Monthly Archives: December 2006

American Pandemic: RLS

Certainly you’ve heard of ALS, HIV, AIDS, Bird Flu, and SARS. There’s a vast number of potentially debilitating, if not deadly diseases floating around this planet, just waiting for some poor sap to contract it, whereupon there comes quarantine and strange tests, stranger treatments, and a life that will never be the same.

This being the case, Mr. Thursday brings you a warning about the Next Big Nasty Disease: RLS. RLS, of course, stands for Restless Leg Syndrome, and it’s a much more significant problem than you’d imagine. Experts widely suspect that as much as 100% of children may have this disease, and upwards of, oh, 99% of adults suffer from it intermittently. RLS is a subversive disease, which often takes roots in childhood, but lies undiagnosed until middle age. It’s greatest weapon is its stealth as there is no “lab [test] to confirm or deny the presence of RLS.”

According to the Restless Leg Syndrome Foundation, a “single unifying cause [for RLS] has not been identified.” That is to say, both the doctors around the world, working tirelessly, have thus far been unable to successfully find a cause for this vicious illness. RLSF notes, however, that avoiding caffeine and alcohol seem to trigger symptoms. Mr. Thursday is, as always, curious about that observation, and wonders if these esteemed medical professionals won’t look into more research on the ever so common complaint of, “When I put whiskey into my coffee, I get all jittery. Doctor, prescribe me some Requip!”

Regardless, since doctors has been unable to find a cause for unfortunate condition, nor have they developed a test for it, the crack medical staff of the Curious Mechanism has managed to produce for you, the reading public, BOTH.

It’s a simple question, asked by a licensed medical professional to a suffering patient. The answer to this question provides all the information you’ll ever need to solve the mysteries of RLS:

“Have you, at any time in the past, listened to music?”

It’s important that the doctor really puts the emphasis on that italicized part there, as it really conveys the gravity of the situation.

But that’s right, your Curious Mechanism has discovered that Music is the culprit for all this unnecessary, uncontrollable foot-tappin’ all over this country. And what’s worse, they show no remorse for the damage they’ve inflicted.

Carris Jarrell is a 41 year old single woman who suffers from frequent RLS, presumably brought on by frequent listening to Tom Waits records (most notably Closing Time) when she was younger. Asked about the pain he’s put Ms. Jarrell through, Waits said only, “There’s nothing wrong with her a hundred dollars wouldn’t fix.” A complete lack of sympathy, let alone responsibility.

Other musicians, with their funny hair and leather pants and tattoos (TATTOOS!) are taking similar stances. Asked about Maurice McDaniel, a longtime Nickelback fan, lead singer Chad Kroeger said, “it wasn’t as though he’d been killed in some sort of accident.”

So, take heed children! Beware that suono dei dii, especially those vicious, foot-stomping drums. Until next time.

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Backyard Fight

Over the past couple of weeks, authors Malcolm Gladwell (The New Yorker) and Steve Sailer (The American Conservative) have engaged, horns locked and twisted, in a blog-fight to the death over race. Well, racism. These two, probably charming, white fellows, American and Canadian, one with a funny beard and the other with a funny haircut are arguing over whether or not car dealers are racist, and, well, I think they’re missing each other’s points.

Gladwell wrote on his blog about racism in a post called “Defining Racism”, in regards to the recent events involving Mel Gibson (rant about Jews), Michael Richards (tirade against blacks) and Michael Irvin (postulating theories on Tony Romo’s heritage). His position on racism was met with some opposition from a number of sources, though most vehemently through the aforementioned Steve Sailer. In a later entry, Gladwell cited a study on race, in which black men and women, and white men and women, were sent to various car dealerships in the Chicago area to get a quote on the same car. Outside of race, their physical attributes were controlled–they were well dressed, educated, upper-class, and all approximately the same age. The study showed that, on average, the initial prices quoted to the black men and women were about $1,000 higher than those quoted to their white counterparts. The study, and in turn, Gladwell, concluded that this was a sign of racism–that the car dealers were either consciously or subconsciously charging more for the same product, based on race. And what’s more, this is bad business, to charge more to some customers, based solely on race.

Sailer continued to dispute Gladwell, now more vehemently, as this study appears in Gladwell’s book, Blink, and Sailer criticized it when the book was initially released, also. Sailer’s position, it seems, is that the study’s conclusions are wrong. He contends that the salesmen are justified in their racially based pricing because blacks are more inclined to pay more for a vehicle (or for anything else), to be perceived as a “big spender”. While we aren’t aware of anything to suggest that this stereotype is true, we accept that if it is common within the so-called black community, then the salesman’s behavior is rational. Gladwell contends the behavior is irrational because racially based price structuring is bad business and conducting bad business is a result of irrationality.

We contend that Gladwell isn’t necessarily wrong, either.

It seems that Gladwell is arguing this point based on at least one of the following conditions:

1) He follows some sort of Adam Smithian economic philosophy, believing that having Good Business means treating all your customers well and equitably, as well as the rest of the community. Thus, the racially discriminate behavior of the salesmen will lead to repercussions for their businesses, ultimately.

2) He believes that good businesses are defined by more than their profit margins, and that in judging a business more than whether the company makes the most possible money is a lesser factor.

We’re inclined to disagree with MalGlad if he believes in number 1. Adam Smith’s philosophy, though well-intended, has shown itself ineffective, as consumers will continue to buy regardless of equity, and treatment, as their desire for a given product nearly always outweighs the hassle they may endure to acquire it. If, however, Gladwell believes that a business is more than just the sums of their dollars, we agree. A business should be judged not only for their profits, but for their impact, positive or negative, on their community.

It’s a fascinating debate between the two, both arguing valid positions, though both also seem so offended by the others criticisms that they’re firing bullets right past each other.

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Best of Luck

Today, ESPN’s Bill Simmons wrote a surprisingly good piece about the Allen Iverson situation in Philadelphia.  It would appear that Simmons hasn’t completely lost his once-formidable writerly chops, and if his editors could keep him from mailbags and the inanities of Boston sports, perhaps he would find a personal renaissance.  Regardless, Simmons topic was A.I., seasoned with the Celtics, but A.I. nonetheless, and since the Curious Mechanism has a backlog of Things-to-Write, we might as well address something our local papers are obligated to write about constantly, even as nothing has been happening. 

First, an anecdote from Simmons’ blog column:

There’s another aspect to Iverson’s brilliance, something the ESPN guys tried to describe last night: Quite simply, he’s the most menacing player in the league. There’s just something different about him, a darker edge that the other stars don’t have. Once I was sitting midcourt at the Fleet Center when Iverson was whistled for a technical, yelped in disbelief, then followed the referee toward the scorer’s table and screamed, “[Bleep] you!” at the top of his lungs. The official whirled around and pulled his whistle toward his mouth for a second technical.

And I swear on my daughter’s life, the following moment happened: As the official started to blow the whistle, Iverson’s eyes widened and he moved angrily toward the official, almost like someone getting written up for a parking ticket who decides it would just be easier to punch out the meter maid. For a split-second, there was real violence in the air. Of course, the rattled official lowered his whistle and never called the second T. By sheer force of personality, Iverson kept himself in the game.

This is something we have always loved about Iverson.  He is, perhaps, as competitive as any American athlete today.  Off the court, he is distinctly honest, direct, and intelligent.  He uses enough slang and dispenses enough grammatical disasters to come off as unintelligent and ignorant to an older generation of basketball fans.  For those who are willing to tolerate his lack of traditional eloquence, he’s thoughtful, soft-spoken, and intelligent.  Over the summer, as trade rumors flew, Iverson participated in an event where, for at least an hour, on live television, fans from an audience were allowed to ask him questions, directly.  About his time with the Sixers, about feuds with various coaches and players, and about all the trade speculation that was occuring.  He answered them all as best he could, reiterated that he still wanted to be a Sixer, that he wanted to retire as a Sixer.  We recall remarking amongst ourselves at the time, “If Billy King trades Iverson, he better get something back for him, and he better send him somewhere worthwhile.”  After all, this was a player who had busted his ass for his team (literally, in the 2001 playoffs) for years, who always wore his emotions on his sleeved, who never bothered with cliches or hackneyed apologies for outrageous behavior.  As much as Iverson came off like a thug, only once did he get in trouble with the police in Philadelphia, on a charge so ludicrous that the city collectively laughed it off before it was quickly dropped.  He was different from most NBA players–too small, too different, too well behaved.  He embodied Philadelphia.  Certainly, the city was often divided regarding their opinions on Iverson–he wasn’t universally adored here, but it’s easy to say a majority loved his play. 

And yet, despite this good off-court behavior, and great on-court play, from the Sixers organization he has faced nothing but criticism over an 11 year career.  Whether about his dress, his attitude, his practice habits, his attendance–there was always something wrong with Allen Iverson.  We believe Iverson wanted to remain a Sixer.  We also believe president Ed Snider’s buffoonery and GM Billy King’s incompetence have forced Iverson out.  He is an ultra-competitor playing for a team that cannot win, going home to hear his bosses complaining about everything he does.  There’s no reason for him to stay, and we can’t expect him to stay for the fans, when the fans have ceased showing up on a nightly basis to watch his spectacular brand of play. 

So, with no other option, we watch in rapture as the rumors pile and the trade scenarios develop and we hope the stars align to send Iverson to Minnesota.  We’ve heard they have no interest, even though their best player has a lot of interest.  We’ve also heard they don’t have “enough” to offer the Sixers, but, as a fan, we’d be satisfied with a 1st round pick (understood that next year can’t happen, but how about 2008?), Randy Foye, and some contract they don’t want?  How about that? 

We want the Sixers to win, obviously, but if Allen can’t retire a Sixer, we’d at least like him to retire a winner. 

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Keep on Counting!

Firstly, Mr. Thursday feels obligated to apologize in regards to the prolonged absence of the past two weeks.  It was due to no fewer than two illnesses that he really hopes will never happen again.  Regardless, we’re back and, though poorly rested, feeling strong, so we resume with furor and something to WATCH. 

 For those of you with your heads in the sand, President George W. Bush is not so very popular right now.  According to World News (Tonight, RIP), a higher percentage of Americans “Disapprove” or “Strongly Disapprove” of the work being done by the President right now than ever (strongly) disapproved of President Clinton or President George H.W. Bush.  Given that it seems unlikely that President Reagan, even in his least popular moment didn’t have “ratings” this low, we assume that the obsessive polling of U.S. politicians only began in the post-Reagan era.  Either that, or World News correspondent George Stephanopolous is losing his flair for unnecessarily sniping Republican and conservative politicians.  

Regardless, the President, and by proxy, the Republican party aren’t too popular right, as displayed last month when the Democrats “won” back both houses of Congress.  Of course, the Democratic victory was slight, and Mr. Thursday suspects a partisan stalemate over the next two years.  Everyone else seems to suspect this, and, since the field will be wide open, with no incumbent, it’s already time to discuss the next U.S. President. 

The early Republican front-runner is Arizona Senator John McCain.  He is a moderate Republican whose bark is significantly more frightening than his bite is painful, and he’s been accused of war-hawking.  That last point is an interesting one.  McCain wants to add a gazillion more troops to Iraq because he thinks its the only way to achieve peace in the country (probably true).  However, he still advocates for this long after many believe the cause lost in Iraq, and advocating for more guns in a place where many believe guns won’t work can certainly seem hawkish. 

For the Democrats, there are two Senators making noise: New York Senator Hillary “Don’t Call Me Mrs.” Clinton, and Barack Hussein Obama, a Senator from Illinois.  Sen. Clinton has the pedigree and the “track record”, while Sen. Obama has the charisma and the beloved Democrat “underdog” status.  How he remains an underdog is a mystery to us, but regardless, that’s the case apparent. 

Regardless, with the election 2 years away, and, to the best of our knowledge, only one candidate declaring themselves in the running, the growing obsession with potential Presidential candidates is astounding.  The New York Times, the American “paper of record” has featured Obama on the front page of their website everydayfor the past week, including today.  In this time, Obama has done. . . nothing.  He’s gone to New Hampshire, he’s gone to Chicago, and he’s been in Washington, DC.  He’s spoken words, and slept on his back, and eaten vegetables.  If the Timesbothered with reporting this kind of minutiae about every senator senior to Obama (there are 97 of them), they would have neither time nor ink to report anything else. 

That said, we appreciate the ludicrous reporting on Obama, and so we introduce to you, the Obama Watch.  We have added this to the sidebar.  It will track the number of articles posted onto the Times‘ front page on Obama (starting with December 1, 2006), and the title of the most recent article and its author.  No decided date for stopping.  Perhaps when Obama declares his intent, or lack thereof regarding the Presidency, perhaps with things start to peter out, perhaps we’ll just get bored and forget to update.  No way of knowing yet.  Regardless, enjoy. 

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