Sunday, November 26, 2006


Here's hoping that everyone had a good holiday. I know that we did. Michigan, and all that. Anyway, this was a good week in the New York Times. And away we go.

First, in a topic near and dear to my liver, the Times carried an article about the fight in the European Union over the definition of "vodka." Poland, Finland, Sweden, Latvia, and Estonia all say that "vodka" is made only from grains, potatoes, and sugar-beet molasses. On the other side are Italy, France, the U.K., and the Netherlands. They say vodka can be made out of whatever you want. What's funny is that the sides do not seem to really be arguing about the characteristics of "vodka," but rather the ingredients. They also seem to be arguing about tradition, history, and money. While I favor the traditional vodkas, it will be interesting to see if the French grape vodkas, for instance, can be accepted as "vodkas" in the mass American market.

Second, the Times had an article about a subculture of home schoolers called "unschoolers." Apparently in unschooling the kids do what they want, and learn as they need to. Thus, math is learned to calculate allowance, interest on allowance, etc. As kids experience things, they learn about them. Frankly, I suspect that the New York Times must have done this theory of teaching dirty, since if that's all it is, it is idiotic. While there is something to be said for running with a child's interests, one important point of school is to learn things you don't generally encounter in your young life. There is at least one academic who hates the idea:

As school choice expands and home-schooling in general grows, this is one of those models that I think the larger public sphere needs to be aware of because the folks who are engaging in these radical forms of school are doing so legally,” said Professor Huerta of Columbia. “If the public and policy makers don’t feel that this is a form of schooling that is producing productive citizens, then people should vote to make changes accordingly.

Third, the Times has an article about scams. The interesting thing is the parts about the psychology of the scammed. The schemes they are presented with all seem plausible. Many involve flipping property for significant profits. However, on A&E you can watch four hours straight of people making $100,000 per episode flipping houses. Seems like free money, and if the scammers put together a good enough story, it is easy for people to believe that they are getting in on these good deals. Sadly, the con artists hone right in on this and have robbed some of these people blind.

Fourth, apparently Los Angeles is abandoning the iconic palm tree. Apparently the palm trees are lousy at providing shade. Los Angeles is, on average, less shaded (18%) than "the national average" (28%). I question the "national average" because it seems to me that the vast majority of the country from the Rockies to the Mississippi is "unshaded" except by corn, wheat, beans, and livestock, but that is not the point here. In addition, palm trees do not convert carbon monoxide to oxygen as well as other trees, and do not groom themselves very well. Other than that they are super. Anyway, Los Angeles is cutting bait on the palm tree.

Fifth, the Week in Review had a quick little hit that pointed out that weekly pay for financial sector jobs in Manhattan is $8,323, up $3,000 in three years. Also, the 280,000 workers in the financial sector collect half of all Manhattan wages while constituting 1/6 of all employees in Manhattan. That is a tremendous disparity between haves and have-nots. It also points out how vulnerable New York is to a downturn in the financial sector.

Finally, Murray Chass wrote an article about the saga of Barry Bonds. Bonds is very unlikely to go back to the Giants, is 42, and has bad knees. He half-asses fielding, and is a public relations disaster. Nevertheless, his agent has already said that Bonds does not want to be a designated hitter. He'd apparently rather lose his new team a few games a year in the field than just hit. Apparently being a DH would tarnish his reputation. What an ass.


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