Wednesday, March 31, 2010

And In Conclusion, I Have No Life

A large part of the experience of going to a baseball game is the stadium itself. Stadiums carry a certain character in baseball, moreso than any other sport. (Seriously, about a quarter of the stadiums in the NFL look like each other. The only way you can tell whether you're in Charlotte, Washington, Baltimore or New York is the seat color. Same with Nashville, Jacksonville and Buffalo.)

So that said, let's kick the season off with naming the best stadium every MLB franchise has ever had. And by 'best' I of course will be using completely personal and subjective criteria.

The ground rules:

*Any stadium ever used as a home stadium in the history of the franchise is eligible as long as there's some documentation as to what it looks like. This includes all the rinky-dink 19th century stadiums long forgotten.
*No groundsharing. First dibs go to the team that used it the most and in the best condition.
*I reserve the right to specify a particular era of the stadium. This will come into play.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS: Chase Field. They've only ever had the one stadium, so not much debate here.

ATLANTA BRAVES: South End Grounds, Congress Street Grounds, Fenway Park, Braves Field, Milwaukee County Stadium, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, Turner Field
The Brewers have dibs on County Stadium (spoiler alert), so the Braves can't have it. Same with Fenway and the Red Sox. Braves Field, used from 1915-1952, makes a case for the sheer difficulty in getting a ball over the fence. The foul poles were at 400 feet, distance would max out at 550 feet, plus the dead ball era, plus the wind blowing in, plus a gigantic foul territory, equals some very happy pitchers. Ty Cobb once said "Nobody will ever hit a ball out of this park." As it happened, it took ten years. Then came Fulton County Stadium, the 'Launching Pad'. It is unloved. Turner Field - or possibly Centennial Olympic Stadium- was originally built for that purpose. (Baseball during the Olympics used Fulton County Stadium.) It's fine, but a major part of the choice here is character. Braves Field has far more character than Turner Field, so that's the call.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES: Borchert Field, Lloyd Street Grounds, Sportsman's Park 3, Memorial Stadium, Oriole Park at Camden Yards
It would be easy to say Camden Yards and move on. So that's exactly what we'll do.

BOSTON RED SOX: Huntington Avenue Grounds, Fenway Park
The Huntington Avenue Grounds were used from 1901-1911. There were patches of sand in the outfield, a tool shed in center field was in play, it was a dump. Though Cy Young did throw his perfect game there. Fenway is the easy call. Though I want the pre-2003 Fenway, before they added seats on top of the Green Monster. The seats are nice and all, but I prefer balls just disappearing over the wall never to be seen again. You're a visitor and you get a ball over the Monster, Red Sox Nation shouldn't get the courtesy of being able to throw it back. That's a Cubs thing, anyway.

CHICAGO CUBS: Ogden Park, Dexter Park, Union Base-Ball Grounds, 23rd Street Grounds, Lakefront Park 1, Lakefront Park 2, West Side Park 1, South Side Park, West Side Park 2, Wrigley Field
It's easily Wrigley, but one note on the Union Base-Ball Grounds. It had a very short porch in right, only 200 feet. It was so far in that the ground rules originally only gave it ground-rule double status until its final year in use, 1884. Result: home runs all over the place, at least as far as that era was concerned. Ned Williamson had 27, a mark that would stand until 1919, when Babe Ruth came along and smacked 29, then 60.

What version of Wrigley? Pre-lights, with Harry Caray in the booth.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX: South Side Park 3, Comiskey Park, Milwaukee County Stadium, US Cellular Field
South Side Park wasn't much of anything and County Stadium belongs to the Brewers. Ask any White Sox fan what their pick is and they'll probably tell you "Old Comiskey". Because there's every chance they'll still be calling US Cellular Field "New Comiskey". The White Sox have renovated the Cell over and over to try and make amends, but... Old Comiskey all the way.

CINCINNATI REDS: Bank Street Grounds, League Park 1, League Park 2, Palace of the Fans, Crosley Field, Riverfront Stadium, Great American Ball Park
Great American Ball Park is fine, it's a hell of a name for a baseball stadium, but it ain't no Crosley.

CLEVELAND INDIANS: League Park, Cleveland Municipal Stadium, Progressive Field
League Park makes a case- 290 feet to a 60-foot fence in right, 375 feet to a 5-foot fence in left. 460 feet to center. Have fun. Cleveland Municipal had more fun with fences, as Bill Veeck would, for as long as the AL would tolerate it, move the fences as much as 15 feet between games. It would also have a berm- a mini hill- instead of a warning track in center field. Not that it mattered much; the berm was at 470 feet and nobody ever managed to reach it. Progressive Field has the groundskeepers shoot off fireworks after every half-inning to ward off seagulls, cozy, downtown, and is the fan favorite. Tough call for a neutral. Municipal was ugly, cold, filthy, housed a horrible Indians team, it was downright frightening being in the upper deck, but... it was THEIR ugly, cold, filthy, frightening home of a horrible team.

I give it to League Park. Even after Municipal Stadium was built in 1933, even when it was new, the Indians used League Park concurrently until 1946. That has to say something for League Park.

COLORADO ROCKIES: Mile High Stadium, Coors Field
Mile High Stadium was only used for two seasons before moving to Coors. But oh, those two seasons. Major League attendance records. 75,000 a game. What a noise. That said, Coors is still the better personality. The fans aren't much quieter, particularly when the Rockies are contending. And the fact that they have to use a humidor to keep the balls from ending up in Wyoming, and the thin air keeping breaking balls from actually breaking...

DETROIT TIGERS: Boulevard Park, Burns Park, Bennett Park, Tiger Stadium, Comerica Park
Why did Tiger Stadium have to go? Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyy?

FLORIDA MARLINS: Joe Robbie... er, Dolphin... um, Landshark... uh, Pro Player... Now it's Sun Life Stadium?! COME ON! Am I glad they're moving out of that thing next season. It's only here by default.

HOUSTON ASTROS: Colt Stadium, Astrodome, Minute Maid Park
Colt Stadium was a freaking oven. You don't go there for baseball. You go there to get grill marks. Also there were rattlesnakes. The stadium was relocated to Mexico, where it still stands. The Astrodome is a dome, but Houston has a bit of love for it. But let's not kid ourselves; it's Minute Maid easily.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS: Municipal Stadum, Kaufmann Stadium
Kaufmann easily. Beautiful ballpark. Just as long as it's post-1995, when they got rid of the turf.

LOS ANGELES ANGELS OF ANAHEIM: Wrigley Field LA, Dodger Stadium (then called Chavez Ravine), Angel Stadium of Anaheim
We'll get to Chavez Ravine in a sec, but it's not really what you'd call the Angels'. Wrigley? When Home Run Derby needed a stadium bland enough and symmetrical enough to not favor any particular kind of hitter, they went to Wrigley. It's the Big A.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS: Washington Park 1, Ridgewood Park, Eastern Park, Washington Park 2, Ebbets Field, LA Memorial Coliseum, Dodger Stadium
A hard one to call, those last three, but really it's Ebbets or Dodger.

The Dodgers have now spent longer at Dodger than at Ebbets, and even though Ebbets is more lamented than any other former ballpark, the fans who were actually there recall it as actually kind of decrepit towards the end of its life and not really standing out. Dodger Stadium, once you read into its history, actually leaves kind of a bad taste in your mouth, once you read up on what's been called the Battle of Chavez Ravine.

For me, if Dodger Stadium, when you get right down to it, doesn't have enough special about it, enough character, to even keep the fans at the park the whole game, how's it going to beat Ebbets in its prime? Especially with that bad karma hanging over it?

MILWAUKEE BREWERS: Sick's Stadium, Milwaukee County Stadium, Miller Park
Having been to both County Stadium and Miller Park... Miller Park is nice, it really is, enjoy seeing games there, but it's County Stadium all the way. It's the stadium Major League was filmed at, Bernie Brewer actually slid into a beer stein, you could actually see some of the rest of Milwaukee even if the part of Milwaukee you actually wanted to look at was somewhere behind the left-field seating bowl and you were actually looking at the Masterson factory. We liked to play with Miller Park's retractable roof for a little while, then we got bored. Also it broke. And leaked.

Besides, the people outside could stand to be able to see in a little bit. It's a gigantic parking lot either way and we use every inch of it for tailgating. Also, prior to a 1973 expansion, patients at a nearby V.A. hospital had an unobstructed view of the games from their rooms, which they could therefore watch for free. That was nice. So let's take that configuration: after they added the beer stein, before they blocked off the veterans' view of the game.

MINNESOTA TWINS: American League Park, Boundary Field, Griffith Stadium, Metropolitan Stadium, Metrodome, Target Field
Minnesota got a retroactive affinity for Metropolitan Stadium, but largely because it was outside and the Metrodome wasn't. The love shifted completely to Target Field when it came along, because really, Metropolitan Stadium wasn't all that much of a ballpark. It was an upgraded minor league park with nothing special about it. Griffith Stadium had a center field fence that had to originally come in because the owner of the land there refused to sell it. The path between home plate and first was slightly downhill. The Metrodome, despite everything, has flavor to it, most notably the 'baggie' serving as an outfield wall and the dome that can be hit by a batted ball. Target Field has a good chance, but technically, no games have been played there yet, so let's not call it. For now? It's going to go to Griffith.

NEW YORK METS: Polo Grounds, Shea Stadium, Citi Field
You'd think it'd be the Polo Grounds. Uh uh. Even if the Giants didn't have squatter's rights on it, uh uh. They only spent two seasons there, when the Polo Grounds were old and dilapidated and they were just waiting for Shea Stadium to get built. They never got the Polo Grounds in its prime. And Shea is nobody's idea of a nice place to play baseball. Citi Field is the first actually pleasant stadium the Mets have ever had, so that's where they go here.

NEW YORK YANKEES: Oriole Park, Hilltop Park, Polo Grounds, Shea Stadium, Yankee Stadium 1, Yankee Stadium 2
Not New Yankee. Not until they fix that utterly broken wind tunnel out to right. And stop invoking class warfare behind home plate. It's clearly the House That Ruth Built. My chosen era of Yankee 1 is going to be the early 50's, when there was 'Death Valley' in deep center. Monument Park used to be in play, with a flagpole directly behind. So you could be chasing down a deep fly ball and all of a sudden have to contend with a whole other outfield patrol consisting of Miller Huggins, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. It was like that well into the 70's. And in the process you'd be dealing with rowdy fans from the Bronx.

I can say these things because I'm not the one shagging fly balls.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS: Columbia Park, Shibe Park, Municipal Stadium, Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum
Oh, are the A's happy they get first rights to Shibe over the Phillies. It's the clear choice. Columbia wasn't bad in the ancient, black-and-white, why-is-this-video-sped-up-so-it-looks-like-everyone's-on-some-sort-of-whimsical-steroid era. Municipal Stadium for the A's was mainly used to cause shenanigans with the right field fence to try and complain about the Yankee Stadium right field fence. Oakland-Alameda could get hit with a nuke and it'd be a net benefit for baseball.

As for Shibe, let's have it sometime before 1935, when the spite fence went up. The A's had a rooftop contingent similar to the Cubs, charging admission to the rooftops, but Connie Mack didn't even bother negotiating. He just sued, and when he lost, he put up a fence to block their view. The team went downhill afterwards; so did the neighborhood. Let's not have that fence.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES: Recreation Park, Baker Bowl, Connie Mack Stadium, Veterans Stadium, Citizens Bank Park
The A's have first rights to Connie Mack, then primarily known as Shibe Park, having used it for 45 years as opposed to the 33 for the Phillies. No matter; the Phillies still have options. Citizen's Bank is great and all, but... if you can believe it, the nouveau-retro style is starting to look a bit too much like itself. A view of the skyline, a giant scoreboard somewhere, a concourse, nothing really distinctive for the style. I give it to the Baker Bowl. If you think the Green Monster is high, try the Baker Bowl's right-field fence. 30 feet closer, but 23 feet higher. 60 feet worth of wall. It was necessary; the place gave up way too many home runs otherwise. The fence was raised that high in 1920; by then the Baker Bowl was starting to fall into disrepair and was gradually becoming more ridiculed. So to maximize the height and minimize the disrepair, let's freeze the Cigar Box at 1920.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES: Exposition Park 1, Recreation Park, Exposition Park 2, Forbes Field, Three Rivers Stadium, PNC Park
Tough call between Forbes and PNC here. Forbes was one of those REALLY old stadiums where they'd allow overflow fans onto the field. It was another epic pitcher's park, starting out with a distance reading of 360-462-376, with 12-foot walls all around. (Although this guy puts left field at 320.) You'd still get home runs, but they were inside-the-park. Which when they happen are loads more fun. The right field walls were moved in to 300 feet in 1925, but the wall was put up to 28 feet to compensate. It also had ivy walls. PNC is beautiful, with nooks and crannies and the Allegheny Bridge in the background and everything, but we've yet to see it with a competitive team and a packed house that thinks it can win something. It'll have to go to Forbes for now.

SAN DIEGO PADRES: Qualcomm Stadium, PETCO Park
It's an easy call. PETCO by a mile.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS: Polo Grounds 1, Oakland Park, St. George Grounds, Polo Grounds 2, Polo Grounds 3, Hilltop Park, Polo Grounds 4, Seals Stadium, Candlestick Park, AT&T Park
Oh, this is a toughie. Polo 4 is the one everyone knows and loves, with the jut in dead center above and beyond the cavern the rest of center field already was, coupled with short porches at either pole. AT&T is lovely, with McCovey Cove and the Coke bottle and the giant glove and brick construction and everything. And then there was Seals Stadium, a very intimate minor-league temporary home with no warning track and a little part of center field where if you hit a ball juuuuust right, it could go from being in play to a home run to back in play without anything getting in its way. This is almost a religious question as far as old stadiums vs. new stadiums, and what side of the Mississippi you live on, probably. Being on the east side of the river, I hand it to the Polo Grounds. But that's not a knock on AT&T. Toughest call in the entire league.

SEATTLE MARINERS: Kingdome, Safeco Field
The Kingdome lived and died on its acoustics. It ran into the same sterile why-can't-we-play-outside issues all domes run into, and it felt like a tomb early on. Then the Mariners started getting good and people started showing up, upon which they found, hey, this place can be kinda fun with a lot of people in it. They still wanted to play outside, though. Despite the raucous Kingdome I grew up seeing, I won't get in the way. Safeco is clearly nicer and prettier to boot; we'll go with Safeco.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS: Sportsman's Park, Robison Field, Sportsman's Park 3, Busch Stadium 1, Busch Stadium 2
Back in its era, Sportsman's 3 didn't stand out all that much. But back then, the bar was high. Goats cut the grass, they had a Budweiser eagle flapping after every home run (you see things like that these days for the Mets and Phillies and Brewers and such, but back then it was a new thing), sportswriter Red Smith characterized the look as "a garish, county fair sort of layout". Neither Busch can match up.

TAMPA BAY RAYS: Not much choice here, it's Tropicana Field by default.

TEXAS RANGERS: Griffith Stadium, RFK Stadium, Arlington Stadium, Rangers Ballpark in Arlington
Not much of a debate here. Griffith already was taken by the Twins, RFK is blah, Arlington Stadium was a minor-league hothouse, and the Ballpark in Arlington's pretty good in its own right.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS: Exhibition Stadium, Rogers Centre
Exhibition Stadium was proof that indoor baseball is not optional in Canada. On April 7, 1977, the Blue Jays played on a snow-covered field, the only time that's ever happened. (The Blue Jays beat the White Sox, 9-5.) Also there were lake-effect winds. And seagulls. And the sightlines were horrible. Rogers Centre in a walkover.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS: Jarry Park Stadium, Olympic Stadium, Hiram Bithorn Stadium, RFK Memorial Stadium, Nationals Park
RFK's a cookie-cutter, Jarry Park was an anonymous minor league stadium they never really bothered to upgrade, Olympic Stadium was a disaster. Hiram Bithorn is okay, but it has to be Nationals Park.

That makes for 16 clubs who have their best face showing this season. Plus potentially the Twins. Not too bad. But really... we could use a couple more caverns in the league. Someone go crazy and put the fences back 475 feet.

The Stupid Tax

You might note that the byline below the blog title is 'Be Less Stupid'. That's not necessarily a slight on you or anyone. Everybody's stupid concerning something or other. Everybody's got an intellectual blind spot. There's nothing wrong with that as long as you do your best to plug the hole. President Obama's a Constitutional scholar, but you wouldn't ask him for bowling advice. 'Be Less Stupid' is little more than a call to fill those blind spots in, to, well, be a little less stupid every day. If you want to look at it as 'be smarter', fine and dandy.

But let's discuss what happens if you fail to be less stupid.

It will cost you a lot of money.

You might have heard the saying that the lottery is a 'tax on people who are bad at math'. Fair enough. Tragic addictions aside, there are absolutely people out there that will look at 10:1 odds and think that if they bet ten times, they're bound to win, and won't even take into account the return on investment even if they do win. There are people that will bet on every number of a roulette wheel and then wonder why they're losing money.

It's something I've always known as the 'stupid-people tax', but for our purposes we'll condense further into 'stupid tax'.

A stupid tax can be defined as any payment of money that can be avoided through not being stupid- the stupider you are, the higher the stupid tax. Lotteries qualify. (I cop to buying the occasional scratch-off, so I'm not immune, but my stupid tax is still fairly low.)

Another famous stupid tax: the Nigerian e-mail scam, also known as the 419 scam, after the part of Nigerian law that deals with it. Scams can hit some perfectly innocent people who do think things through first and simply get tricked. However, the Nigerian scam is so well-known and so utterly ubiquitous- they warn you about it pretty much anywhere that specializes in handling money- that if you get caught out by it, you tend to get absolutely no sympathy. You in fact get pointed and laughed at by anyone who doesn't know you personally or has to try to talk you down afterward. A stupid tax of the highest order.

Not ethical, mind you. Very not ethical. Illegal and low. But a stupid tax nonetheless.

For the three people that don't know what the Nigerian scam is, you get an e-mail from sone dignitary or other- most commonly from Nigeria, hence the name, but it can be from any country- telling you about how they've had to flee the country and had to leave a whole lot of money behind. They can get it back out, but they'll need an investment from you to cut through all the red tape. Once it's out, you'll get a cut of the money.

The letter will be terribly written.

When someone falls for it, they will discover more red tape that requires more money. And more. And more and more and more. Some wind up sending their cars, some travel to Nigeria themselves (at which point it's possible to get beaten or killed). Needless to say, there is no dignitary, and the only tied-up money is yours. Odds are you got taken in by some guy in an Internet cafe.

As long as it's been around, you'd think nobody would fall for it anymore. But the Nigerian scam keeps working. Sometimes it takes a modified form, such as "winning" a foreign lottery you obviously never entered, and could you just pay some processing fees for us?

In fact, according to Snopes, it reaches back all the way to the 1920's in what was then known as the 'Spanish Prisoner' scam, in which you helped fund attempts to break a wealthy Spaniard out of jail, all of which would inevitably fail.

The story evolves, but the scam- and the stupid tax- remain the same.

Who falls for it? Well, for one, a former member of Congress. Ed Mezvinsky of Iowa was using other people's money to do it, which it should be noted does not qualify as a stupid tax. That's not stupid. That's simply tragic. A stupid tax is something you're able to easily avoid, and while Mezvinsky should have known better, anyone could have been taken in by Mezvinsky. Or Enron. Or Bernie Madoff.

A much more ethical stupid tax, and in fact my favorite stupid tax ever, has got to be kgb. Yes, these guys.

Let's say you don't know something. Doesn't matter what. You don't know how to, or are too lazy to, look it up, which, come on, what the hell is Google for. Or Wikipedia. For a 99-cent stupid tax, you, the stupid person, can hire a smarter person to look it up for you.

The best part: through your stupid tax, there exists the chance your query, and its corresponding answer, will be posted by kgb for others to look up, so that they might not have to pay the stupid tax themselves.

Until they do. In droves. So much so that kgb tried to get themselves a Super Bowl ad (but got turned down).

It is the purest possible form of stupid tax: the less you know, the more you pay, and the money goes from the presumably stupid directly to the presumably smart. It's perfect, and better yet, it's completely harmless.

And it can be avoided if you simply be less stupid.

Monday, March 29, 2010


Fuigmism is one of the most insidious diseases in America today. It can devastate communities, pit neighbors against each other, and it often proves extremely difficult to cure.

What is fuigmism?

FU, I've Got Mine.

Well-functioning societies, regardless of their industrial status, at some level require a shared sense of community, of teamwork. I help you, you help me. Members of a community must be willing to help each other achieve mutual goals. When someone becomes for whatever reason unable to contribute to society (e.g. temporary injury/sickness or job loss), it's incumbent on the rest of us to help them become able again and ready to once again contribute, and if their potential contribution has become permanently limited (e.g. permanent injury/sickness or retirement), it's incumbent on the rest of us to not take advantage of them in their reduced capacity.

That's how it's supposed to work, anyway.

Fuigmism happens when this sense of community breaks down. It occurs when someone becomes not so much unable to contribute as unwilling, and yes, they are two different things.

Some of the symptoms of fuigmism:

*Repeated requests to know what's in it for you even if no monetary investment is asked of you
*Rationalization that if you've gotten to where you've gotten in life under your own power, so can everyone else under theirs
*Failure to recognize just how many things are in fact helping you out in your daily life
*Lack of sympathy for those more unfortunate than you coupled with never having suffered their misfortunes yourself
*Overuse of the word 'bootstraps'
*General disregard for anyone that isn't you or a loved one

Fuigmism comes and goes in American life. During the 80's, it more or less swept the country, with Patient Zero arguably being lifelong carrier Donald Trump. It was the Me Decade, the Gordon Gekko era of 'greed is good'. Sure, he was the primary factor in the death of the USFL when he ignored the salary cap and and made the league move games from spring to fall so as to force a merge with the NFL, sure he went bankrupt and needed to be bailed out, sure he was slimy as all get out, but deep down, you kinda wanted to be him anyway. You wanted to be the guy that could coat anything in gold just for the fun of it. You wanted to be the guy whose house Robin Leach would fawn over in his over-the-top rich-guy British accent this week. You wanted to be the guy that owned the casino, that flew in the private jet, that could name things after himself at will.

But look at Trump now. He hasn't really changed since then, but now he just seems tacky and disgusting. Oh, great, you gold-plated your toilet again and invited another dozen celebrities everybody hates to go admire it. Must be nice.

Who is most likely to be afflicted with fuigmism? The upper middle class. Statistically, even though the poorest among us are expected to have to contribute the least, they, proportionally, contribute the most, according to this 2009 graph regarding charitable giving, which counts both financial contributions and volunteer work. (Volunteer work is officially valued at $20.25 an hour.) A separate reading done in 2008 found similar findings, as do most studies done on the subject. The poor give the most, but then giving drops off sharply from the lower middle class, middle class, and then bottoming out at upper middle class. A small uptick occurs when you reach the richest members of society, but not nearly enough to match the poor.

Why is that? The poorest know what each other are going through, and help out in a shared sense of necessity. Everyone must pool resources or everyone's in big trouble. Past that, though, once the sensed necessity of community decreases, fuigmism takes over. One loses touch with the problems afflicting those on society's bottom rungs. Once one becomes rich enough, some among them feel an urge to give back, and do so (my local library was funded by Andrew Carnegie), but between the two extremes, there is a giant donut hole. It's similar to how bacteria has trouble surviving at very cold or very hot temperatures, but flourishes and ruins food at room temperature.

So what's the cure for fuigmism? Simple: start giving a damn about those around you. Or at least, care more than you currently do. It's that simple. No sense overcomplicating things.

You can start here.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Most Unfortunate Tourist Attraction Ever

The Manneken Pis.

Yes. I said Manneken Pis.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


Recently, in what has become a grand tradition, sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, the pope himself has found himself caught in scandal, having been found to have engaged in conduct allowing the abuse to take place. Specifically, when it was found that Father Lawrence C. Murphy of Milwaukee molested over 200 boys, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger decided against a defrocking despite urges from local Archbishop Rembert Weakland. He also, as Archbishop of Munich, allowed an admitted pedophile to return to parish work; the pedophile would reoffend.

There have been calls for Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, to resign. Don't count on him going anywhere. Most of the points I'm raising are covered in the linked article, but here goes anyway.

First off, the pope can't be fired. He's there as long as he wants. There is precedent for firing a pope- Silverius was deposed by a Byzantine general, Belisarius, in 537 and demoted to monk on allegations of treasonous correspondence with the Goths- but papal power has increased greatly since then, formally if not secularly.

The pope can resign, but according to canon law, he can only do so of his own volition. He can jump, but he can't be pushed. And given that the pope's inner circle has circled the wagons, Ratzinger clearly has no desire to jump.

And the last pope to actually resign did so in 1415, Gregory XII, and he only did so because there were three people claiming to be pope at the time- one an antipope (which means he doesn't officially count), one ruling from Rome, and one ruling from Avignon, France. Others have made plans for potential resignation, but none have followed through for almost 600 years.

Which, of course, leaves him to serve out his tenure as little more than one more member of the Catholic Church that's seen as a kid-diddler, even if he didn't do any of it himself. And it leaves the rest of us more or less disregarding and discrediting the Church until such time as we do need a new Pope.

That all said, in an effort to have some unique content, let's do some Papal trivia.

*Before John Paul I, the most recent pope to take a name that had not already been taken by a predecessor was Pope Lando. Lando served for six months from 913-914 and there isn't much known about him. He's so forgotten that he once had a song dedicated to him on the basis of being the 'most unimportant pope'.
*Until John II in 533, popes used their personal names as their regnal name. Why did John II take another name? Because his personal name was Mercurius, and Mercury was a Roman god.

*The first 35 Popes have been canonized. Liberius is #36. The 13 Popes that came after Liberius have been canonized too.
*The most recent canonized pope is Pius X, who served from 1903-1914.

*The numbering of popes by name has gone a bit wonky over the years due to antipopes, mistaken spellings and whatnot. For example, Martin's count is two high because of the count being mistakenly lumped in with that of Marinus. But, according to how the Church has it, the numbering for each name used stands as follows:

23- John
16- Benedict, Gregory
14- Clement
13- Innocent, Leo
12- Pius
9- Boniface, Stephen
8- Alexander, Urban
6- Adrian, Paul
5- Celestine, Martin, Nicholas, Sixtus
4- Anastasius, Eugene, Felix, Honorius, Sergius
3- Callixtus, Julius, Lucius, Sylvester, Victor
2- Adeodatus, Agapetus, Damasus, Gelasius, John Paul, Marcellus, Marinus, Paschal, Pelagius, Theodore
1- Agatho, Anacletus, Anicetus, Anterus, Caius, Conon, Constantine, Cornelius, Dionysius, Donus, Eleutrus, Eusebius, Evaristus, Eutychian, Fabian, Formosus, Hilarius, Hormisdas, Hyginus, Lando, Liberius, Linus, Marcellinus, Mark, Miltiades, Peter, Pontian, Romanus, Sabinian, Silverius, Simplicius, Siricius, Sisinnius, Soter, Symmachus, Telesphorus, Valentine, Vigilius, Zachary, Zephyrinus, Zosimus

*To date, popes have come from the following modern-day countries, as far as anyone can tell: Croatia, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, Palestine, Poland, Portugal, 'Roman Africa' (which here likely means either Algeria or Tunisia, and most likely the Carthage area of Tunisia), Spain, Syria, United Kingdom.

*Until John Paul II in 1978, a new pope went through a coronation ceremony. Part of this ceremony included the new pope being told "Annos Petri non videbis", which translates to a preliminary adminoshment that the new Pope won't be able to live long enough to match St. Peter's tenure.

Ratzinger could have used it.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Turn Out The Lights, The Party's Over

So it's almost time for cities around the world to engage in the annual Earth Hour. For those not up on Earth Hour, it's a thing where you go and turn off all the lights in your house for a specific hour.

That's pretty much it.

And it's the kind of thing that, even though I'm a Green, keeps me from actually voting that way. It's an empty gesture. It isn't thought through at all.

First off, last year, the actual switching-off doesn't really have much of an effect, even in what is arguably Earth Hour's marquee city of Sydney, Australia. The aim, of course, is to reduce a carbon footprint, but the actual reduction in the inaugural 2007 edition was judged to be "statistically indistinguishable from zero".

But the thing that really chafes: there's no follow-through. You just turn off the lights for an hour and then go about your lives. There's no follow-through, which is the crucial part of something like this. If you're going to participate, there needs to be some homework done in the process.

*When that hour's up, don't just flick all the lights back on. If it turns out you're going along fine with them off, you can always keep them off.
*Note in a more general fashion what it is you don't need to have on as much. For example, it's 11:37 PM right now here; I'm just fine using the light from the computer and TV. I don't need a light on.
*Don't think of it, however, as living totally in the dark all the time. Nobody is suggesting, or at least should be suggesting, that you live in the dark with candles all the time. (Unfortunately, one of the big ideas of coping with Earth Hour is candlelight dinners and candlelight parties. Turns off a lot of potential participants.)
*Don't stop at lightbulbs. Think about all the other stuff you could be doing, and believe me, there is no shortage of suggestions floating around out there. Pore through a gob of them every so often and make a note of anything that seems doable. Just looking at your roof, you could put lighter-colored shingles up there, solar panels, grass, seeds to put into the grass, raincatchers, whatever will work on your particular roof.
*And for God's sake, don't cap off Earth Hour with a motherloving fireworks display that puts back a whole bunch of the carbon you just took out.

You know. Like Sydney did.

Attention Tea Party

Stop it. Just stop it for the love of God.

That is all.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Pitagora Suicchi

You're probably aware of what a Rube Goldberg machine is: a big, complicated chain of reactions strung together, with a 'true' machine including some simple task accomplihed at the end.

Rube Goldberg was American, and overseas they don't tend to call it that. Abroad, it's more commonly known as a Pythagoras switch.

Japan made them a part of a kid's show. Thereby proving once again that Japan makes better TV than we do.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

This Post Brought To You By Velveeta (It's Cheesarific!)

When asked to name some things wrong with journalism, what would you list? Laziness? Political agendas? The phrase "We'll have to leave it there"? The phenomenon Fark's Drew Curtis recognizes as "Equal Time For Nutjobs"?

I go with advertiser influence.

By and large, the more a media outlet concerns itself with the acquisition and retention of specific advertisers, the more the quality of the actual journalism goes down. Once you concern yourself with that, you start compromising. 'Eh, I don't know, they might get angry with us, I should probably change this or leave it out or-- you know what, it'd probably be best if I kill the story entirely.'

The most obvious example these days has to be Glenn Beck. You might have heard about his having Goldline International as a sponsor, and lo and behold, there he is on his show extolling the virtues of investing in gold.

In the linked article, Beck's response is "So I shouldn't make money?" If money is your primary goal, Beck, you're in the wrong line of work. You're a journalist- supposedly- not a paid shill.

Don't get me wrong. You can HAVE sponsors. The key is to not give a damn about whether they stick around if you should decide to treat them just like everybody else. 60 Minutes had one of their finest hours when they broke the story that the Ford Pinto's gas tank could explode. Ford was a sponsor. They pulled their ads.

Then they recalled the Pinto.

60 Minutes struck again in 1974, this time against their own marketing department. On that occasion, they were spotlighting press junkets: journalists being sent to nice places with giant expense accounts, and then skewing their story in favor of whoever set it up.

These days, unfortunately, that report would never make it on the air today. Even if someone tried, it would get killed by an editor. Why? Because the news is seen these days as a moneymaking device by most of those who own the news organizations. Back in the Cronkite/Murrow/Reasoner days, the news wasn't supposed to make money. It was simply taken for granted that the news division would lose money hand over fist. That was okay as far as NBC, ABC and CBS were concerned; CBS especially. The news was supposed to be a loss leader: the prestige created by quality reporting raised the profile of the rest of the media empire.

Unfortunately, 60 Minutes taught media the wrong lessons; it told them to play up the slicker, more visually-appealing, more exciting style that 60 Minutes had as opposed to the purely straight-laced news broadcasts. The importance of quality reporting was slowly forgotten. 60 Minutes didn't exactly do much to dissuade from this lesson; they would go out and look for 'characters' to expose on occasion. From that last link:

"Thus the emphasis on the storytellers. Hewitt has always stressed personalities over issues. As he acknowledges, "casting" the people who appear in "60 Minutes" stories is an important element in the show's success. One recent "60 Minutes" segment, for example, featured an overweight, tall-talking Texan who illegally turned back odometers in used cars. "You couldn't find anybody better to play that guy," Hewitt said."

Shilling for ratings is not a recent thing. It goes back a long way to the days of Hearst and Pulitzer. Despite what the name of the prize will tell you, these were no responsible journalists. They engaged in a circulation war, and were not above making things up in order to win it, up to and including the rationale behind the Spanish-American War.

Nor is it an American thing. Turkish papers in Istanbul went to insane lengths to win a circulation war of their own back in the 90's. The papers got so caught up in promotional giveaways, which gave away, among other things, encyclopedias, cars, TV's, vacuum cleaners, dinnerware, bicycles, answering machines, toothbrushes, and chocolate pudding, that space in all papers involved was sopped up by articles denigrating the giveaways of the other papers. As the Boca Raton News stated,

"For weeks the "war of encyclopedias" has dwarfed the Somalia famine and conflict in Bosnia in their pages. The campaigns take half, sometimes all the front page."

The winner: nobody. Once the papers finally burned themselves out, they collectively found themselves right back where they started. They hadn't gained readers, merely shifted them around. Any new readers they had gained were simply there for the promotional items; once the promotions went away, so did they.

Why? It might have something to do with the fact that, in 1995, the literacy rate in Turkey was 70%. The papers themselves weren't very affordable either. Essentially, people weren't buying newspapers so much as sweepstakes tickets.

It can be a hard thing to not care about sponsors. They fund you; you could use that money to do a better job of reporting. But look at all the blogs out there. Some of them do a very effective, if often partisan, job on the whole. The only way they care about sponsors is making sure sponsors exist to help pay for the servers. They don't tend to be too particular about who those sponsors are, so long as they don't run ads that break the site or annoy the readers in the 'you are the millionth visitor' vein. They'll take pretty much anybody past that, to the point where if they anger one sponsor, okay, whatever, plenty more where that came from, and worst case scenario, you can just run Google AdSense. 538, run by self-described liberals, tends to prominently feature ads for Sarah Palin's PAC or 'No Obamacare In Wisconsin'. You don't go to the sponsors. The sponsors come to you. No one sponsor tends to pony up enough money for ad placement to be individually worried about.

Which just leaves the task of doing reporting respectable enough to where someone wants to attach their name to you.

Monday, March 22, 2010

History Is Jerry Bruckheimer

The healthcare bill passed. You might have heard about that. It's not the complete, done deal, but a bill is to be signed by Obama.

The question now is not just how it will work out- and believe me, I'm not the guy to talk to about that; healthcare's one of my weaker issues and I freely admit it- but how will it get remembered by history? If it's an 'historic' bill passage, as many are saying (and in all likelihood correctly), it's worth asking, from this whole entire debate, who stands out, and who gets left on history's cutting room floor?

Let's work that out. What are we looking for, first off?

1. History is a brutal, unfeeling, uncaring editor. Some big chunks of the debate, some major players, are going to get left out of the final cut. You may not get remembered for what you should be remembered for, either.

2. History doesn't always focus on the important parts. Sometimes some little tidbits that spice up the story work their way in ahead of other, more important things.

3. The first bill to pass, or the one with the greatest fanfare, is the one that gets remembered. The bill just passed, not the reconciliation bill yet to be taken up in the Senate, is clearly that bill. History likes a climactic spectacle, and we got it. The reconciliation bill is, as far as history is probably concerned, mop-up work.

4. History remembers the victors. If the bill is passed, history notes who got it passed. If it fails, history notes who killed it.

That established. In decreasing order of notability, here's who's getting remembered:

*Barack Obama. Seriously. He's the guy who was President, it'll be his signature on the bill. It got called "Obamacare". He gets to have the historic signing ceremony with flashbulbs popping. If he's left out of this, I will eat my own genitalia.

*Ted Kennedy. He worked his whole career for it, then died in the middle of the debate. "Tragically, Kennedy did not live to see the fruits of his lifetime of labor." Chappaquidick is probably going to end up making room for this. (Scott Brown? Maybe the answer to a trivia question; he never figured into the actual debate.)

*Nancy Pelosi. She'll get more credit than Reid, because of a couple reasons. First and foremost, she was simply more effective of a chamber leader than Reid was. She was better at herding cats. Second, the final vote prior to passage is the vote that gets the airplay in history books. Had that final vote come in the Senate, Reid would be ahead of Pelosi. But since it came in the House, Pelosi gets the nod. (She'll also get some credit for deliberately walking through the protestors to get to the Capitol. There were others with her, but it'll read as Pelosi and Semi-Nameless Friends.)

*John Lewis/Emanuel Cleaver/Barney Frank. They'll be paired together due to what happened the day prior to the vote. Lewis will get noted for someone calling him the N-word. Cleaver got spit on the same day. Those two seem to be linked anecdotally, and probably will be by history as well in some dramatic climactic scene. It will likely also enter a racial historical narrative. Barney Frank isn't black, but he is gay, and got anti-gay slurs fired at him. Louise Slaughter, who got a brick through her office window the same day, seems to have been separated from the others. (She's also white, for what it's worth.)

*Jim Clyburn. Around this level of notability has to be a Republican. History is going to remember something nice and clean like unanimous partisan opposition, as happened here when every Republican voted no. That fate might have been escaped had, say, Joe Cao defected, but nobody did, so "unanimous opposition" gets to roll off the tongue rather nicely. One specific Republican will get picked to play the lead role of the opposition- likely as the villain- and there are several options for that lead. You might go with Joe Wilson and 'You lie!', and he might get a footnote. You might go with House Minority Leader John Boehner, helped along by, again, the final vote coming in the House. You might go with James Inhofe or Richard Shelby or Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck or someone else. But I think it goes to Clyburn for the quote "If we can defeat Obama on this bill, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him." That's something to put in a nice little sidebar textbox. 'You lie!' needs explanation, context. Clyburn's quote does not.

*Harry Reid. He'll get downgraded as the 'other' chamber leader. When he is remembered, I'm wagering he gets misremembered. Remember, history's written by the victors. Reid will get a sepia-tone treatment simply for being on the winning team. Given all the watering-down the bill got, he'll be characterized as a "shepherd" and a "compromiser" when it was actually more like a "capitulator".

*Anyone that voted yes on their final vote on this bill (again, not the reconciliation bill) and loses election this year. Profiles in Courage, anyone?

*John Dingell. He introduced a healthcare reform bill every single Congress. He'll get a footnote. (He also got to call for the vote on the reconciliation bill. That likely won't get noted, but it was a nice gesture.)

And that's really about it. Max Baucus, who held the bill up in committee, won't get a note. Joe Lieberman, who nearly singlehandedly derailed the bill, won't get a note. The vast majority of the GOP won't be brought up individually. The Tea Party might get known as anonymous "protestors" in a picture or two, but that's it. Many of the Blue Dogs will only get a note if they voted yes and lose. History is almost total in scrubbing away why votes were cast for 'the others', leaving only the votes themselves. You were worried about this and this and this and you voted yes only after much deliberation over blah blah blah you voted yes. You were supportive of the bill but faced a lot of pressure from your district and needed to get permission from Pelosi to vote no but really you supported it yakety yakety yakety you voted no.

Never said history was nice.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Be Vewy, Vewy Expensive

As you're acutely aware, businesses run on money. You're familiar with the concept of boycotting a company, not spending money there, to get them to stop doing something you don't like.

However, with the right amount of effort, you can get things going in the other direction too. Say hi to the Carrotmob.

The short version of the process works like so:

1. Local businesses in a certain city (and so far it is just local businesses) are asked what kind of socially-responsible action they're willing to take.
2. The businesses respond.
3. The business that puts in the best pledge gets completely, totally swarmed by customers on a predetermined date.

It works pretty much on the honor system, though a business that fails to go through on its first pledge probably should not expect to get carrotmobbed again. Or very much business at all again from any of the members of the mob.

Not that the organizers really want to think about things that way. They're all about the positives. Negatives are for boycotts.

The epicenter is San Francisco, though there have been carrotmobs done on five continents, with Germany and Finland most on board with it outside the United States.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Then How Come You Look Like Cesar Romero?

Recently, the Texas State Board of Education decided against teaching about one Oscar Romero in their cirriculum, on the grounds that not enough people know about him.

This can be remedied. Oh, can this ever be remedied.

Oscar Romero was born in 1917 in Ciudad Barrios, El Salvador. He only recieved public education up to the third grade, as that was all that was available; he was tutored for some time afterward by a teacher, Anita Iglesias. Not that it mattered much in El Salvador; your grades meant jack squat in the job market. He had been training in carpentry, but ultimately decided to enter the church.

In 1930, the 13-year-old Romero signed up with a local seminary in San Miguel. He would stay there for seven years, then move up to the national seminary in San Salvador. He wouldn't stay long before getting a call-up to Rome's Gregorian University, where he would do well enough to eventually become ordained as a Catholic priest. He would have stayed in Rome through World War 2, unlike many of the other priests, but he was called back to El Salvador in 1943. He and a traveling companion got stopped in Cuba and did jail time for the crime of having come from World War 2-era Italy. Which, really, fair enough considering. After the companion got sick, he was released to a hospital, and eventually, released outright.

Romero, now back in El Salvador, would set up shop in San Miguel for the next 20 years. Aside from the various religious supports, he started a local Alcoholics Anonymous and helped get San Miguel's Cathedral built.

He would get a conservative reputation, worrying some as he rose through the ranks, eventually making Archbishop of San Salvador in 1977. They thought Romero would steer away from social programs for the poor.

He probably would have, had his progressive friend Rutillo Grande not gotten assassinated about a month after he was made Archbishop. Romero did a total, utter 180, opting to take up Grande's causes as his own. Among those causes was, of course, rights for the poor, particularly the right of farmers to organize co-ops. This didn't please the large landowners. The large landowners who knew people with guns. People with guns who happened to be the army.

Romero had one big problem: He wasn't the army and he knew it. And the army was not about to be swayed by nice words. The poor, however, could have their spirits kept up. ""If some day they take away the radio station from us... if they don't let us speak, if they kill all the priests and the bishop too, and you are left a people without priests, each one of you must become God's microphone, each one of you must become a prophet."

Romero made an attempt to contact then-President Jimmy Carter in 1980 asking him to stop sending military aid, saying "You say that you are Christian. If you are really Christian, please stop sending military aid to the military here, because they use it only to kill my people." Carter knew. Carter helped start it. El Salvador was a proxy front in the Cold War. Ronald Reagan would later in fact increase aid to the military.

A month or two later, Romero told a reporter, "You can tell the people that if they succeed in killing me, that I forgive and bless those who do it. Hopefully, they will realize they are wasting their time. A bishop will die, but the church of God, which is the people, will never perish."

Clearly, Romero knew what he was in for.

On March 23, Romero ended his homily that day by openly challenging members of the military. "Brothers, you are from the same people; you kill your fellow peasant... No soldier is obliged to obey an order that is contrary to the will of God... In the name of God then, in the name of this suffering people I ask you, I beg you, I command you in the name of God: stop the repression."

Romero was assassinated the next day.

Not only that, at his funeral, roughly 40 mourners were shot by snipers. Without Romero there to preach for peace, El Salvador soon descended into a civil war that would last until 1992 and see 75,000 dead.

The Catholic Church has set Romero on the road towards sainthood.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Gol do Uruguay! ...gol do Uruguay?!

If, in June, you plan to be watching the World Cup, well, so will I. (I promise I won't do a month straight of soccer stuff.)

But if this is your first World Cup, you should get an idea of just how big this thing is. And there's no better place to start than what is probably the most legendary game in soccer history, the 1950 final between Brazil and Uruguay.

Let's set the stage before throwing it to YouTube: Brazil had not yet won the World Cup, but had a really good feeling about this one, held on home soil. The final phase that year was a four-team group, and as it happened, Brazil and Uruguay were effectively playing a final in the last pairing. Sweden and Spain had already fallen away. Uruguay needed to win, Brazil needed only to tie to get a win on goal differential.

Brazil wanted it. Brazil needed it. Brazil thought they already had it wrapped up. A crowd as estimated as highly as 210,000 people- the most ever to attend a soccer game- crammed into the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro to bear witness to the coronation.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


According to the Penny Arcader who made the previous post, the I-know-where-you-live death threat person was arrested. Which is good.

Also, four new books to add to the Rapid-Fire High-Intensity Book Club:

*Bowering, George- Egotists and Autocrats: The Prime Ministers of Canada
*Godwin, Nadine- Travia: The Ultimate Book of travel Trivia
*Lyons, Andy; Ronay, Barney- When Saturday Comes: The Half Decent Football Book
*Wallechinsky, David- The Complete Book of the Winter Olympics, 2010 Edition

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

How Do People Get Like This?

A Penny Arcader, name withheld, describes her day:

I go out to get rat food, and some random stranger demands that I defend Hamas because her brother got killed in whatever their last attack was - when I express my condolences and ask if she wants to go get coffee and talk about it, she says I shouldn't 'patronize' her, then actually spits in my face and storms off. Then I come back and, as I'm getting my keys out for the building, one of my neighbors grills me on whether or not I actually live there (we've had problems with people breaking into the building) - the same neighbor who has seen me in the fucking laundry room three damn times now. I get inside, drink tea, try to relax, and upon checking my email there are four hate emails (one of which is a threat against my life and includes my home address) from someone who apparently tracked me down from my former Youtube account, the most tame insult of which is 'stupid fucking Muslim bitch'.

This happened in Seattle. And yes, the police were notified.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Japanese Minorities

Japan may look friendly, it may look inviting. It may very well be to you. But underneath the surface, it can be a very, very cold place.

Particularly if you live there.

Particularly if you're an ethnic minority.

Unlike the United States, Japan does not have laws banning racial discrimination in any way. The general concept of equality is mentioned in the constitution, Article 14,

"All of the people are equal under the law and there shall be no discrimination in political, economic or social relations because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin. 2) Peers and peerage shall not be recognized. 3) No privilege shall accompany any award of honor, decoration or any distinction, nor shall any such award be valid beyond the lifetime of the individual who now holds or hereafter may receive it."

However, in practice, Article 14 proves to be little more than lip service. Much of Japan's legislation is toothless, with informal practices carried out regardless of what the law says. Any minority is fair game for discrimination, or at the very least, patronization. And when legislators attempt to fix the problem, they end up sorry they tried.

In 2002, a human rights bill was bogged down before coming to a vote, with opposition coming from concerns of freedom of expression over an anti-hate speech clause, and a proposal that Japanese nationals be the only people allowed to be human rights protection monitors. North Korean abductions of Japanese citizens played a factor, worrying some about who might end up in a position of influence.

In 2005, the bill was attempted again, with watered-down language concerning hate speech, but still failed to find sufficient support.

We'll cover five of the more prominent groups here, and how they're affected.

The most obvious, the ones that don't look the part at all. 'Gaijin' is a catch-all term for Westerners- Americans, Europeans, Brazilians. Yes, there is a Brazilian contingent in Japan. The Japanese are an insular people, with a very, very complex culture. A culture they on the whole think too complicated for an outsider to ever really understand, no matter how hard they try.

The Japanese mean well in this regard- they want the outsiders to understand, and as most visitors to Japan will attest, the help is welcome. The problem comes when someone decides to move to Japan, and as the years go on, they're seen as just as much of an outsider as when they first arrived. If you happen to be black, you'll get looked at in a kind of gawking manner. There aren't very many blacks in Japan. They've been seen on TV, and often imitated by Japanese looking to make fashion statements, but to see an actual black person standing there is a noteworthy thing. The noteworthiness decreases with further interaction, when one's personality is allowed to assert itself, and the merits of that personality begin to determine how one is regarded afterwards, but it can be a very disconcerting first impression.

It's still never going to be a perfect fit, though. When Japan was hit by the global economic downturn, the Japanese government, in an effort to fight a rising unemployment rate, offered Brazilian and Peruvian immigrants payouts to return to their homeland. And if you happen to need political asylum, look elsewhere. Since 1982, Japan has accepted only 508 refugees out of 8,263 applicants, an acceptance rate of only 6.1%. Comparably industrialized nations routinely receive tens of thousands of applicants per year, with the United States taking in over 1,300 Iraqi Palestinians in a single instance last July.

As one's ethnicity creeps closer to Japan itself, though, the helpfulness dries up. The Chinese are one of if not the largest minority group in Japan, sitting alongside the Koreans. Japanese sentiment towards Chinese immigrants is analogous to American sentiment towards Mexican immigrants. While there are some successful Chinese in Japan, it takes twice the effort to get half the results.

In addition, Chinese immigrants are seen as likely to commit crimes, with the fact that the Chinese show the highest crime rate among immigrants. However, it should be noted that the overall crime rate of Japan is very low compared to that of other industrialized nations, with the vast majority of crimes being committed by the Japanese themselves. And even if the identity of the suspect isn't certain, the Chinese are often blamed anyway.

The word means simply 'staying in Japan', but in practice it's primarily applied to the Koreans, both North and South. The problems here stem overwhelmingly from the North. Starting in 1959, North Korea advertised a repatriation program, which was initially quite popular, in fact more popular than South Korea's program. Then word came back about how things actually were in North Korea. Migration dried up quickly- 74,779 of the eventual 93,000 or so repatriated to North Korea did so from 1959-1961- though continued in fits and starts until 1984. Then North Korea started simply kidnapping Zainichis, and Japanese who had married Zainichis. Relations between Japan and North Korea predictably soured.

However, according to Tessa Morris-Suzuki, professor of history at Australian National University and author of "Exodus to North Korea: Shadows from Japan's Cold War",

"in the second half of the 1950s the Japanese government actively sought to persuade Zainichi Koreans to choose repatriation to North Korea over the option of remaining in Japan. In his conversation with the [International Committee of the Red Cross] official in 1956, [Inoue Matsutaro of the Japanese Red Cross] is reported going on to say that the government had “decided to undertake repatriation, if necessary by provoking individual demands to go to the North”. Precisely how the government intended to “provoke individual demands” is not clear. It should be noted, though, that precisely when this conversation was taking place, the Ministry of Health and Welfare was conducting a campaign to slash the very limited welfare benefits available to Koreans in Japan. Some 60,000 Zainichi Koreans had their welfare payments reduced or cancelled: a move which undoubtedly made the prospect of life in North Korea look more attractive than it would otherwise have seemed."

The South Koreans end up taken along for the ride. As a condition of naturalization, Zainichi Koreans were once required to take Japanese names, carry special identification, and submit to fingerprinting, under threat of deportation. While these requirements are no longer in force, informal pressure still remains to take a Japanese name.

I mentioned during the Olympics that the Ainus were one of the indigenous races that took part in 'Anthropology Days' in 1904, also known as the biggest slap in the face of multiculturalism the Olympics has ever known. Events included mud fighting and rock throwing.

At least St. Louis recognized the Ainus as an indigenous people. Until 2008, Japan didn't. In fact, only five years before St. Louis, Japan, having previously banned the Ainu language, taken land, and making the people take Japanese names, labeled the Ainus "former Aborigines." This might have been a factor in the Ainus agreeing to participate in Anthropology Days.

As such, the Ainu, living mainly on Hokkaido, were expected to fully assimilate, with most Ainu ending up ashamed of their own culture simply because they were told to be. The Ainu culture was damaged nearly to the point of extinction, and those who remain report high dropout rates, high poverty rates, 60% of the income of majority Japanese households, and an equal number stating they'd lost touch with their culture, to the point where it's impossible to tell just how many Ainu are left.

And it is a distinct culture. Men wear beards. Women wear facial tattoos before reaching marriage. Clothes are often made from elm tree bark. The Ainu have a history of story-telling through sagas, known as Yukar, though subjugation has taken away much knowledge of it. (Some is available, though, at Amazon of all places.)

There is hope, however, as the new Prime Minister elected in August, Yukio Hatoyama, is from Hokkaido. Hatoyama has pledged measures to further recognize the Ainu and bring them back from the brink. He's got a long road ahead.

The Burakumin are proof that in Japan, you don't really have to be a minority to be a minority. If you've ever heard of India's caste system and the 'Untouchables' at the bottom, the burakumin occupy much the same position in Japan. The burakumin are descendants from the lowest class citizens of the Edo period, who tended to work in 'unclean' jobs handling corpses in various states, such as butcher, tanner, leathermaker, or gravedigger.

Officially, the class was abolished in 1871 through the Emancipation Edict. In practice, as said before, many laws in Japan are utterly without teeth, and the Emancipation Edict is no exception.

Hiding buraku heritage is hard, and the social penalty for being found out can be severe. Being a burakumin can keep someone from gaining a job, or a mate. A 2006 survey showed that 1 in 5 Japanese consider buraku descent as an important factor as to whether to marry a potential spouse. Marriages that are already scheduled can and do get cancelled if one finds out that the other is a burakumin.

And it's not getting any better. In 2009, Google added some old maps to its Google Earth service of Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo, but was unaware that those maps, which marked off ghetto areas, can to this day be used to track the lineage of modern burakumin, perpetuating the prejudice.

Ironically, in Japan, the dead are revered. One of Japan's most important occasions, the Obon Festival, lasts for three days, during which, according to Buddhist belief, ancestral spirits of the dead temporarily return to the land of the living. This is most famously celebrated through paper lanterns, lit and floated down a river, each lantern denoting one passed spirit returning to the realm of the dead at the conclusion of the festival. Many Obon Festivals also use taiko drums to keep rhythm during dance, and are often the focus of contests.

Taiko drums made with leather, historically made by the burakumin. Who also consigned those spirits' earthly vessels to the ground.

For more on civil rights in Japan, or the lack thereof, check out

Because It Is Federal Law

My bracket. Please note that I only started paying attention last week.

PLAY-IN (because some of us actually try to pick that game)
Winthrop over Arkansas-Pine Bluff (Pine Bluff is dancing for the first time)


Kansas (1) over Lehigh (16)
Northern Iowa (9) over UNLV (8) (when you get right down to it, aren't 8 and 9 basically the same seed aside from who gets to wear a home jersey in the first round?)
Michigan St. (5) over New Mexico St. (12)
Houston (13) over Maryland (4)
San Diego St. (11) over Tennessee (6)
Georgetown (3) over Ohio (14)
Oklahoma St. (7) over Georgia Tech (10)
Ohio St. (2) over UC-Santa Barbara (15)

Syracuse (1) over Vermont (16) (if a 16 is going to beat a 1, look here; Vermont upended Syracuse before in the tournament not too long ago)
Gonzaga (8) over Florida St. (9)
UTEP (12) over Butler (5)
Vanderbilt (4) over Murray St. (13)
Xavier (6) over Minnesota (11)
Pittsburgh (3) over Oakland (14)
BYU (7) over Florida (10)
Kansas St. (2) over North Texas (10)

Kentucky (1) over East Tennessee St. (16)
Wake Forest (9) over Texas (8)
Temple (5) over Cornell (12)
Wisconsin (4) over Wofford (13) (Wofford dancing for the first time)
Marquette (6) over Washington (11)
New Mexico (3) over Montana (14)
Missouri (10) over Clemson (7)
West Virginia (2) over Morgan St. (15)

Duke (1) over Winthrop (16)
Louisville (9) over California (8) (thus wiping out the Pac-10 in the first round)
Texas A&M (5) over Utah St. (12)
Siena (13) over Purdue (4) (yes, I have two 13 seeds winning, so sue me)
Notre Dame (6) over Old Dominion (11)
Baylor (3) over Sam Houston St. (14)
Richmond (7) over St. Mary's (10)
Villanova (2) over Robert Morris (15)


Kansas (1) over Northern Iowa (9)
Michigan St. (5) over Houston (13)
San Diego St. (11) over Georgetown (6)
Ohio St. (2) over Oklahoma St. (7)

Syracuse (1) over Gonzaga (8)
UTEP (12) over Vanderbilt (4)
Xavier (6) over Pittsburgh (3)
Kansas St. (2) over BYU (7)

Kentucky (1) over Wake Forest (9)
Wisconsin (4) over Temple (5)
Marquette (6) over New Mexico (3)
West Virginia (2) over Missouri (7)

Duke (1) over Louisville (9)
Texas A&M (5) over Siena (13)
Baylor (3) over Notre Dame (6)
Richmond (7) over Villanova (2)

Kansas (1) over Michigan St. (5)
Ohio St. (2) over San Diego St. (11)
Syracuse (1) over UTEP (12)
Xavier (6) over Kansas St. (2)
Wisconsin (4) over Kentucky (1) (hooray for homerism!)
West Virginia (2) over Marquette (6)
Duke (1) over Texas A&M (5)
Baylor (3) over Richmond (7)

Kansas (1) over Ohio St. (2)
Xavier (6) over Syracuse (1)
Wisconsin (4) over West Virginia (2) (hooray for homerism!)
Baylor (3) over Duke (1)

Kansas (1) over Xavier (6)
Wisconsin (4) over Baylor (3) (hooray for homerism!)

Kansas (1) over Wisconsin (4)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Oops! Broken Internet, Please Stand By

Internet's been out on me all morning, so nothing big today. YouTube link will have to suffice.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Daylight Savings This Weekend

Just a heads-up; spring forward on Sunday. Unless you're in Hawaii or Arizona, then don't. Unless you're in the Navajo reservation, then do.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Happy Mandrake Day!

It sounds like one of those questions you ask only when you're either four years old or unbelievably high:

"What's that?" "That's a pound of sugar." "Why?"
"Have you ever looked at a meter? I mean, really looked at it?"

These- and others- are measurements that are ubiquitous in our lives, used as frames of reference for anything and everything. But they didn't just pop up out of thin air. There's a reason why a pound is that amount of weight, or a gram. There's a reason a meter or a foot or a mile is that distance.

So, what are you really measuring?

INCH: A lot of the smaller units of length in the imperial system- the one the United States uses and pretty much nobody else nowadays- were based on measuring the human body. After everyone using their own bodies as measuring sticks led to a lot of confusion over exact amounts, standardized lengths were settled upon. For the inch, in 1324 King Edward II decided that the inch would be three barleycorns placed end-to-end.

FOOT: The average length of a man's foot, naturally.

YARD: The length from the tip of a man's nose to the end of his outstretched arm. Or, more accurately, the tip of Henry I's nose to the end of his thumb. In 1844 the British government created a 'master' yard, marked off in feet and inches, that would serve as the standard. One such master sits here in Trafalgar Square.

FATHOM: Both outstretched arms, defined by Parliament as "the length of a man's arms around the object of his affections." Later standardized to six feet.

FURLONG: The distance a team of oxen could plow without resting.

ACRE: A furlong squared, except you don't have to actually square it, because the plow got ornery too often.

MILE: One thousand double paces, or more to the point, two thousand paces. Queen Elizabeth I placed it at 5,280 feet in 1592, which is eight furlongs.

METER: One ten-millionth of the distance from the North Pole to the Equator, at least as far as they figured it in 1795. They messed it up a bit. They got around to fixing that mess-up in 1983, when the meter was redefined as the distance light in a vacuum travels in one 299,792,458th of a second. There's probably a mnemonic for that.

OUNCE: Oh, geez, how many ways do we have to measure weight? Wikipedia shows six different ways to measure an ounce. The most common one we use in the United States is the avoirdupois ounce, one 16th of an avoirdupois pound.

POUND: The avoirdupois pound, in turn, is based off of the troy pound, another system entirely. There is a troy 'master' pound, which the avoirdupois system uses, defining an avoirdupois pound as 7000/5760ths of a troy pound. Each state has a copy. In 1959, an international pound came into being; the US adopted it as the new avoirdupois. The international pound is "one part in 10 million smaller than the U.S. pound avoirdupois that it replaced."

GRAM: The weight of one cubic centimeter of water at maximum density.

GALLON: There are several ways to measure a gallon too, but the one we use in the United States is also known as the wine gallon, which in 1758 was figured as eight pounds of wine.

LITER: The volume of one cubic decimeter.

SECOND: Obviously, a day is how long it takes for the Earth to spin around once, and a year is how long it takes the Earth to orbit the sun. You still have to divide that day up, though. The Earth has periods where the length of a day speeds or slows by minute amounts; the earthquake in Chile was one example. Therefore, a second couldn't be based on anything that had anything to do with the Earth's rotation, which was a problem, since the original measurement was one 86,400th of a day. Since 1967, a second has been "the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium 133 atom." Go ahead and try it at home. Maybe some spare caesium 133 atoms will turn up during spring cleaning.

HOUR: Halves of days, divided into 12ths. Not much to say here.

METRIC TIME: Oh yes. Metric time was attempted. 100 metric seconds to a minute, 100 metric minutes to an hour, 10 metric hours to a day, 10 metric days to a week, renamed a 'dekade', 3 dekades to a month.

The metric months, according to the Frenchmen that instituted it, were rhymed by season and descriptive of the corresponding month, with the metric year starting in late September 1793:
Vendémiaire ('grape harvest'), Brumaire ('fog'), Frimare ('frost'), Nivose ('snowy'), Pluviose ('rainy'), Ventose ('windy'), Germinal ('germination'), Floreal ('flower'), Prairial ('pasture'), Messidor ('harvest'), Thermidor ('summer heat'), Fructidor ('fruit').

Or, as the British quickly called them: Wheezy, Sneezy, Freezy, Slippy, Drippy, Nippy, Showery, Flowery, Bowery, Wheaty, Heaty, Sweety.

Oh, yes, and each day of the year got its own name too. Every fifth day would be named for an animal, every 10th day would be named for a tool, every other day would be named for a plant or mineral. Today, what we know as March 11, would be the 21st day of Ventose, Mandrake Day. A sampling of some other days, some of which are just unfortunately named:

Grape Day (September 22)
Donkey Day (October 6)
Hemp Day (October 12)
Plough Day (October 31)
Turkey Day (November 5)
Wax Day (December 1)
Dog Day (December 25)
Lava Day (December 26)
Topsoil Day (December 27)
Manure Day (December 28)
Clay Day (January 1)
Cat Day (January 14)
Zinc Day (January 17)
Axe Day (January 29)
Spinach Day (March 6)
Radish Day (April 8)
Pansy Day (April 17)
Basket of Gold Day (May 7)
Carp Day (May 14)
Scythe Day (May 29)
Pitchfork Day (June 8)
Mule Day (June 23)
Tobacco Day (July 4)
Watering Can Day (July 28)
Basil Day (August 1)
Marshmallow Day (August 3)
Rapeseed Say (August 14)
Puffball Day (August 20)
Bitter Orange Day (September 12)
Pack Basket Day (September 16)

As for the five spare days, days 361-365 (September 17-21)? 'Complimentary Days', celebrating, in order, virtue, talent, labor, convictions and honors, were tacked on to the tail end of the year. Leap years added 'Revolution Day'.

It got laughed right out of existence, and Napoleon banned it at the conclusion of 1805. Which is a hell of a way to celebrate Granite Stone Day.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


24 appears to be on the way to cancellation in this, its eighth season.


This show, whatever its quality, has caused so much damage to the national torture debate. How many times has some sort of torture been shown, nay, glorified, on 24? How many times has torture been portrayed as the only possible thing that might work? How many times has the torture victim been portrayed as immediately giving up correct information, as opposed to reality, when much more often they will simply say whatever they think we want to hear, if they say anything at all? How many times have we been presented with "ticking time bomb" scenarios that are not even remotely realistic in places up to and including Presidential debates?

More to the point, if there actually IS a ticking time bomb, note that if you have the wrong guy, he won't know any more than you, and if you have the right guy, he knows he only has to keep you guessing for a set amount of time, knows you don't know where the bomb is and can't verify anything he says without sending people to wharever you say, and can just deliberately send you on wild goose chases far away from the bomb. If the bomb's in Long Island, send the investigators to Yonkers. By the time they figure it out, the bomb will have gone off anyway. If there's a ticking time bomb, and you don't already pretty much know where it is, it's too late.

Besides, if your guy's the right guy, and has been told in advance that you're an evil person who will do them harm, and you show up with a taser, they know what to do: suck it up and say nothing, say nothing but name/rank/serial number, or stall you with wild goose chases. But if they've been told you're an evil person, and you show up with a cookie-- wait, what? Why is there a cookie? I was told there would be no cookies! Now what do I do?

And of course, this says nothing about the moral cost of the whole enterprise. You have a guy who's at your mercy, you're not entirely 100% positive that he's actually done anything, and you want to deprive him of sleep and make him think he's drowning and generally smack the guy around, that's on you. Not me.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Microstories are a form of storytelling that seeks to pack as much impact into as little actual content as possible.

It's actually quite amazing what you can pack into 100 words, 50 words, even six words...

For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn. -Ernest Hemingway

...or five seconds...

Have a go?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Places Samantha Brown Is Getting Nowhere Near, Case File #653

As you're probably aware even if your mental image of Africa is a generally blank slate, Somalia has a couple issues. You might be pleased to know that there is a silver lining in the whole sorry affair, a little bright spot.

It's the part that seceded in 1991, Somaliland. Its location is shown below, highlighted in red.

Somaliland made a break for it after the central government in Mogadishu collapsed. Or at least, it's tried to make a break for it; they have yet to receive formal recognition as a sovereign nation from anyone. It's remained largely untouched by the war east and south of it in Puntland and Somalia-Mogadishu.

The de facto capital is Hargeisa, home to 1.2 million people. They have phone service, they have Internet cafes, and much of the city looks better than it did before it got what shelling it got. Considering that Somaliland has as neighbors Sudan, Ethiopia, Djibouti, a pirate-infested Red Sea, and- oh yes- the rest of Somalia, this is huge.

The only problem: that lack of international recognition holds them back from really taking off as an African success story. It cuts them off from a lot of formal aid channels. The only country that has made any concrete progress on the matter is Ethiopia, which is one of the two places you can get a visa to enter Somaliland (the other being London). Israel has made some overtures, but is getting roundly condemned by the Arab world for it. (Granted, there's not much they won't get roundly condemned for, but there you go.)

Why? The general argument is that Somalia is supposed to be a union of Somalia-Mogadishu, Puntland and Somaliland, with all three sections supposed to be committed to each other. Somalia-Mogadishu wants to keep Somaliland in the fold, but Puntland- which sits between the two- isn't quite as concerned. Speculation, however, is that union is meant merely to serve a proxy war with Ethiopia.

Ibrahim Hassan Gagale challenged the union argument here a few weeks ago. It's worth the read; it goes into much more detail than you'll find here.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Most Rapid-Fire Book Club In The Whole Wide World

I'm a bookworm. Rarely go anywhere without a book of some sort. Maybe plural. I don't do Kindle either; to me it's all about the physical object. Sure, a Kindle's smaller, you can fit a lot of books in it, but it takes away a lot of the fun of obtaining the book in the first place. I love going into a used bookstore somewhere (this one's highly recommended) browsing for a while, and all of a sudden stumbling upon something that just screams "Buy me, I'm interesting, I'll tell you something you don't already know, and besides, I'm, like, $5."

And that's when I BUY a book. One of the most perplexing things to me is when the local library shed some hours. It drove me up the wall. I mean, here you have one of the greatest achievements of humanity; a library. A place where you can engage, to your heart's content, in a crucial building block of self-improvement- reading- that was only available to a select group of people at one point in time, and in some parts of the world still is. A building block that some people will go to any lengths to deny people, and one that a number of those same people will in turn go to any lengths to have. You have a place where you have gathered, in one place, all manner of information, on any number of topics, where you can go and better yourself, for free (tax excluded). And people don't want it. I can't understand it.

Peculiar thing, apparently, is that I'm almost exclusively a nonfiction person. Don't know why, just am.

So, that established. What follows is a glimpse into my own personal bookshelf. It's not a complete list. However, it should give enough of an idea of what I read. I've condensed a bit where deemed prudent; you don't need to hear me list off every single Bathroom Reader, for example.

(Oh, it is at times like this that I wish I knew how to collapse posts.)

Abrahams, Marc- The Ig Nobel Prizes: The Annals of Improbable Research
Acocella, Nick; Dewey, Donald- The All-Time All-Star Baseball Book: The Greatest, Oddest, and Worst Lineups in the History of the National Pastime
Adams, Scott- 8 different Dilbert books
Adams, Scott- "Stick To Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain!"
Amend, Bill- 7 different Foxtrot books
Amster, Linda; Loeb McClain, Dylan- Kill Duck Before Serving: Red Faces at the New York Times
Ariano, Tara; Bunting; Sarah- Television Without Pity: 752 Things We Love to Hate (and Hate to Love) About TV
Barry, Dave- 9 different books
Bathroom Reader's Institute- 26 different Bathroom Readers (I get mentioned in two of them due to submissions I made, 'Unstoppable' and 'Ahh-Inspiring'; my favorite's the one in Unstoppable about this guy)
Belsky, Gary; Fine, Neil- 23 Ways to Get to First Base: The ESPN Uncyclopedia
Benrik- This Book Will Change Your Life!
Benrik- This Book Will Change Your Life Again!
Bernstein, Ross- The Code: Baseball's Unwritten Rules and Its Ignore-At-Your-Own-Risk Code of Conduct
Bernstein, Ross- The Code: The Unwritten Rules of Fighting and Retaliation in the NHL
Bloch, Andrew- Murphy's Law for Doctors
Bloch, Andrew- Murphy's Law for Lawyers
Boese, Alex- Elephants on Acid and Other Bizarre Experiments
Bombeck, Erma- Aunt Erma's Cope Book
Borgenicht, David; Regan, Turk- The Worst-Case Scenario Almanac: Politics
Bourdain, Anthony- The Nasty Bits
Brooks, M. Evan- Military History's Most Wanted
Brown, Paul- The Official Guide to the Unofficial Football World Championships
Burnett, Mark- Survivor: The Ultimate Game
Butler, Daniel; Ray, Alan- The World's Dumbest Criminals
Butler, Daniel; Ray, Alan- These Aren't My Pants!: The Dumbest and Dimmest From the Files of America's Dumbest Criminals
Carlisle, Jeff- Soccer's Most Wanted II
Carolino, Pedro; da Fonseca, Jose, edited by Collins, Paul- English As She Is Spoke: Being a Comprehensive Phrasebook of the English Language, Written by Men to Whom English Was Entirely Unknown
Chandrasekaran, Vali; Hely, Steve- The Ridiculous Race
Cohen, Robert W.- Baseball's Hall of Fame or Hall of Shame?
Colbert, Stephen- I Am America and So Can You
Conner, Floyd- Football's Most Wanted
Cooper, Anderson- Dispatches From the Edge
Craughwell, Thomas- The Cat in the Dryer and 222 Other Urban Legends
Cummins, Joseph- Anything for a Vote: Dirty Tricks, Cheap Shots, and October Surprises in U.S. Presidential Campaigns
Curtis, Drew- It's Not News, It's Fark: How Mass Media Tries to Pass Off Crap As News (one of my Fark posts shows up in here under my screenname of Gosling)
The Daily Show- America: The Book: A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction
Downs, Patrick; Weiss, Debra- So You Think You're Good at Trivia: The Official NTN Trivia Challenge
Ebert, Roger- I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie
Ebert, Roger- Your Movie Sucks
Eicher, Joanne; Ling, Lisa- Mother, Daughter, Sister, Bride: Rituals of Womanhood (autographed by Ling)
Eisen, Rich- Total Access: A Journey to the Center of the NFL Universe
Eskin, Blake- The Book of Political Lists
Farquhar, Michael- A Treasury of Great American Scandals
Fawcett, Bill- It Looked Good on Paper: Bizarre Inventions, Design Disasters, and Engineering Follies
Fawcett, Bill; Thomson, Brian- You Did What?: Mad Plans and Great Historical Disasters
Felton, Bruce- What Were They Thinking?: Really Bad Ideas Throughout History
Ferguson, Will- Why I Hate Canadians
Feynman, Richard- "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!"
Finley, M.L.; Pleket, H.W.- The Olympic Games: The First Thousand Years
Goldblatt, David- The Ball Is Round: A Global History of Soccer
Gregory, Leland- 6 different books containing stupidity anecdotes
Gryczan, Matthew- Carnival Secrets: How to Win at Carnival Games
Harris, Bob- Who Hates Whom: Well-Armed Fanatics, Intractable Conflicts, and Various Things Blowing Up: A Woefully Incomplete Guide
Hein, Jon- Jump the Shark
Hinckley, Kathy- Plain Fat Chick Seeks Guy Who Likes Broccoli: 200 Humorous Personal Ads
Jacobs, A.J.- The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World
Kornheiser, Tony: I'm Back for More Cash
Jacobs, A.J.- The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible
Jacobs, A.J.- The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment
Lederer, Richard- Anguished English
Lederer, Richard- More Anguished English
Lileks, James- The Gallery of Regrettable Food: Highlights from Classic American Recipe Books
Loewen, James- Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong
Mackin, Bob- The Unofficial Guide to Baseball's Most Unusual Records
Mahl, Tom- Espionage's Most Wanted
Marcus, Richard- American Roulette: How I Turned the Odds Upside Down- My Wild Twenty-Five-Year Ride Ripping Off the World's Casinos
Mausser, Wayne- Chicago Cubs Facts and Trivia
Nash, Bruce; Zullo, Allen- The Baseball Hall of Shame 3
Nash, Bruce; Zullo, Allen- The Sports Hall of Shame
Northcutt, Wendy- 5 different Darwin Awards books
The Onion- 6 different Onion books, including Our Dumb Century and Our Dumb World
Petras, Kathryn; Petras, Ross- 4 different books containing stupidity anecdotes
Philbin, Regis- Who Wants to Be Me?
Pierce, Dale- Wild West Characters
Prince, Michael; Strosser, Ed- Stupid Wars: A Citizen's Guide to Botched Putsches, Failed Coups, Inane Invasions & Ridiculous Revolutions
Reichblum, Charles- Strange & Fascinating Facts About the Presidents
Reiger, Kurt; Shenkman, Richard- One-Night Stands with American History: Odd, Amusing, and Little-Known Incidents
Rosenblum, Arthur- Unpopular Science: An Unnatural Book about Natural Phenomena
Russo, Christopher; St. John, Allen- The Mad Dog 100: The Greatest Sports Arguments of All Time
Schnakenberg, Robert- Secret Lives of the Supreme Court
Shannon, Mike- Tales From the Ballpark: More of the Greatest True Baseball Stories Ever Told
Smith Magazine- Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure
Snyder. John- Soccer's Most Wanted
Steffen, Alex- Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century
Steinberg, Neil- If At All Possible, Involve a Cow: The Book of College Pranks
Tierney, John- The Best-Case Scenario Handbook
Tomlinson, Gerald- Speaker's Treasury of Political Stories, Anecdotes and Humor
Wallechinsky, David- The Complete Book of the Olympics, 2008 Edition
Warner, John- So You Want to Be President?
Wolfe, Rich- For Cubs Fans Only!: There's No Expiration Date on Dreams
Wolfe, Rich- For Packers Fans Only!: Wonderful Stories from Great Fans Celebrating America's Team

This is not a complete list. I didn't count the college textbooks; I didn't get every single book on the shelf. But I think we can agree that it's complete enough.