Thursday, February 24, 2011

Are M&Ms biased against Florida State University?

(Originally posted on

Over the years I have convinced my Dad to wholeheartedly throw his allegiance to FSU. Before I was a Seminole, he could have overlooked college sports without a care. Now he is a diehard supporter.

The other day I received a very strange email from him. He sent me a forward of an email he sent to the M&M candy people in which he asked why there were so few red and yellow M&Ms and so many blue and orange ones in a recent bag he purchased. He also asked the M&M people if they knew blue and orange were the school colors of that hated university down the road. Why wasn't the closest thing to garnet and gold fairly represented in his bag? Was this a national trend, or did he just get a bag filled by a UF alumnus (probably a math major)?

Less than a week later, my Dad received a response from the M&M people, which he of course also forwarded to me. His sneaking suspicion was correct - there were more blue and orange M&Ms than there were red and yellow ones in every bag. Although it depended on the flavor, in some cases the ratio was almost double.

Here is the response of his inquiry:

Dear Sir,

In response to your email regarding M&M'S CHOCOLATE CANDIES.

Thank you for your email.

Our color blends were selected by conducting consumer preference tests, which indicate the assortment of colors that pleased the greatest number of people and created the most attractive overall effect.

On average, our mix of colors for M&M'S CHOCOLATE CANDIES is:

M&M'S MILK CHOCOLATE: 24% cyan blue, 20% orange, 16% green, 14% bright yellow, 13% red, 13% brown.

M&M'S PEANUT: 23% cyan blue, 23% orange, 15% green, 15% bright yellow, 12% red, 12% brown.

M&M'S KIDS MINIS: 25% cyan blue, 25% orange, 12% green, 13% bright yellow, 12% red, 13% brown.

M&M'S DARK: 17% cyan blue, 16% orange, 16% green, 17% bright yellow, 17% red, 17% brown.

M&M'S PEANUT BUTTER and ALMOND: 20% cyan blue, 20% orange, 20% green, 20% bright yellow, 10% red, 10% brown.

M&M'S PRETZEL: 20% each of red, green, orange, blue and brown.

M&M'S COCONUT: 37.5% white, 37.5% brown and 25% green.

Each large production batch is blended to those ratios and mixed thoroughly. However, since the individual packages are filled by weight on high-speed equipment, and not by count, it is possible to have an unusual color distribution.

Have a great day!

Your Friends at Mars Chocolate North America

Only in a bag of M&Ms Dark are there more red and yellow than orange and blue. And then only by 1%. I don't know where "my friends" at the Mars Chocolate Co. conducted their "consumer preference tests", but I have a sneaking suspicion it was somewhere close to Gainesville.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Thoughts on Pee Wee's Big Adventure

Today I read Alden Ford's review on Pee-Wee Herman first movie, Pee Wee's Big Adventure, on Although Ford isn't a fan of the movie - he says it underachieves and "feels like an experiment in style and character that doesn’t do justice to the potential of either the character or the director (Tim Burton)" -  I disagree. And because it is one my all-time favorite films, here is an essay I wrote about movie way back in 2002.

A Classic Quest

Throughout cinematic history, many great movies have been made about people’s quests for objects of deep meaning.  Such examples include Indiana Jones’s hunts for both the lost ark and the holy grail; Sam Spade and many others searching for the Maltese Falcon; and the duo of Rosa Klebb and Konsteen and their search for a Russian decoding device in the James Bond classic From Russia, with Love.  Sometimes the story goes beyond just the mere search.  That is the case in the 1985 masterpiece Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, starring Paul Reubens as Pee Wee Herman.

Pee Wee is the most “happening” guy in his neighborhood.  Along with a house full of gizmos and doo-dads and a dog named Speck, he has the most fantastic bicycle ever.  It is his pride and joy.  His love for his bike is evident when keeps it in a secure secret area and has custom-made upgrades made for it.

Unfortunately for Pee Wee, he also has a very jealous neighbor, Francis Buckston.  Francis is the son of Mr. Buckston, a very wealthy man who has told his son he can have anything he desires for his birthday.  Francis wants Pee Wee’s bike.

One day, after taking the necessary precautions and chaining his bicycle up, Pee Wee goes to the local bike shop to pick up an extra-loud horn.  When he returns, his bicycle is missing.  Pee Wee first accuses Francis of stealing the bike, but with no proof, he must look elsewhere.  And so begins his epic adventure.

Pee Wee’s love for his bike takes him on a cross-country journey, to such notable places as the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas and Warner Brothers Studios, Hollywood, California.  Along the way he makes friends with various people from different walks of life, from Mickey, the prison escapee found guilty of cutting the “Do Not Remove” labels off mattresses, to Simone, the truck stop waitress with dreams of visiting Paris.  Each of the new friends helps Pee Wee in their own way.

Pee Wee also benefits from his own quick thinking.  He always seems to escape dangerous situations by out-smarting his enemies.  One of the highlights of the movie occurs when the members of the Satan’s Helpers bike gang surround Pee Wee.  Pee Wee defuses the potentially ugly scene by raucously dancing to “Tequila”, much to the delight of the gang.

Pee Wee eventually makes his way to Warner Brothers Studio, where he must again use his quick wits.  Several movie sets are destroyed as Pee Wee attempts to elude the authorities in order to reclaim his prize possession.  Although the adventure never ends, the excitement and suspense peaks when Pee Wee rescues hundreds of animals from a burning pet store outside of the studio, only to be confronted by the cops one final time.  Is he to be deemed an outlaw or a hero?

Pee Wee’s Big Adventure is more than a movie about a guy searching for his missing bicycle.  It is a story about dreams, and the quest to make those dreams a reality with the help of some great friends.  For this reason, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure will continue to be a timeless classic.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Review of Dan Drezner's Theories of International Politics and Zombies

I usually don't buy or read books immediately after they come out. Especially when it comes to political texts. I'm more likely to read literature from the Cold War or some other conflict when I can use the perspective of hindsight than to engage something rife with modern opinions and recent theory. I had to make an exception however with Dan Drezner's Theories of International Politics and Zombies.

This book is too important to sit on my shelf for years. I had to read it as soon as possible.

A few disclaimers:

1) Theories of International Politics and Zombies is written for academics, students, or practitioners of international politics.  Although Drezner provides background on the different theories of international politics, enjoyment of the book is most likely proportional to knowledge on the subject. Being that I have never worked in the international field, Drezner used a lot of terms that I haven't seen since grad school.

2) I am a Dan Drezner fan. I've read his blog since 2007, at first when it was on his own site, and then I followed when he went to the Foreign Policy web site. If I thought international theory study could be lucrative and working in the field could provide a retirement to beaches of senoritas and margaritas, there are few professors I would want to study under more.

3) I am not much of a zombie fan. I think their utility in film is vastly overrated. They have zero personality and are the crutch of far too many uncreative filmmakers.

Now that I have that out of the way, Theories of International Politics and Zombies was very enjoyable. Drezner uses the simpleness of zombies as the constant against various political theories. He writes about how responses based on realism, liberalism, American neoconservatism, and constructivism could be used to counter an emerging zombie threat. He also writes about how domestic politics and American bureaucracy could both help and hinder anti-zombie efforts.

At only 120 pages of text, Drezner only tears the flesh of large-scale anti-zombie processes. As I was reading, I thought of a few measures he doesn't cover. One is the idea that a stronger nation could possibly attempt to herd zombies and utilize them as a un-living border patrol. Allowing autonomy to a group in exchange for providing a buffer between a nation and what they perceive as problematic neighbor has been done at various times in history. Imagine a five mile swath between the US and Mexico populated by thousands of zombies. Although there would be a huge initial investment, while US military forces monitored the fence and the zombies (who I doubt would complain about persistent monitoring), this borderland would provide an increased deterrent against illegal immigration.

In his domestic chapter, Drezner fails to mention what I believe is one of the most important laws in America: Posse Comitatus - the limiting of military forces in domestic law enforcement. Since the United States lacks the uniform citizen military ideal seen in Israel or Kurdistan, there is no way private arms, local police, or even the National Guard could coordinate enough force to counter a zombie threat. Posse Comitatus would have to be suspended and that would lead to a major political dispute in at the national level. I would have liked to seen Drezner at least mention this issue.

Another important point I think Drezner missed is the politics of resources. Sometimes even a powerful nation should logically use a capability created by another nation to fight a threat, but they don't due to politics and the impression of strength - even if it costs the stronger nation money and casualties. One of example of this scenario is the Russian fire fighting plane Ilyushin Il-76 which sat on runways while fires burned in Asia, Africa, and South America.  Drezner mentions the need to create international organizations that would work to migrate a zombie catastrophe, but he doesn't mention how difficult it would be for these organizations to sequester the necessary capabilities.

As I mentioned, Theories of International Politics and Zombies is a quick read, but it is well-written, fun to read, and I think it is the precursor of an army of undead academic-themed literature that will soon swarm bookstores everywhere.

Monday, February 7, 2011

A Review of Aldous Huxley's Island

Since I recently lost my job, I've been able to catch up on my reading. This week I read Aldous Huxley's Island. I've been a big Huxley fan for a long time, but for whatever reason I had never read his last book until now.

Published in 1962, Island is an absolutely great book about a a journalist's visit to an island called Pala. Pala is a land inhabited by a peaceful people who are struggling against a militant neighboring nation called Rendang. In a scenario that has become almost cliche today, the rulers of Rendang and their cohorts in the global oil industry have targeted Pala due to it's bevy of natural resources.  If the plot of Island sounds similar to James Cameron's Avatar, it is because it is.

However, it blows Avatar out of the water.

Island is much more in-depth philosophically than anything done today. Huxley thoroughly describes the religious, educational, and social foundations and philosophies of the people of Pala. Most profound is their hybrid Buddhist-Hindu mindset, which is, like other Huxley novels, enhanced through the use of psychological drugs - sort of how Native Americans use peyote to enhance their religious experience. There is no mention of any other philosophy among the residents of Pala, their communal behavior is guided by more of an overarching mindset than a "religion"- sort of how Islam guided early Muslim communities in the 8th Century. There is no "church" nor "state" on Pala, just a proper way of being and attention given to the present moment.

Island is a culmination of many of the other Huxley books I have read. It follows Huxley's thoughts on hallucinogenic "oneness" discussed Heaven and Hell, The Doors of Perception, and Brave New World. It also features characters that are stereotypes of religious fanaticism, military dictatorships, consumer lust, and impersonal corporate greed, opposites of the people of Pala, yet traits the Palanise attempt to live alongside.

(Heaven and Hell inspired me to write my first ever philosophical book review. It was that deep. I might have to find that and post it here someday.)

If Island was told today, there would be some insane twist at the end, such as in Avatar when the natives overthrew the soulless exploiters. To be honest, with all the detail Huxley put into describing the Palanise people and the fact that there was no mention of a military confict, I almost expected the journalist, Will Barnaby, to be dreaming his visit to Pala, a la "The Newhart Ending". But in Huxley's novel, Barnaby wasn't dreaming. Like any journalist stuck in a war zone, he could do nothing more than watch the collision of two nations. Island definitely ends with what I call an "Empire Strikes Back" ending - where the good guys don't win. The antagonists don't necessarily win either, but they have the advantage.

Huxley often preached about the dangers of power: who has it and how societies exist under it.  He believed in decentralization, the power of the individual to make his own decisions, and idea that people could unite in societies under common goals without the need for an aggressive power-hungry government. Those themes are exceedingly evident in Island.

(Check out this 1958 interview between Huxley and CBS mainstay Mike Wallace where Huxley discusses the potential for authoritative governments to take over. Eerie.)

It is fitting that Island is Huxley's last book before he died in 1963. Huxley intended Island to not just be a story, but a message. A message movies like Avatar touch upon, but lose among their Hollywood glitz and glamor.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Groundhog Day and the Life Insurance Conspiracy

I know Groundhog's Day just past, but I couldn't resist posting a video that writer Jonah Keri found on youtube.

This video is, of course, all of the Ned Ryerson moments in the movie Groundhog's Day. I have an interesting theory about Ned's role in that movie. It is a theory no one agrees with me on, but I swear by it.

I think Groundhog's Day is not a movie about love or finding the right person or anything pf those sappy moments Hollywood would have you believe. It is a movie about life insurance. As a matter of fact, the whole film is a commercial for why you need life insurance, and I wouldn't doubt if it was funded by the life insurance lobby.

Remember, it is not until Phil Connors agrees to buy life insurance (in an unseen scene) that Phil can live his life again. Think about it. With that in mind, watch and enjoy.

Learning Comedy Part 9 - Dissecting Peanuts

Today, I'm going to finally wrap up the dissecting, analyzing, and taking apart of my favorite pieces of humor by taking apart, analyzing, and dissecting the legendary Peanuts comic strip.

For over 50 years, creator Charles Schultz entertained readers with the Peanuts cast. The strip ran in thousands of newspapers, was made into anthologies, and into cartoons and movies such as "Charlie Brown's Christmas" and "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown".  There is absolutely no question Peanuts is a staple of 20th Century American culture.

Here are a few of my favorite Peanuts comics as found on

1)  Snoopy ponders a bird's career:

Subject/ Target: Career aspirations

Why it's funny: The humor is in the twist at the end. While Snoopy is caught up in the drama of Woodstock's career path, Woodstock himself is ambivalent. Woodstock's ambivalence carries over to Snoopy in the final panel as Snoopy expresses both Woodstock's attitude and his own change in perception.

2) Snoopy and the Universe

Subject/ Target: Life

Why it's funny: In this comic, it is Snoopy who is ambivalent. While Lucy discusses Snoopy's place in the universe, Snoopy listens, and instead of getting depressed that his actions won't matter, he does the one action he thinks will give the most pleasure at the moment - sleep. The humor is in the twist in the third panel. The reader knows Snoopy will reaction to Lucy's discussion, but they don't know how. Then there is a relief when Snoopy doesn't overreact or panic, and instead takes it in stride.

3) Charlie Brown and Happiness

Subject/Target: Sports and life

Why it's funny: Charlie Brown is the ultimate sympathetic figure in comic strips. Nothing, whether it is kicking a football or his relationship with the red-haired girl, goes his way. The humor is that readers feel superior to Charlie Brown because, compared to him, their lives are not that bad. They sympathize with him and then, when things get worse, they laugh at his fictional tragedy. In this strip, the reader roots for Charlie Brown, and then when things don't work out via a sports analogy, he becomes sympathetic and through that sympathy he becomes comical.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

LeBron James and the Symbiote of Talent

(Here is an article I wrote a while ago and never found a sports-based home for. It is almost outdated, so I figured I would post it here.)

As the Miami Heat heat up and LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh finally insert their dominance on the NBA, the drama that was LeBron’s departure and return to Cleveland is finally subsiding.  The media have put away their cameras and fans have put away their pitchforks. We are back to normalcy.

However, in the wake of what has been a very interesting year for LeBron, I noticed something very interesting. In his more “stressful” interviews, LeBron James resorts to a very strange tense of speech.

Following LeBron’s return to Cleveland on December 2nd he said, “I have the utmost respect for (Cleveland), the utmost respect for these fans, and just continue the greatness for myself here in Miami and try to get better every day.”

“Continue the greatness for myself”.

Like the more famous “bring my talents to South Beach” phrase used during The Decision, “continue the greatness for myself” is not only a very awkward statement, it reveals an interesting facet in LeBron James’s character: when stressed, LeBron detaches himself from his talent.

LeBron’s proclamation that his talent and accomplishments is separate from another part of him is almost Zen-like.  Like a Buddhist monk searching for enlightenment who believes in the detachment of mind and body, perhaps LeBron is making the claim that his mental ability doesn’t directly control his physical action, that his mind and feelings are a direct result of his natural instinct on the basketball court. To pass, drive, shoot, or dunk are as natural actions for LeBron as to breathe is to the rest of us.

I would be very surprised if LeBron uses this awkward phrasing off the court. This type of speech could only work as a crutch in facets of his life where he displays dominance. He might say he brings his dancing skills to the club, or his culinary skills to the kitchen, but I doubt he would use it anywhere he feels uncomfortable - “I’m bringing my diplomatic skills to Sudan”, for example.

This pattern of speech – this detached physicality – is a rare perspective. It is not a boastful 1st person, the awkward 2nd person (which thankfully no athlete has embraced), or the supremely confident yet often mocked 3rd person.  LeBron is not saying he is great, a la Muhammad Ali, he is saying only that his skills are.

Perhaps LeBron long ago learned to embrace his talent and promote separately as it grew more and more powerful, like a true-life symbiote alien organism from the Marvel comics.  According to the Almighty Wikipedia, a symbiote gives the host “Superhuman strength” and “Superior speed and agility” while it “Enhances other physical attributes as well”. Sounds like LeBron.

Maybe as LeBron’s physical body grew and became more honed in the art of basketball, the mind stayed apart in an attempt to control the fury of the basketball-playing symbiote.  The mind negotiates real life, while the symbiote controls the body, doing wonderful and amazing things on the basketball court.

Further evidence in LeBron’s mind-body dichotomy is his stunning lack of psychology in effecting or enhancing his game.  LeBron is not known as a trash talker. His in-game psychology is not as well-known as his legendary predecessors.  The only time that comes to mind is his attempt to mess with Gilbert Arenas’s head during the 2006 playoffs. His legendary forefathers, players such as Jordan and Bird, would not only dominate physically, but mentally as well. LeBron has yet to do that. He allows his physical gifts to overwhelm his opponents, as Mike Tyson did 25 years ago. There is no need for psychology when physical skills are so dominate. They make their own statement.

This “4th person” pattern of speech can only work for superstars such as LeBron.  Such statements look foolish when said by lesser players. Remember Eagles wide receiver Freddie Mitchell thanking his hands for making him great? He not only sounded ridiculous, but his anemic performances made him a punchline throughout his career.

Will we see more successful athletes emulating LeBron and talking about their talent as if it is something distant from themselves? Although I can imagine Dwight Howard or Shaq mimicking this style for laughs, the Super Duo are much less socially aloof when cornered. I think it is fair to say this verbal tic will stay in the realm of King James. After all, according to the Marvel stories, Symbiotes prefer feeding off hosts who can perform death-defying feats.