Wednesday, 7 April 2004

Official State Booze of Alabama

CNN reports that the Alabama state Senate has overridden a gubernatorial veto to make Conecuh Ridge Fine Alabama Whiskey the “official state spirit.”

Governor Bob Riley had vetoed the measure on the grounds that official designations should not be given to commercial products.

I’m highly sympathetic to Gov. Riley’s view, but I’ll still be looking for a bottle of Conecuh Ridge next time I’m at Joe’s Liquor.

More plagiarism

Ryan of the Dead Parrots notes the increasing use of anti-plagiarism software tools in academe (to fight the scourge of term-paper copying, something noted by Brock yesterday), the use of which apparently may be spreading to newsrooms to catch journalist-plagiarists (though obviously it won’t catch the Jayson Blairs of the world, who generally invented stories rather than copying them directly).

I have somewhat mixed feelings about these services. On the one hand, they do combat a real problem, and one that potentially damages the academic process. But, like Ryan, I wonder if requiring students to turn these papers in using these services (as a former colleague of mine is doing this semester) creates a presumption of guilt; funnily enough, I’d actually be more comfortable if I (the instructor) were the person submitting the papers to, rather than having my students do it. Maybe I’m weird that way.

Why I'm not riding the train to Chicago

Josh Barro (one of the Harvard Republicans) points out the reason only one person died when the City of New Orleans derailed near Yazoo City yesterday: practically nobody was aboard:

[The train carried 68 passengers and 12 crewmembers.] That works out to 7.56 passengers per car and 5.67 passengers per crew member. Perhaps unsurprisingly, few passengers are enticed by a train that can take them from New Orleans to Chicago in just 19 hours and 5 minutes. If this train is any indication of ridership on Amtrak’s routes outside metropolitan corridors, it’s no wonder its director says it needs a $1.8 billion dollar subsidy to continue operating in 2005.

They particularly aren’t enticed by a train that costs $182 to ride round-trip, $320 if you want to ride on the lower level, and a whopping $520 if you want to have a bed to sleep in. By contrast, you can fly non-stop round-trip to Chicago from New Orleans next weekend for $398… or, if you’re willing to do some advance planning, you can fly round-trip for $244 over a weekend in May. Not to mention that your trip will be almost 17 hours shorter in duration.

Or, you can ride Greyhound, completely unsubsidized,* for $138 round trip—and, if you pick the right bus, it doesn’t take much more time than the Amtrak train.

Update: * Both Stephen Karlson and a reader point out that there is a gross subsidy to the highway system (i.e. almost all highways are paid for by the state and federal governments); my point was, however, that the net subsidy is essentially zero, as all highway spending in the United States (except expenditures on low-volume local streets, which are usually supplemented by local property taxes—such streets would be necessary even in a less car-dependent society, mind you) comes from state and federal motor fuel taxes, which are borne by highway users such as Greyhound; in fact, highway taxes also pay much of the budget of the Federal Transit Administration, which is responsible for mass transit in urban areas. Apologies for any confusion.

The War on Porn

Is there anyone who thinks this plan is a good use of time and resources?* I realize that the fungibility of resources (a fancy way of saying the ability to “walk and chew gum at the same time”) is often overrated, that DOJ‘s “porn surfers” wouldn’t be much help in the War on Terror, and there is a bit of a dark side to the “legit” pornography industry that takes advantage of young (but legally adult) women from abusive backgounds, but a crackdown on dirty movies seems like a pretty stupid idea nonetheless. I personally would have no beef with a crackdown on “kiddie porn” and the like, but as Glenn Reynolds points out the Ashcroft plan goes far beyond this eminently reasonable target to go after such examples of “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Porn” as Skinemax and Spectravision.

But, if we must do this, I think David Adesnik’s solution of having the ex-Taliban Gitmo detainees do the, er, heavy lifting seems appropriate. And I suspect the reaction of Josh Barro of the Harvard Republicans reflects that of most young conservatives: a healthy dollop of “what the hell are they thinking?”

Phone interviews

One of the phone interviews this afternoon seemed to go well; the other felt like a train wreck in slow motion. As of now, both of the phone interviews I’ve had with departments that used a speaker phone seemed to go poorly; the second department today used a real conference call, which went much better.

Now the waiting game begins…

Midwest Paper

Well, it’s not going to go down as the best paper I’ve ever written, but here’s the Midwest paper in all its glory. Now I have to prepare for those back-to-back phone interviews this afternoon…