Friday, July 19, 2002

RIVETING: Dahlia Litwick's coverage of the Moussaui trial is extremely worth reading. Here she is wrapping up the latest installment:

The judge makes one last effort to explain that in entering a guilty plea, Moussaoui is "admitting to doing what the government says you did." He can't later pick and choose which allegations he meant to deny. (Why is he unwilling to perjure himself with a not-guilty plea because some allegations are true, but eager to admit to allegations he knows to be false? Anyone?) In a strong message that he's being an idiot, Brinkema tells him that it's "normal, in criminal cases, to plea bargain. Even in the most serious cases." She is trying to tell him that this information he's so eager to give the government for free is his only currency, that he should shut up and negotiate a deal for himself instead of blurting out everything he knows about al-Qaida while marching himself off to the electric chair. But he won't listen. He's too smart for her tricks. Alfred E. Neuman could negotiate this man a plea deal, but he tells her he won't let her "manipulate the system." She gives him a week to reconsider.

He replies, "In another week's time, I will be declared insane," which forecloses the only real option most of us are still gunning for. She closes the hearing, asking him to take the week to see if he still wants to plead guilty. "Bet on me, I will," he snaps.

Remember that Simpsons episode, when Homer is licking the hallucinogenic toads and Bart calls to ask whether he's been licking toads again? Homer's answer, "I'm not not licking toads," is an anthem for 7-year-olds everywhere. Moussaoui's "guilty" plea today is just a modified double-Homer. He's not really pleading guilty. He still maintains he's innocent of the Sept. 11 plots. But he's going to show Brinkema with his absurd "I'm not not pleading not guilty." That'll teach her.

Even if it kills him.

Quite literally.

Somebody's been watching too many X-Files episodes.
MAKE DICK TRACY JEALOUS: Wrist televison set.
MOVIE REVIEW THAT MAKES YOU WANT TO SEE THE MOVIE: I hadn't thought much of Harrison Ford with a fakey Russian accent, but Andrew O'Hehir is making me think Kathryn Bigelow's K-19 is worth seeing.
JEFF GOLDSTEIN, BLOG FIREBRAND: Even when it isn't his blog.

Thursday, July 18, 2002

NBA SIX DAYS A WEEK: Here's the 2002-2003 NBA tv schedule, I'm seeing the words "Clippers" and "New Jersey" quite a bit--which is a big big plus. In fact, I'm seeing New Jersey sixteen times, and New York twelve times, which proves there is a basketball god who serves up rich creamy bowls of justice. And TEN Clippers games. And two Miami heat games. And an astonishing 22 Dallas Mavericks games. The ABC/ESPN/TNT tyranny is a lot more fun than the NBC tyranny thus far. Awww, check this out:

The league's opening week includes four consecutive days of nationally televised doubleheaders and the expected debut of No. 1 draft pick Yao Ming with the Houston Rockets on Oct. 30.

Four days, eight games. Me want happen now.
NON-WWE WRESTLING IN THE BIG 2-DOUBLE-O-2: I haven't watched an episode yet, but tomk's reviews of NWA TNA tv shows really work for me and are probably better than the episodes themselves in a lot of ways.
ORACLE BY NIGHT: Fun little review of the new Connie Chung show, which doesn't make me want to tape the next episode--since the fun of the show is all Connie being inexplicably and (one presumes) unconsciously weird--but I do wish I had seen Jon Stewart's interview during the first episode.

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

INDY SPORTS LINK OF THE DAY: The story of the Arizona Rattlers, and their strange popularity in Phoenix.

Tuesday, July 16, 2002

WOW: After twenty million years Alien vs. Predator is finally really really close to being made. Fanboys rejoice.
AS REPORTED ELSEWHERE: The best of Yahoo Most Popular can now be found in one place. Perverts rejoice. And remember, if it was on Yahoo, it's safe for work.
FUN LITTLE SITE FOUND WHILE TRYING TO SPELL "YGGDRASIL": Greek gods vs. Norse gods. Is it any wonder when Smilin' Stan needed a god-hero he went Norse? The names are real fun, and were perfect for comics as they lacked the--I guess--prettiness of the Greek gods and had a novelty value too. I mean, who else can name the Norse pantheon besides an old Thor reader? Plus Wonder Woman had the Greek pantheon already. And Captain Marvel, whose creators proved themselves true Americans by allowing Cap to pick the religious figures who were giving him his powers buffet-style. Ever wonder what Shazam stands for?


Well, it's mostly Graeco-Roman, but I always liked the fact they stuck Solomon in there.
FASCINATING/HORRIFYING: A bodypainter's page. Some of it's more fascinating, but the Spider-Man entry is absolutely fascinating/horrifying. It's all art, so it's all safe for work. Camille Paglia says all porn is art, by the way, and I'm sure your Dilbertian manager will believe that too. Via Plastic Words.
WNBA REPORT: The Washington Post's Sally Jenkins reports on the WNBA All-Star Game, which I--like a cretin--forgot to watch last night. She flat-out admits that in a lot of ways play still stinks in the WNBA, which is only true. (I am not enough of a soccer fan to know if the same is true of the WUSA, but I know I am entertained by it, and much more often than I am by a tedious Starzz-Fire 37-47 classic. "I may not know soccer. But I know what I like.") I would like to comment on this nugget:

For the moment the WNBA is still struggling to define its own alchemy. Why is Washington the model franchise of the league, regularly drawing more than 15,000 from the start of its existence? Why is New York, where the local audience would seem to be saturated with sports teams, such a solid a franchise, regularly the runner-up only to Washington in attendance? If the league could figure that out, it would have the answer to its future.

The two possible answers are to move franchises to places where people actually like women's basketball at the college level (Storrs, Knoxville, Lubbock, Albuquerque, Notre Dame, Ames) and see if success in drawing college ball crowds combined with being a completely untapped sports market translates into big crowds. The other answer is to move into the traditional fine sports towns that do not have a team yet--Boston, Philadelphia, St. Louis. Just don't put another freakin' franchise in the Meadowlands. Or in Atlanta, for that matter. No one will go and we'll all look bad. But there's no reason for the Starzz or Monarchs to exist in their current form or for the only-NBA-cities-get-teams policy to continue. Ship them to Connecticut and Tennessee, it's a long summer and people need their sports.
THE OTHER FASCINATING NEW YORKER ARTICLE: America is to sports what Australia is to animals. Via SportsFilter. Meaning that America's sports are peculiar to America, not necessarily enjoyed by the rest of the world, with the possible exception of basketball. The writer, Adam Gopnik, also calls for a World Cup of baseball, which is a really great idea, and might save baseball's bacon--cause we know it's going in the hopper the way it's going now. Why doesn't anyone ever try to start a competing baseball league? Is it the union? The minor league system too committed to the existing major leagues? I don't get it, we went through the 70s and got an ABA, a WHL, a WFL, but got nothing to shake up baseball. Something baseball, in retrospect, probably needed.
FASCINATING ARTICLE OF THE MORNING: Rapmaster hips us all to this Malcolm Gladwell piece in the New Yorker called The Talent Myth, on why hiring the best and brightest to run your company is going to bite you in the ass in the end. Gladwell is writing about Enron in particular, and their relationship with the management consulting firm McKinsey & Company:

McKinsey wanted to document how the top-performing companies in America differed from other firms in the way they handle matters like hiring and promotion. But, as the consultants sifted through the piles of reports and questionnaires and interview transcripts, they grew convinced that the difference between winners and losers was more profound than they had realized. "We looked at one another and suddenly the light bulb blinked on," the three consultants who headed the project—Ed Michaels, Helen Handfield-Jones, and Beth Axelrod—write in their new book, also called "The War for Talent." The very best companies, they concluded, had leaders who were obsessed with the talent issue. They recruited ceaselessly, finding and hiring as many top performers as possible. They singled out and segregated their stars, rewarding them disproportionately, and pushing them into ever more senior positions. "Bet on the natural athletes, the ones with the strongest intrinsic skills," the authors approvingly quote one senior General Electric executive as saying. "Don't be afraid to promote stars without specifically relevant experience, seemingly over their heads." Success in the modern economy, according to Michaels, Handfield-Jones, and Axelrod, requires "the talent mind-set": the "deep-seated belief that having better talent at all levels is how you outperform your competitors."

It's the McKinsey connection to Enron that Gladwell is exposing here, and it's such a great angle; obviously we'll have to see if something similiarly McKinsey was going on in WorldCom and Tyco to see how far we can take this, but the business and non-business anecdotal evidence is pretty convincing:

Throughout most of 1942, the Navy kept trying to act smart by relying on technical know-how, and stubbornly refused to take operational lessons from the British. The Navy also lacked the organizational structure necessary to apply the technical knowledge it did have to the field. Only when the Navy set up the Tenth Fleet—a single unit to co├Ârdinate all anti-submarine warfare in the Atlantic—did the situation change. In the year and a half before the Tenth Fleet was formed, in May of 1943, the Navy sank thirty-six U-boats. In the six months afterward, it sank seventy-five. "The creation of the Tenth Fleet did not bring more talented individuals into the field of ASW"—anti-submarine warfare—"than had previous organizations," Cohen writes. "What Tenth Fleet did allow, by virtue of its organization and mandate, was for these individuals to become far more effective than previously." The talent myth assumes that people make organizations smart. More often than not, it's the other way around.

There is ample evidence of this principle among America's most successful companies. Southwest Airlines hires very few M.B.A.s, pays its managers modestly, and gives raises according to seniority, not "rank and yank." Yet it is by far the most successful of all United States airlines, because it has created a vastly more efficient organization than its competitors have. At Southwest, the time it takes to get a plane that has just landed ready for takeoff—a key index of productivity—is, on average, twenty minutes, and requires a ground crew of four, and two people at the gate. (At United Airlines, by contrast, turnaround time is closer to thirty-five minutes, and requires a ground crew of twelve and three agents at the gate.)

In the case of the giant retailer Wal-Mart, one of the most critical periods in its history came in 1976, when Sam Walton "unretired," pushing out his handpicked successor, Ron Mayer. Mayer was just over forty. He was ambitious. He was charismatic. He was, in the words of one Walton biographer, "the boy-genius financial officer." But Walton was convinced that Mayer was, as people at McKinsey would say, "differentiating and affirming" in the corporate suite, in defiance of Wal-Mart's inclusive culture. Mayer left, and Wal-Mart survived. After all, Wal-Mart is an organization, not an all-star team. Walton brought in David Glass, late of the Army and Southern Missouri State University, as C.E.O.; the company is now ranked No. 1 on the Fortune 500 list.

Yes, Wal-Mart was allowed to become the Wal-Mart we all know and love (I actually love Target, it's less overwhelming, neater, and they sell cool boxer shorts with pictures of Popeye and Captain America on them) by not relying on star power-equals-success deal. Which sounds in some ways like a gifted-and-talented program for MBAs:

What the War for Talent amounts to is an argument for indulging A employees, for fawning over them. "You need to do everything you can to keep them engaged and satisfied—even delighted," Michaels, Handfield-Jones, and Axelrod write. "Find out what they would most like to be doing, and shape their career and responsibilities in that direction. Solve any issues that might be pushing them out the door, such as a boss that frustrates them or travel demands that burden them."

That's right, coddle them like they were basketball prodigies or something--not that you should be coddling basketball prodigies, now that I think of it. Or anybody else. Anyhow, Gladwell gets deeply psychological at one point and gets me all inspired to blog about it:

Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Columbia University, has found that people generally hold one of two fairly firm beliefs about their intelligence: they consider it either a fixed trait or something that is malleable and can be developed over time. Five years ago, Dweck did a study at the University of Hong Kong, where all classes are conducted in English. She and her colleagues approached a large group of social-sciences students, told them their English-proficiency scores, and asked them if they wanted to take a course to improve their language skills. One would expect all those who scored poorly to sign up for the remedial course. The University of Hong Kong is a demanding institution, and it is hard to do well in the social sciences without strong English skills. Curiously, however, only the ones who believed in malleable intelligence expressed interest in the class. The students who believed that their intelligence was a fixed trait were so concerned about appearing to be deficient that they preferred to stay home. "Students who hold a fixed view of their intelligence care so much about looking smart that they act dumb," Dweck writes, "for what could be dumber than giving up a chance to learn something that is essential for your own success?"

In a similar experiment, Dweck gave a class of preadolescent students a test filled with challenging problems. After they were finished, one group was praised for its effort and another group was praised for its intelligence. Those praised for their intelligence were reluctant to tackle difficult tasks, and their performance on subsequent tests soon began to suffer. Then Dweck asked the children to write a letter to students at another school, describing their experience in the study. She discovered something remarkable: forty per cent of those students who were praised for their intelligence lied about how they had scored on the test, adjusting their grade upward. They weren't naturally deceptive people, and they weren't any less intelligent or self-confident than anyone else. They simply did what people do when they are immersed in an environment that celebrates them solely for their innate "talent." They begin to define themselves by that description, and when times get tough and that self-image is threatened they have difficulty with the consequences. They will not take the remedial course. They will not stand up to investors and the public and admit that they were wrong. They'd sooner lie.

Great stuff. And I only excerpted about half of it so go read the whole thing. Thanks, Rapmaster!

Friday, July 12, 2002

RANDOM GOOFY IDEA: Anybody fool around with Cafe Press much? Somebody make me a t-shirt with this picture on it and with "What Would MODOK Do?" underneath. And a pair of boxer shorts like that, I need to wear these things. I do.

Thursday, July 11, 2002

FOR YOU COMICS FREAKS OUT THERE: Waste a ton of time at The Annotated Crisis On Infinite Earths, especially if you're a big continuity buff. Or if you, like I did, thought the idea of all these alternate Earths being threatened and destroyed horrifying and fascinating when you read it when you were younger.
SPEAKING OF POST-APOCALYPTIC: A site devoted to books about the Earth after the Big Whatever that wipes most of us out. Via the blogger who manages to capture all of my interests at once, Fred Lapides.
BOOKLOG: What I'm reading right now is Bernard Wolfe's Limbo, which is a fifties novel set after the apocalypse where the central little red book in everyone's lives is William James' The Moral Equivalent Of War and all the male members of society get their limbs cut off and replaced with these amazing multipurpose prosthetics to show what hot shits they are and to keep their energies focused creatively and not on starting another big war. It's touted as the American equivalent of Brave New World and 1984 so of course it's out of print. I'm a hundred or so pages in and it's a lot funnier than 1984 thus far --a definite plus.

UPDATE: There's always somebody with a bigger booklog than you. Never fails.
YOUR "WHY I READ BLOGS" POST OF THE DAY: One boy's recent adventures, consisting of a certain substantial debauchery, excellent to read about.

Wednesday, July 03, 2002

FINAL STORY ON THE HOUSE OF IDEAS: Chris Puzak has hipped me to Rob Johnston's comic rumor column wherein he relates this rumor, among others:

What more do DC staff like to gossip about than Marvel? The pro grapevine there has it that Bill Jemas is to Ultimatize the Marvel universe, as a number of commentators had predicted. The bean counters have had their say, and noting how well the Ultimates books do, especially at Wal Mart who have a guaranteed sale for another two years, it looks like the Marvel Universe will soon start to integrate with the Ultimate newcomer. Marvel may well have a deal with news stand distributors to give the Marvel line a high profile - if they all go through the "Ultimate" treatment.

The "Ultimate" treatment is kind of what Julius Schwartz did with the DC superheroes in the late 50s/early 60s: reimagine them in contemporary surroudings, free of their earlier history and surroudings. This is, I think, a good idea, though I don't know if they'll do it the way Schwartz did (put the news guys on one Earth and the old guys on an alternate Earth) but while I was reading the book I just read--Earth X--I thought to myself, "This wraps up every plot thread started by the 60s Lee/Kirby/Ditko/Romita/et al. House Of Ideas, mutated in cosmic meditations in the seventies, mutant mania in the eighties and a whole lot of underbaked comics in the nineties." Maybe not that exact thought, but you get the idea. Earth X is an excellent tribute to and story of the universe that Stan and Jack built, and if you are or were a Mavel fan you'll enjoy it. If you don't, I don't know what you'll get out of it as it assumes an involved inwareness at some point of your life with Marvel continuity. But for all you geeks, ex-geeks, and part-time geeks out there--and you're there; this is the Internet--check it out, you'll like it.
OFF TO WILDWOOD: Be back Monday or thereabouts. Enjoy your 4th, or your weekend.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT WHILE YOU'RE WAITING TO GET ON THE TILT-A-WHIRL: Interesting Slate story about theme parks (Universal) offering higher rates for people who want to cut ahead in line and get inner-workings tours of the rides. If Disney does this I will be upset, but as for the Universals and Six Flags of the world --the Third World of theme parks-- it's expected behavior.
ONE MORE SLAM LINK: Dave Checketts: Knicks fans "stupid." That's exactly what he said. Yep. And we knew that.
YOUR CRETINOUS NBA DRAFTEE COMMENT OF THE DAY: "I didn't even know Elvis was from Memphis," he said. "I thought he was from Tennessee." --Drew Gooden of the Grizz. Thank you, SLAM LINKS. Take it away, Rapmaster.
WORLD CUP WRAPUP OF THE PART OF THE WORLD CUP YOU WERE ACTUALLY CONCERNED ABOUT: Fred Lapides has the link to a collection of every attractive female soccer fan from the World Cup, including a few of that Korean fan with the faraway look in her eyes whose picture was getting e-mailed around like hotcakes a few days ago. Enjoy.
YOUR (IMAGINARY) SPORTS INTERVIEW OF THE DAY: Tony Pierce interviews Byung-Hyun Kim.
WUSA UPDATE: The WUSA recorded it's one millionth customer over the weekend, by some internal reckoning. This is good news; I know attendance is slightly down in Season Two, but people should be going to these games. The WUSA is --without question-- the greatest women's professional sports league ever. Granted it has only one serious challenger to that title (the WNBA) but the play overall is much better in the WUSA --there's no cringe factor like you see still in WNBA games when somebody throws up a godawful shot. Which is probably because the WUSA doesn't have the WNBA's backing and need to make tons of money, so they haven't overexpanded like the WNBA, sticking with eight teams, like the NHL in the early days, trying to build an audience. And not thinning out a talent pool which is incredibly deep --I don't know if it's deeper than the WNBA's pool, but I think more girls play soccer than basketball; maybe-- since the WUSA is the only women's pro soccer league in the world. My beloved Philadelphia Charge has the best player in English history (Kelly Smith) and the best athlete in France today (Marinette Pichon) and two members of the Chinese national team, none of whom would be playing for money back at home. I'm not a fan of the various men's leagues around the world but what I'm seeing in WUSA games is not appreciably different in competitive terms than what I see in the men's game. So, I mean, my verdict is the WUSA is the best women's pro sports ever (or at least team sports; I know about tennis, golf, and billiards) and you should join the WUSA cult if you got a team in your city. There is literally nothing else like it.
YOUR CRETINOUS POST 9/11 MOVIE REVIEW OF THE DAY: And I only know about because it comes from my local paper, the Inquirer. Carrie Rickey judges The Powerpuff Girls movie harshly because --git this-- the girls actually save skyscrapers from being knocked down. And in our new everything's-changed world, that just can't happen:

What once was the joke of The Powerpuff Girls is now its jinx. Mine is probably not the only first-grade Girls fan to tell Mom and Dad that she won't see the Powerpuffs on the big screen because she doesn't "want to see tall buildings fall."

You see, the Girls test their superpowers in the laboratory of Townsville, where they inadvertently topple skyscrapers while protecting the populace from urban terrorists such as the mutant monkey Mojo Jojo. ("Gorilla warfare," in the film's clever pun.)

Through Sept. 10, Powerpuff mischief cracked us up. Now it makes us cringe. What do you say to a 5-year-old who asks why the mayor didn't call the Powerpuffs to save the World Trade Towers?

So superheroes can't save the world anymore because they fail to prevent disasters on our actual planet Earth. I mean, come on. They never did that and nobody complained. Nobody who actually liked the superhero idea, anyway.

By the way, has anyone been reading superhero comics up through 9/11? How did Marvel and DC deal with it? In the Marvel universe it's a little more plausible that the terrorist strike could have happened --the Fantastic Four was in the Negative Zone or something, the Avengers were fighting on the Blue Area of the Moon, while Daredevil felt it all happen, unable to stop it. I picture somebody consoling Captain America, saying "You can't save everyone, Cap." In the DCU it's much less likely, what with their near-omnipotent heroes, so maybe the Towers still stand there. It's weird thinking of these continuities this way; their editorial teams usually plan out disasters to drive up sales and add drama and what-have-you, but when one actually happens to us, it doesn't belong in the comic-book world --it has no intent behind it, no narrative drive. So it would not surprise me if the World Trade Center still existed in the two major continuities, and that their keepers would try to reflect 9/11 in a different way, in the same way the superhero stories have always reflected the world around us, with conflicts and destruction greater than our own, but also more understandable than our own. But I haven't been reading Justice League in a while so I don't know how they handled it.