30 March 2011


Bill James is the godfather of sabermetrics, the broad term for using advanced metrics and statistics when analyzing a baseball player's ability. Slate has an excerpt from his new book, Solid Fool's Good. In the piece, Bill looks at how good our culture is at developing athletes and how crappy it is at developing writers.
The population of Topeka, Kan., today is roughly the same as the population of London in the time of Shakespeare, and the population of Kansas now is not that much lower than the population of England at that time. London at the time of Shakespeare had not only Shakespeare—whoever he was—but also Christopher Mar­lowe, Francis Bacon, Ben Jonson, and various other men of letters who are still read today. I doubt that Topeka today has quite the same collection of distinguished writers.

...The average city the size of Topeka produces a major league player every 10 or 15 years. If we did the same things for young writers, every city would produce a Shakespeare or a Dickens or at least a Graham Greene every 10 or 15 years. Instead, we tell the young writers that they should work on their craft for 20 or 25 years, get to be really, really good—among the best in the world—and then we'll give them a little bit of recognition.
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28 March 2011

Hands-in training for veterinarians

Growing up on the cow farm, I always had quite a bit of respect for the veterinarians who would visit from time to time to help out with a sick or, more likely, birthing bovine. I even thought I might want to be a vet someday.

Today, I'm glad I didn't go down that route. Meet the rectal simulator:
Dubbed Breed’n Betsy, this metal-framed simulator with a latex back-end and internal organs allows students to perfect their pregnancy-testing, artificial-insemination, and embryo-transferring techniques before they touch a living cow. After you put on your lubricated glove, you just plunge your hand into the cow and feel around to learn the positions of latex uteri, ovaries, and cervixes. There are also upgrades: A water-filled acrylic tube simulates real-cow temperatures, and you can switch out the latex organs for real ones from your local slaughterhouse (oh goodie!). So after you’ve grown comfortable performing rectal exams on this Frankensteinian mishmash of organs, you can confidently do the same to a living, breathing bovine.
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19 March 2011

Cannibalism in the 21st Century

Josh Kurp has an article in The Awl featuring Perro Loco, who believes that cannibalism is morally okay if all parties are consensual. In the 1990s, Loco founded the Cannibal Cafe, a website designed to connect those want to eat and those who to be eaten by other people. The site was shut down early last decade after some, um, bad public relations (see below).

This excerpt is pretty tame, but the full article has some very graphic parts. Like, very graphic. Srsly. Consider yourself warned.
But Loco's online celebrity would really spread in December 2002, when Armin Meiwes was arrested for eating a man named Bernd Jürgen Brandes.

This is what happened: A little over ten years ago, on March 9, 2001, 39-year-old Meiwes, a computer technician living in the German village of Wüstefeld, brought home, had sex with and killed 44-year-old Brandes, a Berlin man who lived about 250 miles away. Meiwes then ate 44 pounds of his flesh over a period of ten months. While that may sound like murder, there’s something else that should be mentioned: Brandes wanted it all to happen.
(via Kottke) Continue reading this post >>

18 March 2011

Maxim: monkeys are hilarious

What happens when the two-year prohibition of vehicles in the Longleat Safari Park in England ends and a car is left unattended in the monkey area?

Hilarity, that's what.

My favorite part comes at the 1:18 mark. Oh, those monkeys. Continue reading this post >>

15 March 2011

Hold me, Robert Siegel, and never let me go

I've been a public radio junkie/devotee/luvah since high school. Yeah, some of the programming is dry and pedantic and predictable, but overall, it's so much more thoughtful and interesting and refreshing when compared to cable and broadcast news organizations. I can't stand Ed Schultz, Glenn Beck, Keith Olbermann, Bill O'Reilly, et al. They're loud ideologues who reflect the worst in us. NPR covers the basics, but always manages to make stories more alive and dynamic.

And so, it's been a tough week watching my beloved NPR endure hit after hit after hit of embarrassment and criticism. Ronald Schiller trash-talking Republicans and tea party activists. Betsy Liley joking around with a Muslim group about hiding their donations from the IRS. And all this while Congressional Republicans and their media echo chamber have been beating the DEFUND THE LEFTY COMMIE SOCIALIST DIRTBAG NPR!!! drum.

NO!!! How could any of this be true? Something wasn't right. This wasn't the NPR I knew. Fight back, NPR! Tell me this is all a pack of lies! Tell me now before I lose faith, before Bill O'Reilly slashes Terry Gross's throat and tarnishes our love forever. Hold me, Robert Siegel, hold me tightly. Wipe away my tears and sing me Joni Mitchell songs until these troubles and the whole world melt away and it's just us. And maybe Michele Norris.

I was in a pretty embarrassing state. I wanted to believe that NPR was perfect and this video was just a hoax, but the evidence wasn't there to back it up. I wanted NPR to lash out at its critics, but that's not who they are. They don't react. They report.

Yesterday, finally, there was some hope. NPR aired a story that looked deeper into the recordings and determined how editing was used to skew the nature of the conversations:
In the review of the NPR tapes, O'Keefe's edited video triggered criticism right from his introduction. He ominously describes the phony Islamic group, saying that its website "said the organization sought to spread the acceptance of sharia across the world." (Shariah is Islamic law based on the Quran, although there are wide disparities in how different Muslim sects and cultures interpret what that entails.)

On the tape, Ron Schiller is then shown and heard creased with laughter, saying, "Really, that's what they said?"

In reality, as the longer tape shows, that laughter follows an innocuous exchange as Schiller and Liley greet the two supposed donors at their table.

"That to us was a signal that they were trying to condition the person watching the piece to feel as though there was assent to these ideas," said Scott Baker of The Blaze. "That was a big warning flag."
Wait. Who's this Scott Baker? He's probably some European socialist who blogs about how great death panels are. Nope. Baker edits The Blaze, a little website owned by some fellow named Glenn Beck. Ever heard of him?

So, instead of firing off a bunch of knee jerk reactions, NPR paused, investigated, involved multiple media perspectives, and reported on the story in a straightforward, objective way.

And that, my friends, is why I love NPR. Continue reading this post >>

14 March 2011

Worst Company in America

The Consumerist has announced the 32 companies nominated for this year's Worst Company in America Tournament. The idea is that companies compete head-to-head in multiple rounds until the biggest stinker of them all is left standing at the end of the month.

Personally, I'm predicting Comcast will repeat its 2010 WCIA title, but I could easily see BP going the distance this year. Voting starts tomorrow.

Here are the brackets (click to make the pixels 'splode on the screen):
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10 March 2011

The longest winter of all time

Not really. But it feels like it. According to Paul Douglas, the Twin Cities area is -- this very day! -- heading into its 119th consecutive day with 1 inch or more of snow cover. For those of you who like to know such things, the record is 136 days, set back in 1965. Ugh.

For more on this story, we now turn to The Onion:
Saying there are only a few days left to relish the steel-gray skies, dirt-caked melting snow, and still-freezing temperatures, citizens across the country are reportedly taking the time to savor every last moment of 2011's late-February, early-March days. "It's my favorite time of year," said 42-year-old Cleveland resident Meredith Polonsky, adding that she loves stepping outside and smelling the thawing dog shit nobody bothered to pick up during the winter, as well as going to the park, avoiding all the places where the ground is too wet, and going home early because the high winds make her eyes hurt. "Also, I love that the days are getting longer, but still aren't long enough to actually do anything. It's really magical."
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08 March 2011

Our couch potato brains

In his new book, Moonwalking with Einstein, Joshua Foer looks at memory and its declining usage in our culture. The central thesis is that, as information becomes more readily available to us via external means, our brains are less practiced in the art of memory. Essentially, our brains used to be like Brad Pitt, but now they're more like Chris Farley.

The NY Times has a write-up:
Before writing was common, human beings had to use their own brains for information storage, and before books were indexed — making it possible to gain access to them in a nonlinear way — people labored under the “imperative to hold” books’ contents in their own mental hard drives simply to find particular bits of information. Poets in the oral tradition, like Homer, relied on repetition and rhythms and other patterns to recite their work from memory, and in the ancient world, exceptional memories were both exalted and widely known.
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07 March 2011

A man and his chalkboard

The NY Times's David Carr looks at the rise and possible decline of Glenn Beck. Apparently, viewership is down. Nonetheless, he's still killing his competition, and even if Fox News moves on, I'm guessing Glenn will find a way to get his thoughts heard.
Part of Mr. Beck’s appeal is that he seems as if he is about to lose his marbles. But recently, he acts like he’s a little tired of the game. He can still draw a huge crowd, but he looks lonely in that studio all by himself.

“When I first came here,” he told his audience on Wednesday, “I had this pie-in-the-sky belief that if I told you the truth, if I verified all of my facts and double-checked, and we could make that compelling case with facts to back it up, the journalists in other places would get curious and they’d use their resources and they’d investigate and they’d prove it right and they’d show it too.” Then he shook his head and laughed bitterly.
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06 March 2011

Something the internets got right

I came across ThisIsNotPorn.net via Aaron Gleeman. I like it. You will, too.

Leo and his teddy:

See also: Michael Jordan geeking out and shirtless Christopher Walken and camel tailing Winston Churchill. Continue reading this post >>