This page includes posts from September
14-21, 2003 in the usual reverse
order. Each posting on the home page is perma-linked to these
News-Journal ran an interesting
NASCAR stock car racing and its appeal among American women.
As NASCAR has become the second-most watched regular season sport on
TV, women compose 55 percent of its audience. That's more than in any
other major league sport, according to a survey taken by Mediamark
Research Inc., a New York-based firm.
It's a trend that corporate America has rushed to profit from. NASCAR
sponsors in the past have included Budweiser, Craftsman Tools, Viagra and
DuPont Automotive. Now they also include Kellogg's cereals, Minute Maid,
and Just Born, the company that makes Peeps, the sugar-coated marshmallow
candies shaped like chicks and bunny rabbits….
"It's one of the fastest-growing sports out there, and despite what a
lot of people think, it's very much an all-family sport," said Jim Coyne,
marketing director for Nestlé Toll House. "You get to the races; you see
moms, kids and whole families there."
helped prove the point, by going to
Dover to watch the
MBNA America 400 today.
crowd was estimated at about 140,000, about 17% of the entire
Delaware. The gender breakdown seemed to track the News-Journal story.
Our own family was two-thirds' female among those who attended (older
daughter's away at school), so we pushed the percentage just a little bit.
The crowd saw a great
race. If they wore earplugs with sufficient dampening characteristics, they
were also able to talk about it shortly afterward.
I discovered that
younger daughter thinks that Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (#8) is pretty cute. It’s a
shame he lost control and crashed his car up against the wall on Turn 2, and
we hope he quickly recovers. It was the only serious incident the whole day.
I focused on Jeremy
Mayfield (#19) for most of the race, and he came achingly close to beating
Ryan Newman (#12).
For those who’ve
never been to a live NASCAR race, an entirely different experience than
watching on television, that word “focused” was deliberate. It’s impossible
to follow all the action. Most folks tend to watch their
favorite driver or a small set of drivers, and then observe the tactical
On several occasions
today, for example, I only realized that a caution flag was out when
Mayfield and whoever he was chasing at the time suddenly slowed down. Then
I’d look over to the stop/start line and see the yellow caution flag being
NASCAR races are
impressive events, as a sport, as a experience in American marketing, and as
And they're a lot of really loud
September 20, 2003
Missed this one in the college guidebooks
The Internet can be a
hugely creative environment. All these folks reading each others’ thoughts
that generate further discussion and ideas—it can’t help but advance
civilization, if you ask me.
The path toward
advancement might be a little meandering, is all.
Janis Gore couldn’t help
noticing the ever-increasing number of people in the Axis of Weevil, whose
members are officially screened and welcomed by Alabama blogger
Terry Oglesby. She suggested
that a university environment would be just the thing in which all Axis
members could thrive, given the broad range of their endeavors.
Oglesby ran with the
idea and developed a highly detailed, very funny college brochure for
somewhere south of the present-day
town of Fayette,
residents of which I’m sure are as proud of the local college as anyone
the pictures Oglesby linked to as part of his advertisement, I liked the
reference to the MSU Astronomy Department’s pride and joy the best:
Stephen Hawking Planetarium—one of the finest
facilities of its kind in the world.
post reminded me that there are like-minded folks here in Delaware, who have
figured out how to cash in on one of higher education’s prime profit
centers—logo sweatshirt sales.
staff at the Slower Lower Delaware
Company sell a wide selection of t-shirts, hats, and other items
celebrating the nether regions of the
First State. I understand that their sweatshirt for the
University of Slower Lower
Delaware is among the company’s best sellers.
brochure says it best:
Our beautiful University of Slower Lower Delaware fleece sweat shirts
will not only make you feel warm and fuzzy all over, they'll announce to
the world that you're a student of Slower Lowerness.
for $25, and in a choice of four colors, the USLD sweatshirt makes a great
occasion folks will ask the Company for the location of the USLD campus. As
I recall, they used to tell people it was in
but the FAQ page
now says something else.
I tend to
doubt that either one of these schools will ever be found in the
Princeton Review’s top 351 colleges—but at least there’s a good reason
We are some kind of lucky sometimes.
Hurricane Isabel's landing in North Carolina and the
speed with which it blew itself inland helped keep the damage in Rehoboth
Beach down to only mild tropical storm levels.
Others in Delaware and elsewhere were
not so fortunate.
The strongest winds hit
us very late last night, but didn't seem to produce much except for some
downed tree branches and a whole lot of leaves and other minor debris.
As usual, the adage
"prepare for the worst, hope for the best" is still the right way to think
about preparations for these unpredictable events--sort of like the right
kind of national defense policy, if you think about it.
I posted some
post-Isabel pictures on
the hurricane page, for those interested.
Here's one that seemed to fit the situation well:
We went out to see the
beach during the storm at about 2 o'clock this afternoon. Pretty impressive,
especially considering we're not supposed to see the biggest impacts for
another 4-8 hours.
I've posted several
pictures from this visit on
a new page, to
reduce loading times for readers using dial-up internet access.
September 18, 2003
Smelling the coffee about tax policy
A Washington Post
story today about the recent defeat of
the latte tax in Seattle gives a few clues about how its supporters may
have misread public sentiment about how best to raise money for general
John Burbank, the
originator of the 10-cent proposal, heads up a local public policy group. In
the WaPo piece Burbank is quoted as follows:
"This was a test of the willingness of Seattle voters to tax themselves
for an important public good," he said. "I think that test was failed." …
"This was a tax that was purposefully designed to
fall on upper-income people," he said. "If people had objectively looked
at this tax, they would have seen it as a well-thought-out form of revenue
in a state that doesn't have an income tax."
Perhaps more than
just the coffee is being a little bitter here.
I believe the only
parts of that quote that are objectively correct are: (a) this special
little excise tax was designed to focus on upper-income folks as the primary
sources, and (b) Washington State has no income tax.
Jacob Levy touches on
this issue in his
in The New Republic Online, at least in part:
The general form of these arguments … is: If we
subject everyone to the same rules, institutions, or conditions, then
there will be political demand to make them fair or otherwise tolerable.
If we only subject some people to them, then some may be unfairly singled
out or burdened; there will be opportunities to divide the citizenry, play
the interests of some against those of others, and to undermine the
overall desirable outcome. The only detail that changes from argument to
argument is the class to which one tries to yoke people--the class of
taxpayers, the class of potential soldiers, the class of recipients of
government checks, etc.
Similar views are
occasionally expressed at
occasions in fact.
I’ve suggested that spreading the overall tax burden is a more fundamentally
fair policy than the options typically sought by the political class.
Burbank’s comments take the opposite approach.
The WaPo piece also
includes a quote from an opposition spokeswoman, who countered Burbank
"Child care is too important an issue to be funded by a single group of
people," said Andrea Lehwalder, a spokeswoman for JOLT. "This vote means
that Seattle voters care about kids, but they agree that this is no way to
fund child care."
I don’t see Washington
State adopting an income tax for the sole purpose of funding child care
assistance to those who need it. In most cases, in fact, there are very good
budgetary policy reasons to avoid earmarking particular taxes for particular
purposes. On the other hand, a change in a broad-based tax system, if
intended for a goal that most folks would accept, would also have a far
better chance for adoption.
I went down to the Rehoboth Boardwalk late this
afternoon and took some pictures as Isabel works her way toward the coast.
This shot shows the wave action (about 4-5 feet)
at just before low tide. Winds were about 20 mph from the northeast, causing
The landmark Dolles candy store at the Boardwalk
and Rehoboth Avenue is partially boarded on the ocean side. One panel (third
from left) says it was used in the Storms of '92, '94, and '98, all fairly
Television broadcasting trucks, set up for the
obligatory shots from the beach during the lead-up to the hurricane hitting
the area. I tend to doubt this expensive equipment will be stationed here
when Isabel shows up.
Depending on the
state of emergency conditions that might be imposed, I'm going to try to
shoot more pictures of the storm's impact tomorrow and the next day.
To most people, the
phrase “Delaware Agriculture” means only one thing--chicken.
While there’s no
of the poultry industry to Sussex County, Delaware and the rest of the
Delmarva Peninsula, several other aspects of Diamond
State farming are critical contributors to the state’s economy.
For example, the
state’s watermelons and cantaloupes are local favorites, with
auctions held each
week at Laurel.
In addition, the
reason why the world-famous Punkin’
Chunkin’ gourd-tossing event is held here is simple—we grow plenty of
pumpkins, just waiting to be catapulted into the record books.
On the other hand, at
least one of Delaware’s cash crops isn’t quite as well known, but there are
good reasons for being a bit more circumspect about it.
This week, in fact,
it’s time for the annual marshmallow harvest. Take a look at these beauties,
which I saw today during a business trip north of Georgetown:
yard-or-more-thick cylinders of sweet gooiness must weigh about 400 pounds
apiece in their fully-grown state, shown above.
As the picture shows,
the marshmallows are grown much like melons and other sweet fruits. The
seedlings are raised in local hothouses until late May/early June. The vines
are then planted in secluded fields, surrounded by taller, quick-growing
crops such as corn.
marshmallow plants is vitally important. That's because early in the growing
season, the crop is a prime candidate for poaching, at least while the
delicate young marshmallows remain small enough to carry.
Fortunately, corn and
marshmallow plants have similar growth cycles. About a week after the corn
is picked, it’s time to harvest the now-massive (and therefore hard to
The plants' long
vines are cut and removed just before the marshmallows themselves are picked
by mechanical harvesters.
At the marshmallow
packing houses, the individual fruits are cleaned, trimmed, and placed into
large stainless steel tubes. Vacuum technology then draws the marshmallows
through specially-sized holes at one end, where sharp blades cut the
marshmallow into the two basic sizes we see on our supermarket shelves (full
and mini). The millions of now-tiny marshmallows are then dusted with a
light coat of powdered sugar and packaged for distribution.
The trim pieces and
the marshmallows that fail to meet the exacting standards required for
placement into the stainless “mallow-tubes” aren’t wasted. Instead, they are
melted down and blended in huge vats, where they are reconstituted into
products such as Marshmallow
Fluff and the little dehydrated pieces used in
Swiss Miss® and other hot chocolate powders.
One might wonder why
the marshmallow is not listed among the crops given
Federal protection against market
downturns and other potential disasters. There are two basic reasons, to
hear the marshmallow farmers tell it.
First, they say the
sugar cane and corn syrup lobbyists have done too good a job of protecting
their own against this organically grown competing crop.
The second reason
they’ll admit to with a shy smile—they don’t need the Feds' money, although
of course they'd take it if they were offered any.
The fact is that
it’s hard to keep a straight face
asking for a marshmallow subsidy. All these plants ever do is make a very
nice piece of change for any farmer willing to go through the effort of
hiding the crop as it grows.
One thing’s for sure.
Whenever I see fresh marshmallows out in the fields, just before
harvest-time, it brings a smile to my face.
marshmallows have that effect on just about everybody, don’t they?
Sure, it’s a cliché.
It’s also true, at
least often enough.
Here’s a picture of
the Atlantic Ocean just off the Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk at Rehoboth Avenue,
taken this morning a few hours before high tide:
This evening we took
another look. The ocean’s still relatively calm, but the shopkeepers aren’t
taking any chances. Several beachfront businesses are already boarded up
against the impending storm. The city also removed the dozens of white
benches that normally edge the Boardwalk, as well as trash cans and other
September 15, 2003
stuff for census wonks and others
website today, the
Bureau gave a heads-up to media types and others about
its upcoming annual reports on income and poverty in the United States.
The data are scheduled for release on September 26, but the real news is
that this year’s Bureau reports could significantly alter the terms of the
debate over what it really means to be poor in America.
The 2002 income report will show year-to-year changes between calendar years
based on money income alone (the traditional income measure), as well as
year-to-year changes based on four alternative definitions of income:
The first adds realized capital gains and subtracts taxes (federal income
taxes, state income taxes, payroll taxes).
The second includes everything in the first definition and adds
employer-provided health benefits, food stamps, rent subsidies and school
The third includes everything in the second definition and adds an estimate
of the value of Medicare and Medicaid.
The fourth includes everything in the third definition and adds an estimate
of the annuity value of home equity for homeowners.
policy wonks, those who write
legislation, the entire poverty industry both within and outside government,
and a few bloggers, these reports
should make for fascinating reading.
degrees, for example, each of these alternatives should provide ample
opportunity for re-thinking the extent to which senior citizens are fairly
described as poor. The second alternative income description in particular
may cause some to question how far the expression “working poor” should
also announced another upcoming report that carries forward the agency’s
work on trying to understand and measure the nature of U.S. poverty:
Supplemental Measures of
Material Well-Being: Expenditures, Consumption, and Poverty 1998 and 2001,
alternative ways of measuring economic status and poverty, including
measures based on expenditures rather than income (which is the basis for
the current official U.S. poverty measure).
Mickey Kaus might even take a break
from recall-blogging to read these reports.
September 15, 2003
Beavis and Butthead, Headline Writers
I am not making this up.
The following is the complete headline given to
story, as it ran in Reuters today:
Canada's Gay Marriage Debate Coming to a Head
Stuck on you
During the late
summer/early fall, two of the three critters involved are frequently not all
that happy about the morning ritual involving our dog and his visit to the
The dog's fine with it,
of course. After all, a border collie who's just eaten breakfast has certain
needs that must be attended to, or else.
On the other hand, the
spider that uses one of our former Christmas trees as a base of operations
is probably out of sorts, and I know I'm not so pleased myself.
Try as I might, I can't
seem to avoid running into one of his surprisingly sticky traps nearly every
It's usually just one line, but once hit it tends to
wrap around and stick to my head and several body parts.
To anyone else watching this little ritual at that
moment, I probably look like I'm having a mild seizure.
This weekend I thought I
was being clever by taking a different path to the post that holds the dog's
cable, avoiding the fifteen-foot space between the tree and the porch
Somebody's now running an even longer webline
from that same tree to two others about twenty feet away from it on the
I've been whirling the dog leash in front of me to hit
the web before my face does, somewhat like a lariat in a Wild West show, but
with only limited success.
Of course, the dog's low
enough to the ground that he runs right under the webs.
Not that he
cares. After all, he's getting what he wants. Does he ever think
about my concerns, my sacrifices?
I think we know the
answer to that one.