Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Geek Love

Newtonian romance: Cornell math prof use diff eq's to decipher his love life. But like Newton, he runs into the three-body problem. This is the best geek love story outside of XKCD.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Obama Keeps Turning

In yesterday's NYTimes, moderate conservative David Brooks joins the chorus of those who smell the Obama administration souring. His usual congeniality abandoned, Brooks is borderline shocking in his rhetoric:
These events have heralded a new era of partnership between the White House and private companies, one that calls to mind the wonderful partnership Germany formed with France and the Low Countries at the start of World War II. The press conferences and events marking this new spirit of cooperation have been the emotional highlights of the administration so far.

These events usually begin when the executives gather in the Oval Office, where they experience certain Enhanced Negotiating Techniques. I’m not exactly sure what the president does to inspire the business leaders’ cooperation and sense of public service, though those who remember the disembowelment scene in “Braveheart” will have a general idea...

During the press conference with health care executives, I don’t even think Obama meant to give away $2 trillion of their money. He was going to give away just $750 billion, but he got carried away by the Era of Responsibility.
Somebody (besides Mr. Cheney) needs to speak truth to power. Republicans in Congress aren't doing it. Business isn't doing it. Taxpayers aren't doing it. When Mr. Obama is done building his castles in the sky (fake castles, real money), who's going to take responsibility for paying the bills?

Monday, May 25, 2009

It's a Swell Life

The NYTimes today published the contents of a shoebox belonging to Donna Reed. Reed was a WWII 'pinup', and I've seen her as the love interest in It's a Wonderful Life. Soldiers wrote fan mail to her ("We think you're swell") and she apparently responded, and kept 300+ of the letters until her death.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Depahted Goes to Trial

In the big, booming 1980's, South Boston was ruled by Whitey Bulger. The Boston Police couldn't stop them. The State Police couldn't catch them. And the FBI didn't even try - Bulger was on staff as valued informant. Bulger used the FBI to help him beat up on enemy gangs, and the FBI got high-profile Mafia arrests.

Bulger is still on the lam, but the FBI is being sued by the families of three of Bulger's victims. More power to 'em!

Oats and Beans and Barley Grow

Oats and beans, not quite, but my housemate Brad and I have quite a diverse crop growing around MCXL this year. Two new ornamental plants in front are trying to survive and spruce up (literally!) the streetside view. So are brand new beds of wildflowers and, soon, sunflowers. The back yard should yield tomatoes, zucchini, raspberries, chives, spearmint, and maybe boysenberries. In the fall, we might try to harvest and roast the black walnuts, too.

On top of all that, we're raising organic, free-range woodchuck. Teriyaki woodchuck, anyone?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

"Hello, Mr. Roberts"

From today's Soxaholix:
Oh, %*&$ , that's scary, Mahty, because we all know that once the Yankees get a lead in games up, they *nevah* surrendah it... Oh, Mahty, could you hold, please, I've got a Mr. Roberts on the othah line.
Rumahs of Boston's demise have been greatly exaggerated. (Background for the uninitiated).

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Neurons, Physics, and Baseball

Several professors combined to win the Best Illusion of the Year contest at a gathering of neurologists. The illusion shows how a curveball may look like it "breaks" (the common baseball term) because it moves from central to peripheral vision. The illusion is viewable here, and it is most impressive.

Hat tip to Jeff in NC in the comments on today's wonderfully, ahem, "cheesy" Soxaholix strip.

Obama Begins to Turn

The beginning of the Obama Administration smelled good. Despite the president's hard-left credentials, he avoided pushing a strongly socialist agenda. His early flaws were forgivable rookie fumbles (an iPod for the Queen?) and spreading the already pandemic bailout flu.

Slowly, the administration is turning, like raw pork left on a picnic table. The slow stench of rich big-government interest groups twisting administration policy is wafting: D.C.'s successful voucher program getting the axe, anti-consumer labor policy being pushed through, and deficits growing to record proportions.

George F. Will, the very apotheosis of a traditional moderate, smells it too. He lowers the boom on the Obama administration in an editorial today.
The Obama administration's agenda of maximizing dependency involves political favoritism cloaked in the raiment of "economic planning" and "social justice" that somehow produce results superior to what markets produce when freedom allows merit to manifest itself, and incompetence to fail. The administration's central activity -- the political allocation of wealth and opportunity -- is not merely susceptible to corruption, it is corruption.
Of the last several presidents GW Bush, Clinton, GHW Bush, Carter, Nixon, Johnson, Kennedy and now Obama have furthered the control of the 'Federal' government over the states. Is local control and accountability doomed in America? What the Bush people never understood is that the content of Federal policy is a secondary issue to the extent of Federal control. Will the Republican Party find another leader who can articulate an agenda for responsible, limited, truly federal government?

You know your marriage is rocky if...

If this analogy makes sense to you, you might need some marriage counseling:
"Generally speaking in life, you don't want to poke a stick in the eye of a hyena," elaborates Democratic strategist Chris Lehane. "And a corollary of that is that you don't want to poke a stick in the eye of a spouse you're separating from."
Thanks to Politico for this brilliant relationship advice.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Numeracy: Data Mining

Bill Easterly has an excellent rundown on data mining, a frequent snare for the innumerate. Check out his criticisms of a particular book, but generalize them mentally to other works of agenda-driven 'scholarship'.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Mystery of the Secret Solution

My porch has vexed me for a year. It's a covered, enclosed porch, and its floor needed to be repainted. There was old chipping blue paint, a few straggling plastic tiles, and lots of heavy tar holding down the the tiles. I pulled the tiles up and attacked the tar. It was intractable. Hard as wood, tough and adherent, it was impervious to scrapers.

Friends suggested using a heat gun to melt it, and then scrape it up (I didn't try this), acetone (beware the central nervous system damage), and sanding. I tried sanding it down, using a rented sander. The sandpaper gummed up in seconds, and stopped working.

I gave up, finally, and decided to paint over it, a dark green. I painted half the porch, including just a few of the tar-areas, yesterday. I didn't clean up very carefully, tossing my damp rag aside.

This morning I picked up the rag. It was still damp, and the "tar" beneath it had become a soft, pliable, olive-colored paste - yielding easily to a putty knife and washing off completely with a single wipe from the rag! I was dumbfounded. My housie Jon watched this entire exchange, and he and I simply sat laughing at my fortuitous foolishness for five minutes.

I then covered the rest of the unpainted "tar" areas with wet rags for three hours, and came back to attack it some more. The adhesive lay between tar paper and the old blue paint. I discovered a rock-paper-scissors relationship: tar paper beats water, chisel beats tar paper, adhesive beats chisel, and water beats adhesive. Thus, by alternating scraping and soaking, I had the whole floor bear within two hours.

I then proceeded to paint it all green.

And then I found five dollars.

The end.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Manny Ramirez Suspended!

Sensational news is leaking in Los Angeles: the man-child has violated MLB's drug and steroid policy and will be suspended 50 games. Expect a circus.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Positive Reinforcement?

Many Palestinians believe that violent resistance is the best way to get concessions from Israel. Many Palestinians believe that Israel cannot be trusted to hold up her end of any peace accord. Many Palestinians are open to extreme or moderate ideologies.

Right now, Palestine is split: recalcitrant Hamas rules the Gaza Strip, while the generally nonviolent Fatah governs the West Bank. Hamas has been actively Israel, but the West Bank has been almost completely out of the news, despite their greater access to Israel and Israeli settlers.

So how does Israel reward Fatah's good behavior? By allowing the settlements to expand, of course. More land is seized from Palestinian olive-growers and goatherds by Israeli suburbanites. The Israeli military continues to protect the settlers and wink at most of the new construction, even though much of it lacks permits. Agreements to close down illegal settlements and cease construction in specific places have been ignored, by Sharon's government, by Olmert's government, and now by Netanyahu's government.

This isn't to say that the Palestinians don't tolerate and even promote a lot of violence and extremism on their side. But when an easing of Palestinian resistance is rewarded with more land seizures and settlement, who can blame a rational Palestinian for joining the violent resistance?

Fish Piracy

Jerry Okungu tells the important other side of the Somali pirate boom: Somali fishing waters have been violated by Asian and European fishing trawlers during that country's long, ongoing civil war.

Fortunately, this is an easy problem to resolve. Monitoring of the waters by international naval forces seems the obvious way to deal with the small-time pirates, and also the easiest way to detect illegal fishing. The last ingredient is an agreement by governments to stop the 'fish piracy' by their own opportunistic fisherman. Since an international force can withhold protection from the merchant marine of any non-compliant nation, this shouldn't be too difficult to implement.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Looking for peace of mind?

I'd never thought of looking here, but it makes perfect sense now.

Hancock Street in Quincy, huh?

Monday, May 4, 2009


Liberal critic Stanley Fish approvingly reviews a new book by Terry Eagleton, a Brit who "is angry, [Fish thinks], at having to expend so much mental and emotional energy refuting the shallow arguments of school-yard atheists like Hitchens and Dawkins." In Fish's telling, Eagleton ties the utilitarian approach of the current breed of atheists to the nauseating materialist listlessness that sharp minds like Hitchens' surely despise:
Progress, liberalism and enlightenment — these are the watchwords of those, like Hitchens, who believe that in a modern world, religion has nothing to offer us. Don’t we discover cures for diseases every day? Doesn’t technology continually extend our powers and offer the promise of mastering nature? Who needs an outmoded, left-over medieval superstition?

Eagleton punctures the complacency of these questions when he turns the tables and applies the label of “superstition” to the idea of progress. It is a superstition — an idol or “a belief not logically related to a course of events” (American Heritage Dictionary) — because it is blind to what is now done in its name: “The language of enlightenment has been hijacked in the name of corporate greed, the police state, a politically compromised science, and a permanent war economy,” all in the service, Eagleton contends, of an empty suburbanism that produces ever more things without any care as to whether or not the things produced have true value.
Smallness of mind and spirit has been tied to religion at least since Nietzche. Now Eagleton joins Lewis, Chesterton and others in tying it to the superstitions of science.

Truly: any system of belief, reduced to a patina of self-justification, enables men and women to lead small lives. Thus Eagleton and Lewis and Nietzche agree in positing "the last man" as a small, self-serving cretin who uses the cheap sorcery of materialism to abolish the discomfort of the grand uncertainties.

Hitchens may not know it but he teaches the last man.

A Sporting Try

The Patriots have signed a rookie who has never played a down of organized football. Good luck to you, Jermail Porter!