Soviet troops. He was deemed to be mentally unbalanced after some time as a POW, and was shipped to a psychological hospital. Given the use of the hospitals to house political prisoners during the Soviet era, it is hard to know whether he really was unstable.

In any case, Mr. Toma's use of the Hungarian language was misunderstood to be gibberish by Soviet doctors, and he remained in a Russian hospital until 2000, when a Hungarian-speaking Slovak doctor heard his speech and realized it was Hungarian. Mt Toma was then flown back to Hungary and eventually reunited with family he no longer knew he had.

OK, is the worst thing about this story that the Soviets, then the Russians didn't realize that they had a POW for 56 years, or that they could not identify the Hungarian language even after having INVADED the country in 1956? Remember, these were not just uneducated semi-rural Russians failing to identify a language spoken 1500 miles away. These were doctors and other very educated personnel. Incredible.

The other interesting point is that Hungarian is unrelated to the Slavic languages that made up the bulk of the Warsaw Pact languages (exceptions being German, Hungarian, and Romanian). The distance of Hungarian from the Slavic languages is made clear below:

Number Hungarian Polish Russian
1 egy jeden odéen
2 kettõ (két) dwa dva
3 három trzy tree
4 négy cztery chetíreh
5 öt piec pyat
6 hat szesc shest
7 hét siedem sem
8 nyolc osiem vósem
9 kilenc dziewiec dévyat

While the Polish and Russian are not identical they are much more similar than the Hungarian is to either. In fact, Hungarian is apparently even slightly related only to Estonian and Finnish. Boy, did that guy pick the wrong language to speak to his captors.


I might as well throw my money at the lottery as be in NCAA pools. I must accept that I simply do not watch enough college hoops to be a "fan" and generally don't care about teams I don't love (Illini), like (DePaul for old time's sake, Drake to preserve my marriage), or hate (Notre Dame, G.P. (which means General Principles), Iowa, Indiana, Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin--no sense in bothering to hate the remaining Big (11) Ten teams). Thus, when Alabama Southern Juco A&I plays New Mexico State School of Mines and Bartending, I have zero idea who will win.

Thursday, March 25, 2004


It is being reported all over the place that Richard Simmons slapped a man at the Phoenix airport for making a sarcastic crack about his videos. The man he is supposed to have slapped is reported to be 6'2", 250, and an ultimate fighter. I don't even know what to say about the image of Richard Simmons getting all worked up like he used to on Letterman and SLAPPING someone. I laugh every time I think about it.

Across the country, the natural consequence of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's ruling that Massachusetts was constitutionally obliged to allow gays to have either civil unions, or marriage, or some other legally recognized form of life-sharing (for lack of a better term) has occurred. The Boston Globe reports that a Boston probate judge dissolved a Vermont civil union. This is essentially equivalent to one of the very first gay divorces. Ah, it warms the heart to know that the field of play for divorce lawyers is set to grow by the roughly 10% of the population that is gay.

Meanwhile, the Men's NCAA Tournament restarts today. My bracket is terminally screwed. Still, because we run a sort of training wheels pool where I work, in which everyone repicks from the Sweet 16 to the finals, I could still finish in the money (I think). All I can say is GO ILLINI.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004


Chicago is a very Irish city. Therefore, St Patrick's Day is a sort of civic holiday here out of all proportion to the celebrations that happen in cities with fewer Irish. That being said, the most interesting thing I have seen so far was getting lunch. We went to a take-out Chinese place. The people working there are—Chinese. They have a few paper shamrocks up in the windows, but you get the distinct sense that the meaning of the shamrocks is lost.

Then the television behind the counter started showing a bunch of step-dancing girls. They were pretty good, getting good air, and being pretty synchronized. The Chinese were fascinated. They stopped working and watched, wide-eyed and slack jawed.

It suddenly struck me that no matter where these people came from, whether it be the PRC, the ROC, HK, or any other place, Ireland was almost certainly a distant, little known and little cared about corner of the world. For us, with the huge Irish population, Ireland seems immediate and important. How surreal must it be for these Chinese people to watch step dancers in Chicago?


A few days ago I wrote a little about Spain. The Spaniards have since elected a government that is pulling them back from what they perceive to be the front lines of terrorism. I fear that the Spanish have miscalculated that front line and they are just bringing the fight home. An hour or so ago a car bomb destroyed a hotel in Baghdad. Not New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, etc. Baghdad. Maybe that was the point of invading Iraq (after almost a year we're still trying to figure out why). It reminds me of the old NATO saying about short range nuclear missiles during the Cold War, "the shorter the range, the deader the Germans."

Friday, March 12, 2004

Yesterday in Madrid somebody detonated a number of bombs on trains and killed something like 200 with something like 1400 wounded. I think we all know how the Spaniards feel today, with relentless images, speculation, pain, and shock. I have a lot of sympathy for them, regardless of who detonated the bombs.


The Boston Globe carried a story about the theft of a number of priceless art pieces from the Gardner Museum in Boston in 1990. Personally, I had no idea that this happened. I blame the fact that I was a freshman in college and probably home on Spring Break for my dearth of knowledge. Anyway, the story is really fascinating.

In the predawn hours of March 18, 1990, as all of the drunken St. Patrick's Day revelers were passing out, two men dressed as Boston police officers talked their way past the museum's security guards. They walked off with 13 pieces of art, including Vermeers and Rembrandts. The pieces were essentially priceless, which seems like a big problem if you steal the art to sell it instead of display it. The case has not been solved.

One of the main focuses in the case has apparently been the possibility that the Irish Republican Army was involved in the heist. Apparently a local gangster had indicated that he could get the paintings back if a certain IRA member jailed in England were released. What makes it more interesting is that there is a whole cast of characters who have convictions for things like trying to run guns to the IRA who are weaved into the narrative. Crazy story, especially if the IRA did it on St. Patrick's day.

The FBI has a page with pictures of everything stolen here.

Oh, and by the way, apparently the first public St. Patrick's Day celebration in the United States was in 1737 in—Boston.


Indonesia is really, really big. The CIA World Factbook says that it is "slightly less than three times the size of Texas." I have no idea whose job it is to look up area figures and create these comparisons, but it is clearly a full-time job. Indonesia has about 235 million people. It is the largest Muslim country in the world. It is the largest archipelago in the world. With all of that, the fact is it is barely a cohesive country. I could make a bunch of long, political science arguments about why, but the International Herald Tribune really nailed it with this story of a man searching for the wild, lost white tribe of Indonesia.

The strange thing is not that he heard rumors of a wild, xenophobic white tribe that throws rocks with their feet and eats unwelcomed visitors raw. We have Big Foot stories in the U.S. Not really all THAT different. No, the strange thing is that when he went looking for them, a man who wears a loin cloth for clothes, and hunts with a hand made bow and bamboo arrows told him that the group did exist, but that he had never seen them. He wouldn't go looking for them either, since he had heard that they were really savages, with "eyes like sharks. Powerful magic. They eat people raw." When you have that sort of hierarchy of savagery, where the guy in the loin cloth is cracking on the magic tribe, you just barely have a country.

That also reminds me of the comedian who claimed that boxing was a socioeconomic mirror on the United States, with champions over the decades showing who was at the bottom of the hierarchy at any given time. I guess in Indonesia they don't have professional boxing. They just have rock throwing.


Reuters has a cool story about the area below one of the bridges in Edinburgh. They are vaults that were formed by the of the South Bridge, built between 1785 and 1788. Bricked in and built around, the vaults became a warren of nooks, crannies and tunnels forming the historic city's underworld. Apparently people lived down there in incredible conditions, and it is now the most haunted place in Britain. Pretty cool. Also, the creator of Sherlock Holmes spent time in these vaults during his time in medical school. Too bad they never appeared in a Holmes story.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004


The funny thing about this blog, if there *is* anything funny about this blog, is that most of the source material is actually found in the course of work. Because of the global nature of my clients' operations, every morning I look in on papers from Japan, Singapore, Russia, Germany, South Africa, Belgium, France, the United States, Canada, and other places important to my clients. In doing that, I stumble upon the articles I blog about. It is sort of a symbiotic relationship. However, what this practically means is that I collect stories over the morning, or over a few days and decide later whether I think they are interesting.

So, this morning, I saw a story about a "Masonic" ritual in New York that went astray when the new admitee was shot and killed. When I first read this, I planned to blog about and it spin it off into all of the mythology about the Freemasons, the Rosicrucians, and all of the other conspiracy silliness. I thought this would be mildly original and funny. Then L made a couple of cracks about the article along the same lines. OK, I thought. L is smart and funny, and we *do* live together, this may still be funny, original, etc. No problem. Then M in my office made a crack along the same lines. Suddenly I started thinking I was just mainstream, not original at all. Still, I thought, I can go a different route.

The new plan was to riff on the Simpson's Stonecutter episode. You know, the one, with the song lyrics,

Who controls the British crown?
Who keeps the metric system down?
We do! We do!
Who leaves Atlantis off the maps?
Who keeps the martians under wraps?
We do! We do!
Who holds back the electric car?
Who makes Steve Guttenberg a star?
We do! We do!
Who robs the cave fish of their sight?
Who rigs every Oscars night?
We do! We do!

This was going to be especially clever, since it would be riffing on a riff of the first thing I planned to blog about. Then my buddy K in D-V sent me an e-mail, riffing on the very same thing.

Thus, for possibly the most blogable story of the new millennium, I have nothing useful to say. And it took me a page to say it.


The Washington Post carried a story yesterday indicating that studies of U.S. soldiers going off to fight in World War I and World War II were found to have the same woefully inadequate knowledge of U.S. history that we bemoan in kids today. At the time, there was concern that they would not fight very hard because they did not understand what they were fighting for.

This made me think of two quotes that I never realized were related. The first, by Tip O'Neill (I believe) is that all politics is local. This means that very few people truly vote on the basis of ephemeral national or international issues. They vote on what they see. Are the mayor and alderman doing a good job? Well, I feel safe in my neighborhood, the garbage gets picked up, the snow got plowed, and I have not cracked a wheel on a pot hole. Therefore, they are. This kind of reasoning informs voters all the way to the Presidential election. The issues are different, but what do *I* see. I believe that O'Neill is absolutely correct about this.

The second quote, edited for readability, is from von Clausewitz, who said that war is a continuation of political activity by other means. Von Clausewitz meant this in the context of international relations and the relationships between States, but when taken with the O'Neill quote, it explains why you can fight and win two World Wars and still not be able to correctly identify the United States on the map. Instead, in war—aka political activity by other means—you are asking people to risk everything. They won't do it for the theoretical niceties of Jeffersonian thinking, but they apparently *will* do it for local reasons, whether it is the soldier next to them, or to protect people they know and love.

I bet Tip O'Neill would never have expected to be coupled with von Clausewitz for a theory like this…


Multiple news sources are reporting that Zimbabwe and Equatorial Guinea have arrested a band of mercenaries on their way to Equatorial Guinea to stage a coup. They include South Africans, Angolans, a German, and assorted other nationalities. No word on whether Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner was among those captured, although he had been seen in Biafra (Nigeria), Congo, Kenya (specifically Mombassa), Ireland, Lebanon, Palestine, and Berkeley.

In any case, this all got me thinking about the fact that there is an Equatorial Guinea, a Guinea-Bissau, a Guinea, a Guyana, and a French Guiana, all with confusable names. So, to clear things up for all of us so we can intelligently discuss all of the issues relating to these countries, I offer the following:

Equatorial Guinea (AFRICA): slightly smaller than Maryland. Bordered by Cameroon, Gabon, and the Atlantic. Life expectancy at birth is 54.75 years. Oil is a major export, and the people may properly be called Equatoguinean. The country is predominantly Roman Catholic, and Spanish and French are both official languages.

Guinea-Bissau (AFRICA): about three times the size of Connecticut (!?). Bordered by Guinea, Senegal, and the Atlantic. Life expectancy is 46.97 years. The country is intensely poor and does not export much other than agriculture. No word on what to call the Guinea-Bisstards. The country is mostly split between animists and Muslims, and Portuguese is the official language.

Guinea (AFRICA): slightly smaller than Oregon. Bordered by Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, the Atlantic, Cote d'Ivoire, Mali, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Life expectancy is 49.54. Bauxite is the major product, and the people are Guinean (BORING). The country is predominantly Muslim, and French is the official language.

Guyana (S. AMERICA): slightly smaller than Idaho. Bordered by Venezuela, Suriname, the Atlantic and Brazil. Life expectancy is 63.09 years. Major exports are from mining and agriculture, and the people are known as Guyanese (yawn!). The country is half Christian, with a very large Hindu population, and English is the predominant language.

French Guiana (S. AMERICA): slightly smaller than Indiana. Bordered by Brazil, Suriname, and the Atlantic. Life expectancy is 76.69 years. Major exports are satellites (the Europeans launch their satellites from here), the people are known as French Guianese. The country is Roman Catholic, and the language is French. French Guiana is a department of France, which is like a county in England, or a state in the U.S.

Now let's never confuse these again.


Bob Denver, of Dobie Gillis and Gilligan's Island fame has a web page and a fan club. He is also starting a radio station in his basement in West Virginia. I couldn't make this up.

Thursday, March 04, 2004


The New York Times reported today about protests to Viacom, which owns CBS and UPN about a proposed reality show to be called "Amish in the City." I would link to it, but the Times has such a crappy links policy, including registration, that it is better to just skip it.

In any case, the premise of the reality show (remember, real people) was that Amish teenagers would be filmed being put into the "shock and temptation" of a big city for the first time. The morons in L.A. (sorry, redundant) who are defending the show say that it will be a reverse of The Simple Life, in which perhaps the second and third dumbest people in the world (Jessica Simpson is the reigning queen) were dropped on to a farm in Arkansas. Anyway, the idea is to film five Amish kids who go through Rumpspringa—Pennsylvania Dutch for a period when kids get to experiment with the world and decide if they want to remain unmodern—and show it for fun and amusement. In other words, exploit a very useful rite, sort of like Confirmation for Catholics, because the kids will be shocked and amazed by our Buck Rogers world…

I have a few other good ideas for these guys if this show falls through. How about, Jew's First Pork Chop, America's Lenten Roast Beef, Graven Images and the Young Muslim, or Starvin' Marvin's East African Buffet. All of those sound like they would be "respectful" to the chosen groups, just as this is.

Actually, given that all of these knuckleheads are in L.A., how about the All Carb, No Tanning, No Implants in L.A. Show. That would be fun to watch.


The Associated Press is carrying a piece in which they analyze whether Bill Clinton is eligible to be John Kerry's Vice President. Now, I know what you are all thinking. You're thinking, "didn't we pass the 22nd Amendment for this type of situation?" I say, Right You Are, Kenny.

The 22nd Amendment says, in relevant part, "No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once." So we all agree that Bill Clinton is not eligible to be PRESIDENT by operation of the 22nd Amendment.

The 12th Amendment, in relevant part says, "But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States."

Now, notwithstanding that the 22nd Amendment was ratified after the 12th Amendment, it seems pretty clear to me that the "constitutionally ineligible" language applies to ANY constitutional eligibility requirement. In other words, the intent of the cited language in the 12th is to keep from having a Vice President who could not be President. Thus, when the AP finds a Constitutional law scholar willing to say that the 12th Amendment MAY apply only to the Article II eligibility requirements (natural born citizen, at least 35 years old, who has been a U.S. resident for at least 14 years), it flies directly in the face of the apparent intent of the 22nd Amendment. Especially since it would have been an easy matter for the 12th to say, "But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President under Article II of the Constitution shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States."

I know it is a silly point, since Clinton won't be the VP nominee. Still, it makes me crazy when legal academics spin law school-type hypotheticals on an unwary public.


Last night my Illini beat Purdue in overtime to clinch at least a share of the Big (11) Ten regular season title. Make no mistake, this is the only title that matters until the NCAA Tournament starts.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004


Last Sunday the Chicago Tribune Magazine had a short essay on "having a guy." Of course, L and I have become like gay Simpson's characters and only read the New York Times, so we missed the article. Thankfully our friend G (a guy for this sort of thing) sent a copy of the article to me. However, because of the Tribune's silly links policy (they expire very quickly), there is no link. In addition, because I do not wish to violate copyrights, I will not be reproducing the article in whole. Instead, I will be reproducing parts of it in the context of journalistic criticism. I'll try to discuss all of the good parts.

I GOT A GUY, YOU GOT A GUY, ALL GOD'S CHILDREN GOT A GUY--IF THEY HOPE TO GET ALONG IN CHICAGO By Terry Sullivan, Chicago Tribune Magazine, February 29, 2004.

First, the author gives a very succinct definition of the term Gemeinschaft as used by sociologists. It is, "I got a guy. I know a guy. It's how we solve problems here, as opposed to those places (Gesellschaftenburgs) where you're supposed to go to court, prepare an argument, appeal to logic, like that, even hire a lawyer." In his case, his uncle drank with Joey Aiuppa, who, not surprisingly, was able to fix parking tickets in Cicero, Illinois. Going to a guy who had people whacked just to get parking tickets fixed seems a little bit of overkill to me, but he was just a college kid, so he had not refined his sense of using his guys.

After college, during the throws of a war in, "a Southeast Asian country I sincerely did not wish to visit" the author "arrived home from my honeymoon to discover a letter from Lyndon [Johnson] in the mail, inviting me to report for my physical." At the time, six weeks after the physical people were drafted into the military. This left very, very little time to get an exemption of any sort. Thus, the author needed a guy very badly. As luck would have it (now they call it "networking"), his new wife had a female friend whose sister had a former husband who . . . had a guy. Thus, the author went to a National Guard recruiting station, indicated who he had been sent by, and became a National Guardsman in time for, "six years, four riots, one Democratic convention and a tornado, which beat the bejesus out of attending the Tet offensive." This was a very, very well calibrated use of a guy.

An even more time-honored use of a guy than fixing tickets and avoiding military duty is the experience his mother-in-law has had. As he relates it, "my sainted mother-in-law, Lil, also relied on having a posthumous guy. She drove in Chicago for 60 years without ever getting a traffic ticket. Not that she was never stopped, but because she had a great deal of well-placed faith in the sentence: 'Young man, I'm a policeman's widow.'" No better words in the Chicago language. Boy, what I wouldn't do to be related to CPD.

Now the funny thing about all of this is that people from those Gesellschaftburgs see this as corrupt, unfair, or otherwise wrong. I couldn't disagree more. This is part of being in a community. When I find I don't have a guy when I need one, it means I have not been involved enough. It means I have ignored an aspect of my life. Thus, when I am at work, I have guys (some of whom are women) who I know I can call and not just be a person on the phone. At home, there are things I have a guy for, and things it hardly seems worth it for. However, in every case where I have a guy, it is because I am an active member of the community—and sometimes I am someone else's guy. I think more places could use more of this, because it makes it absolutely necessary for you to engage the people around you.

Besides, it's nice to get a little something, you know, for the effort.


NATO has a program called Partnership for Peace, the purpose of which appears to be to surround Russia with US allies. However, as is always true when indiscriminately gathering "allies" you sometimes get more than you bargained for. The Moscow Times carried a story about a murder in Hungary that illustrates this nicely.

Azerbaijan and Armenia fought a war after the collapse of the Soviet Union over the region Nagorny-Karabakh. The war cost 30,000 lives, and displaced a million people. The two countries still don't get along. However, both are Partnership for Peace members and send officers to Hungary to learn English (!) to be in the program. Two weeks ago, an Azeri officer from a displaced family allegedly snuck into the room of an Armenian officer and hacked him to death with an axe.

We'll end up like the Habsburgs in World War I, with the Romanians deserting to the Russians, and the Slovaks and Hungarians shooting at each other if we keep collecting these random allies.


March means two things to right-thinking Americans. First, the NCAA basketball tournament is close. Very close. Second, and maybe more important, all teams have all of their players at Spring Training. If I needed to tell you that I am talking about baseball, click here and find yourself on the list.

Still, here? Good. Baseball never really left my mind (a strange, unexpected consequence of my team actually playing in October). However it is roaring back lately. Today Baseball Prospectus has a piece on the strikeout. The whole goal of the article is separate perception from reality. The perception is that as a hitter a strikeout is the worst thing you can do, and as a pitcher, you just need to get outs, by strikeout, or any other means.

The article examines those in light of the statistical evidence and finds a few surprising things. First, since 1950, teams that strike out often don't score fewer runs than teams that don't. Personally, I think this is a factor of playing big ball (striking out, but going for the three run homers to win) versus small ball (not striking out, and playing for one run at a time). However, it is interesting. They also have a statistical correlation of all players from 1950-2002 with more than 300 plate appearances that seems to indicate that guys who strikeout often are not worse offensively than guys who do not. However, this has an "averaging" effect by comparing strikeout to plate appearance for all players, rather than focusing on the high strikeout guys. In other words, Sammy Sosa strikes out too often, and Mark Grace did not. When you average their offensive performance they had MANY strikeouts, lots of home runs, and good small ball numbers. It doesn't mean that Sammy's strikeouts don't matter though. Too esoteric? You ain't seen nothing yet, baby.

On the pitcher side, the Baseball Prospectus makes a very strong argument that strikeouts must be the bread and butter for a pitcher. The line of reasoning is that the fewer balls put in play, the lower the number of hits, the lower the number of runs. Thus, is 2003, Kerry had 11.35 strikeouts per nine innings, and an ERA of 3.20. Joe Mays had 3.46 strikeouts per nine innings, with an ERA of 6.30. Anecdotal to be sure, but still interesting. They also conclude that pitchers with many strikeouts age better than pitchers without strikeouts. Of course, the great strikeout pitchers have been fast ball pitchers, and the fast ball puts much less strain on the arm than breaking pitches, so this may be a case of using the wrong metric to track the wrong statistic.

By the way, since at bats are a zero sum game, in which there is a winner and a loser in every at bat, doesn't seem counterintuitive to say that strikeouts for hitters are irrelevant, but for pitchers they are necessary? Seems like a flawed model to me. I still want to see Sammy strikeout less.