Thursday, July 31, 2008

Pick Flick.

Reese Witherspoon, who became a bankable movie star in the light comedy Legally Blonde and won an Oscar for her work as June Carter in Walk the Line, is one of the best actresses of her generation. She has been quoted as saying that when she became a mother, she decided to steer clear of the darker characters she played earlier in her career. Given that decision, for my money she may never get another role as interesting as her portrayal of driven high school student Tracy Flick in the 1999 dark comedy Election. Tracy Flick is the girl whose face is all over the high school yearbook, a member of countless clubs, all joined with the goal of impressing college recruiters in the future. I went to high school with a few Tracy Flicks. I'm sure my readers could recall a similar person in their high school days.

Not to give too much of the plot away, but things turn out pretty well for Tracy at the end of the film, and not so well for the character played by Matthew Broderick, a teacher who finds Tracy annoying, as all right thinking people would.

I bring this up because former Justice Department operative Monica Goodling is in the news again. I would bet a nickel Ms. Goodling was a Tracy Flick when she grew up. Given her psychotic levels of loyalty to the conservative cause, she might have been home-schooled, but even so, she would have wanted to be class president and valedictorian of her home school class. She is exactly the kind of driven, hard working and humorless person that is needed to make authoritarian and totalitarian organizations function.

If we are to believe the story all involved parties have agreed to telling, Ms. Goodling and Kyle Sampson ran a political purity campaign inside the Justice Department hiring process completely hidden from her superiors, including Alberto Gonzalez. Among the questions Goodling asked potential prosecutors was "Why do you want to serve George W. Bush?" Nothing about the job pertaining upholding the law of the land, but serving a potentate, like some strange feudal lord transported in time from centuries gone by.

As I have said before, I'm a mathematician and not a lawyer, but the opinion from legal experts is that her political vetting of candidates for permanent positions in the Justice Department broke the law. The Solicitor General says the laws broken were civil matters, so there is no reason to bring a case against her. Congress is waffling as to what to do with her and it's possible that her only penalty will be disbarment. She doesn't need a law degree to keep working. She has shown the kind of psychotic loyalty and single mindedness that will always be in demand from people who are happy to cut corners to implement their unholy version of heaven on earth.

Yay, Flags of Many Lands™! Yay, Armenia!

I thought I had all the European countries, but my small maps of Europe and Asia kind of overlooked Armenia, so I didn't even realize that it was missing. It isn't missing any more. Yay!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

If they asked me I could write... a blog?

Talking with family members this weekend, my older brother Michael and my baby sister Jennifer recommended that I write a math book. Currently, there are two classes I teach out of my notes, statistics and math for liberal arts. One of my students from a few semesters back used to be in the textbook biz, and she thought it would be a good idea as well.

My feeling is that textbooks are a racket. For some authors, it can be a very lucrative racket. If you write a book that is being used at a few hundred schools, there is some serious cash in it, but that's like saying "I'm going to become an actor because George Clooney and Julia Roberts are so rich." A lot of textbooks don't make it to the big time.

But financial considerations for me aside, the college textbook buying public is being soaked, and even in the five years since I left school, the students have steadily seen the kind of inflation that everybody is currently experiencing at the grocery store. I wouldn't feel good taking part in that.

Another option would be to write a webpage text. My current idea for a title would be Statistics on a Budget, and it would have the lesson plan for a stats class based on teaching the material to students who buy a particular calculator, the very useful TI-30X IIs. My reasoning is that this particular calculator is ubiquitous, reasonably priced and does all the really difficult calculations that a one semester stats class will cover. You can pick one up nearly anyplace, including drug stores, department stores, office supply stores, electronics stores, etc., and even at the places where the mark-up is high, the list price is under $20. The high end TI-83 does more, of course, but the cost is usually in the $100 to $120 range, and for a stats student, it's a lot more calculator than they need.

I know there are several students and teachers among my regular readers, so I ask them this. What would you want to see on such a website? To my mind, an hour by hour lesson plan is the absolute minimum, with step by step examples of how to solve the problems using the TI-30X IIs and practice problems. What else makes sense?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Perks of blogging 2: the more, the merrier.

This weekend, my friend sfmike, author of the great photojournalism blog Civic Center, came to visit me in Oakland to see the exhibition at the Oakland Museum entitled The Birth of the Cool. Mike brought with him his partner Tony, his friend Ron, a recent transplant from Michigan and Namaste Nancy, who is proprietress of her own blog dealing with the arts in San Francisco. I had met Tony before on my earlier trips to San Francisco, but Ron and Nancy are new to me, and I had a wonderful time getting to know them.

Slowpoke that I am, both Mike and Nancy have posted their reviews of the show and the afternoon here and here. The show highlighted the California additions to the architecture, art, furniture and music we now identify with the late fifties and early sixties before the hippie movement. Some of the pieces were a bit of a stretch. They included some film and video clips that I thought fit very well, but Chuck Jones' great creation the Road Runner doesn't quite fit the mood created by Dave Brubeck, architectural shots from North by Northwest and an old kinescope of Playboy After Dark. Nancy and I agreed that the early brunette Barbie doll was an excellent addition, but I was a little disappointed that none of the feature architectural work was actually an Eichler home, a somewhat upscale company that built homes with lots of ceiling to floor windows all around the Bay Area back in the day. Nancy grew up traveling the world as a Navy brat, but the show reminded her of her childhood because her parents subscribed to Sunset magazine when she was young.

After the visit to the museum, the five of us traipsed through Oakland's Chinatown to have lunch at the Pacific Coast Brewing Company, followed by a quick tour of my favorite game store EndGame, which is just across the street from the brewpub. Mike did a separate post on the store and the game playing area on the second floor which does a great job of capturing the spirit of the place. I then walked with them down to Jack London Square, where the quartet rode back to The City on the ferry, also chronicled by Mike.

I want to thank Mike, Tony (look for the guy in the lime green t-shirt in the photos), Ron and Nancy for coming over this weekend. I had a great time playing host and Mike's blog is a favorite read of mine even when I'm not part of the story. His photos are so evocative and his writing so clean that every new post of his on any topic is a treat to read. This photo of me is the best picture I've taken in about twenty five years, because the guy holding the camera is a freaking genius. I don't deny that I've gained too much weight, but looking at this shot, I can't deny there's still some sparkle in this old guy's eyes.

Thanks again, everybody, and I hope to see you all soon.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Whatever became of Tara?

No, not Padre Mickey's daughter and Miss Bebé's mama Tara Mobley, whose whereabouts are well known, but Tara, Willow's girlfriend on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, played by Amber Benson, owner of a lovely lopsided smile and possibly the best portrayal of an adorable female nerd evah! (Yes, Alyson Hannigan and Amy Acker were excellent nerd-ettes on Buffy and Angel respectively, but we all get to pick favorites and I've chosen mine.)

Well, she's still getting work. She was in a sword and sorcery movie on the Sci-Fi Channel that was pretty awful and whose title I have thankfully erased from my memory, but she's an a new advertisement from that I kind of like.

Let me know what you think. If you get no sound, you might want to try this link instead.

Lying for a living.

I am skeptical about most conspiracy theories. It's hard to have everybody keep a secret for a long time. But sometimes you watch something happening and you know the official story makes no sense. When there were power outages in California earlier this decade and the prices for electricity were hitting levels never before seen, it made sense given the facts on the ground that the prices were being manipulated by speculators. Oh, no, no, officials from Enron and the Bush administration said. It's just market forces. And that was that. Until Enron collapsed and the "Grandma Millie" tapes were made public, believing the most logical cause of the situation was just a crackpot theory.

Late last week, Scott McLellan admitted what has been obvious for years and denied for just as long. The Bush White House has been giving propaganda directly to Fox News Channel in the form of talking points and the on-air "talent" has parroted it word for word, claiming it as their own. So Fox News is the official news organ of the Republican Party just as Pravda was the official news organ of the Communist Party in Soviet Russia. Of course, Pravda was state owned and Fox News is privately owned, but even that difference in style makes sense given the stark contrast in the opinion about state ownership held by the Soviets and the Bush regime.

Even having someone in the conspiracy finally come clean doesn't mean that much. The White House and Fox Pravda Network will issue denials and the press will report them and go no further. This is the way the press works right now and everybody in the game knows it. Sometimes if someone is powerless enough, the press is willing to destroy a person to look tough, but if someone has power and the willingness to stand up and lie without giggling, the press will write a story along the lines of "Person A said the sky is blue, but high ranking officials said the sky is green. Obviously, it's a controversy and we'll never know for sure."

Republicans whine about being tried in the court of public opinion, and how unfair it is. I agree that it is unfair. Try them in the court of law, and after all the he said, she said stuff, let a jury decide and send these rich and powerful and connected criminals to prison. We have a choice in this election, and only one choice gives us even the slimmest hope of returning to being a nation of laws and not men.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

These boys is gonna be my BRAIN trust!

Some folks on the left have called John McCain John McSame because of his voting record which has consistently backed the positions of the Bush administration over the past seven and a half years. But here at Lotsa 'Splainin', we see past the surface similarities to unveil the deep differences between McCain and Bush. While Bush relied on retreads from previous Republican administrations, McCain is a maverick™! His closest advisors will be from the fresh and exciting pool of people who have been in the Senate for nearly as long as he has.

You can bet your bottom dollar Phil Gramm will have an important economic position should John McCain be elected, and if John McCain is elected, your bottom dollar is a lot closer to your top dollar than you might think. Did you know Gramm used to be a Democrat? John McCain doesn't care about that because he's a maverick™! Gramm also taught McCain a valuable lesson that McCain could have used when he was being paid muscle for a criminal like Charles Keating. Gramm just designed the bill that let Enron rob its customers and shareholders blind. He let his wife pick up the checks by being on the board.

Now that's thinking!

Just how much of a maverick™! is John Sidney McCain? He doesn't even care about labels, he just cares about results! Look at him about to take a happy spin around the dance floor with his good buddy Joe Lieberman. Lieberman is the sort of fellow who should be given an important foreign policy role in any McCain administration. Heck, Joe is an independent! He's not beholden to the fossilized positions of those silly labels of Republican and Democrat. With Joe, you get the new and forward thinking of the Likud Party, straight down the line.

Speaking of straight, Lotsa 'Splainin' would like to dispel the rumors about Joe and John right here. Manly men sometimes like to show some manly affection by pawing each other like prom dates, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Some might complain that the McCain brain trust members are old enough to collect full pensions, much like the candidate himself is. Well, the Republican party isn't about to concede the hipster vote just yet! Consider young Lindsey Graham, fresh faced senator from South Carolina and McCain's dining companion at the Fudge Haus restaurant on the day that showboat Obama was giving a speech in front of 200,000 screaming krauts in Berlin. Graham is a lifelong Republican and the same age as Matty Boy! Among McCain advisors, that's almost like being in pre-school! Why is it someone so close to McCain and so obviously young and fresh faced isn't at the top of the list of potential running mates?

Well, hypothetical question asker, some wags in Washington have implied that young Senator Graham may not have collected enough wood to build an entire Log Cabin, so he just built a Log Closet instead.

Not that there's anything wrong with that! And none of this bothers John McCain, because he's a maverick™!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Google likes me? Ask again later.

If you have the Google toobar on your browser (and I think it comes standard with Firefox, my personal favorite browser), in the middle of the toolbar is a little green and white rectangle labeled PageRank. This more or less tells you what The Google thinks of your webpage. It was the software package that effectively started The Google as a company. It is computed by using a mathematical method called Markov chains, which I 'splained many months ago. The basic idea is that people are always wandering around the Internets, following links from one place to another. The PageRank number, which goes from a low of 0 to a high of 10, gives a rough idea of how many people actually stop at a particular blog and read and the scale is logarithmic. This means a page with rank of 3 is about ten times more popular than a page with rank of 2, and a page of rank 5 is 100 times more popular than a page of rank 3. Most of my blog buddies have rankings between 3 and 5. has a 9 and so does YouTube. The Huffington Post and Fox News are at 8. I Can Has Cheeseburger is a 7 and I Can Has Hotdog is a 6.

Earlier this week, when I started thinking about writing this post, Lotsa 'Splainin' 2 Do had a page rank of 0 of 10. Yessir, nada, zilch, the big squadoooche!

What's up with that?

I don't keep obsessive track of my PageRank number because it didn't seem to be changing much. I was ranked at 3 of 10 for a long time and I thought that since it didn't change much, I'd pay attention to the stuff that did change. As we can see from these stats, I can expect a little more than 200 visitors a day currently, and about 6,000 or more visitors a month, which is a huge improvement over last summer, when this blog was just getting on its feet. Yesterday, visitor 60,000 showed up here. Some of my blog buddies who have sitemeters attached to their blogs are at this level or a little higher, some are as low at 10,000 visitors total over the entire history of their blog. Among my personal contacts at the PageRank 5 of 10 level are Princess Sparkle Pony, sfmike's terrific Civic Center, Pissed Off Patricia's Morning Martini and my two cross species blog buddies, Dr. Monkerstein's Monkey Muck and Dr. Zaius' ZaiusNation. Upon further review on Sunday, I can also add DistributorCap and Cat In The Bag to the PageRank 5 Club.

How about everybody's favorite troll, who recently left an infestation over at dguzman's place? His blog has PageRank 2, so it makes sense for him to leave comments in places with about 100 times more readers, give or take. Obviously, I'm not linking to him. Why bother?

I was going to write a post railing about my cruel fate and speculating as to what I might have done to offend the Gods of The Google. My best theory was that because of posts about My People and Our Agenda, the Google software had put me on the Smutty Thotz list, and from what I can see testing a small sample, the Smutty Thotz websites are given very low PageRanks, and not just those that cater to my favorite odd fetish. I have to think some of them should have a lot of traffic, but PageRanks between 0 and 2 are common.

Then, when I woke up this morning, my PageRank was 4 of 10. Whatever I did to piss off The Google, all is now forgiven. Because I had gone to all this trouble of getting pictures and fiddling with them in my paint program, and I because I think the story behind the software is interesting, I decided to 'splain this thing anyway, even though the original reason for 'splainin', Matty Boy's dire fall into the abyss of 0 ranked pages, was merely a temporary setback.

Or is it my return to the land of the respectable that is temporary? Stay tuned.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Mind the gap.

This post is hard for me to write, as I must delicately walk the tightrope between grumpy old manhood and dirty old manhood. Teaching at community colleges has the non monetary perk of beautiful young people in class. In fact, at community colleges, not every attractive student is in the 18 to 25 demographic, and my classes often have pretty women in their thirties and beyond.

Am I complaining? No, I am not.

But this summer in particular, I've noticed a fashion trend that I also saw to a lesser extent in the spring semester. Cleavage. Lots of cleavage. Stripper levels of cleavage. RenFaire levels of cleavage.

While I have strong evidence that my students are listening when I talk about statistics, I have no idea how many of them read this blog and expect that very few would take fashion advice from an old guy who still dresses like a grad student. But I do have three words of warning to my female students, which I have put in the form of a link.

Fred Thompson's wife.

I have nothing more to say on the topic. I feel grumpy enough and dirty enough already.


Friday means Random 10!

Just A Girl No Doubt
Substitute The Ramones
Sweet and Slow Fats Waller
Accidents Will Happen Elvis Costello & the Attractions
Gone Till November (Pop Version) Wyclef Jean
Let’s Go Get Stoned Ray Charles
Judy Hoagy Carmichael
In A Station The Band
Valse # 1, Opus 64 by Chopin (Minute) Claudio Arrau
Wagoner’s Lad Rafael Boguslav

So, Matty Boy. You complain about too much cleavage and you open the Random 10 with a song by Gwen Stefani? Mix messages much?

Hypothetical question asker, today I'm ignoring you.

Whether this is a dirty old man's Random 10 or a grumpy old man's Random 10, the only artists on this list that are much younger than I am are No Doubt and Wyclef Jean. The One True Living Elvis is a few months younger than I am, but not enough to notice. Heck, four of the songs are older than I am. Still, any list with The Ramones and Frederic Chopin is showing the ability to hit with power to all fields. The most obscure artist would be Rafael Boguslav, who recorded a great album of folk songs way back when I was still a toddler sitting on my daddy's knee.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

What sucks even worse.

Regular readers might recall the post earlier this month about software that sucks. Well, what sucks even worse is when that software which works poorly enough when fully functional stops functioning. I was coy about the manufacturer of the software in my first rant. Let me be coy no more.

In the Matty Boy household, PeopleSoft will now be known simply as PeopleSucks.

One of the annoying "features" of this software is that you have to log in twice using the same name and password, and they call this an extra layer of security. Well, as of yesterday, the system recognizes my name and password on the first page, but doesn't recognize it on the second login page. In other words, I can get into the system, because just any old name and password won't get me to the second page, but I can't get into the useful part of the system. You know, the one where I might GET WORK DONE!

Add to that my hardware is acting up a little as of this week. I don't know if it was a spill or overuse, but the shift button on the left side of my keyboard is a little balky and the Ctrl key doesn't work at all. The loss of the Ctrl key is very annoying, but I can work around it. I'll probably get it fixed after this term is over at the end of the month. But annoying hardware is a lot better than completely useless software, so I guess I'm counting my blessings.

Yay, Flags of Many Lands™! Yay, Paraguay! I just need French Guiana and Guyana to complete my South American map.

That doesn't suck.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Wall Street got drunk.

Foregoing the usual Wednesday Math stuff, I'm providing a link to TV report from Houston of Bush speaking off the record about the economy and his plans for after the White House. I first saw the video on The Huffington Post yesterday, posted by Greg Mitchell of Editor & Publisher magazine. Bush can be heard asking TV cameras to go off, then he just starts talking to the folks at the fundraiser, ruling class to ruling class. He admits there are problems even for the kind of people who can afford to give money to Republicans in Texas, whines about having been a poor public servant for 14 years, talks about possibly moving to Dallas and leaving the Crawford ranch behind.

I wanted to put up a YouTube embedded screen, but this thing has already been scrubbed from the YouTube treasure trove sometime between last night and early this morning. If you find it informative and possibly infuriating, please post a link on your blog. This thing should go viral and as many people as possible should see it.

Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Drunkards' Hit Parade: The Top Five

Not every song over-requested at a bar is a bad piece of music. Some things that become clichés are actually pretty good ideas that just get repeated too often for their own good. I'm actually fond of the next five songs on the list, and I will also 'splain why.

5. Crazy There are lots of songs with this title. The one that makes the Drunkards' Hit Parade is the one written by Willie Nelson and popularized by Patsy Cline. I put this on the list both because I like it and to make it clear after taking the big ugly stick to Achy Breaky Heart that I don't hate all country music. I am much fonder of the era of Hank Williams and Patsy Cline than I am of the era of Garth Brooks and Shania Twain. (If anyone asks which Hank Williams, I will ignore the question out of respect for our friendship.)

4. American Pie Don McLean's best hit, though not his only, has been tarnished by being covered by Madonna, and i have sympathy for the performers who have to play it on request, since it is a lot of verses to remember, but I still have vague memories of really liking this song the first fifty times I heard it, and those fond memories have made the next nine hundred and fifty times I've heard it almost bearable.

3. Little Red Corvette I make no apology for loving this tune. My students tell me that old Michael Jackson and Prince tunes are still played in clubs, and both Padre Mickey and I have already stated our shared opinion that Little Red Corvette is a perfect pop song.

2. Stardust Originally the title was two words, but over time it was compressed. Hoagy Carmichael wrote the tune in 1927 and Mitchell Parish added lyrics in 1929. It has been recorded a jillion times and several people had hits with it. The tune is more like an art song that a standard pop song. There's an opening melody that starts with the lyric And now the purple dust of twilight time/Steals across the meadows of my heart that not everyone includes. That was the style of tunes written in the twenties and thirties. Like American Pie, it feels like I have heard this a thousand times, but I do not mind hearing someone do it well again.

1. Send in the Clowns I have already written about being on a Sondheim kick currently, but I do not currently own a version of the song that is the biggest hit he ever wrote. The song was added to the show A Little Night Music while it was being rehearsed, when producer Hal Prince decided that the character of Desirée needed a song in the second act. Glynis Johns originated the role, and it's a tune written to compensate for the limitations of a singer's voice. The range is barely an octave, and it can be sung in short notes that do not have to be sustained. Somewhat ironically, it became a hit when Judy Collins, a singer whose voice has no such limitations, recorded it. Collins, whose taste is as fine as her voice is sweet, did not really show off and jazz it up. She just sustained notes a little longer. After that, Frank Sinatra also recorded it and it entered the Great American Songbook.

For me, what makes it my favorite overplayed tune is the lyric. Coming from a play, it is written with a specific character in mind. Desirée is an actress, and the song is written in stage jargon, which Sondheim clearly knows well. Sondheim was surprised that people didn't understand that "the clowns" were not the circus clowns, but the clowns on stage, the comic relief characters. He was thinking more of Bert Lahr or Ed Wynn than Bozo, but this didn't stop Krusty the Klown from covering the tune in his own inimitable style.

Going back to the lyric, here is the bridge.

Just when I'd stopped
Opening doors,

Finally knowing the one that I wanted was yours,
Making my entrance again with my usual flair,
Sure of my lines,
No one is there.

Like many of the tunes on the list, it's very sentimental, but the brilliance of the construction makes me forgive that. I used to play it when I did a solo act, and I didn't even need a drunk to request it. There are a jillion versions over on YouTube, many from actresses who played the role. Of the actresses, Dame Judi Dench's version is my favorite, which she sings at the end of an interview on British TV. Of course, she's such a charmer, I could listen to her talk about shopping for a new mop.

Other requests will be considered from my commenters, and you don't even have to get liquored up first if you don't want to.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Drunkards' Hit Parade: The middle of the batting order

Let me be clear. By listing five bad songs today and five better ones tomorrow, I will not be exhausting The Drunkard's Hit Parade in any way, shape or form. Here are a few more songs from the list, suggested by my readers and some suggested by students in my class who would know much better than I the songs that play in clubs today. I will neither praise nor disparage these songs, merely list them because people have mentioned them, either in person or in the comments.

From previous eras.

Your Cheating Heart
Melancholy Baby
Stairway to Heaven
Lady of Spain
Begin the Beguine
Sweet Home Alabama (usually requested simply as SKYNYRD!)
Piano Man
Whippin' Post
My Sharona
Chicago (My Kind of Town or That Toddling Town? Zoey&Me failed to say.)
New York, New York
Ice Ice Baby (requesters now thankfully extinct.)
Bohemian Rhapsody
We Are The Champions

And some older songs DJs still get requests this very day to play in clubs.

Jump (Van Halen)
P.Y.T. (among other Michael Jackson songs)
Baby Got Back (Okay. I said I wouldn't comment, but this deserves a dishonorable mention.)
Walk This Way (The Aerosmith-RUN D.M.C. version is still popular.)
Poison (Yes, by Bel Biv Devoe. Young students say guys still request it in clubs. Unbelievable.)
This Is How We Do It (Montell Jordan)

Other additions happily considered in the comments.

Yay, Flags of Many Lands™!
Yay, The Faröe Islands!

Because no one can get enough umlauts in their diet.

The Drunkards' Hit Parade: The Bottom Five

When I was a lad, my father's standard impression of a drunk was either "Play Melancholy Baby!" or "Play Dardanella!" I have some knowledge, from both family experience and personal experience, of the favorite tunes of the inebriated from the 1940's through the 1990's. I'm not sure exactly what drunks ask performers in bars to play anymore, partly because there is a lot more karaoke and DJ's and a lot less professional performers playing in bars.

Besides my dad letting me know what songs people would request when he was a young man, I played piano on campus for a few months when I was in college, and got to find out about The Drunkards' Hit Parade by personal experience in the late 1970's. I also was able to learn more from two family members who were actually made their living as professional musicians, my cousin Dean Hubbard, who was a jazz trombonist, and my brother Michael Macrae, who sang and played guitar in clubs for a living for several decades.

I only spoke to Dean a few times, but I recall that though he played jazz trombone, he was a big fan of the music of the avant garde rock band The Residents, and his proudest gig back in the day was playing on the XTC album Skylarking. But for him, paying the bills playing trombone meant working in big bands covering the music of the World War II era forty years after the fact. Dean was the first person who ever told me the line, "You know, Glenn Miller died but his music lived on. I wish it was the other way around."

Playing in a big band, Dean got to keep a professional distance from the drunkards. My brother Michael, who either played solo guitar and sang or sometimes worked with a drummer or a piano player, had a much more intimate relationship with the Drunkards' Hit Parade, and I relied on his encyclopedic knowledge to write this post. When it comes to the songs requested in bars, Michael could teach Wikipedia a thing or two.

So here are the worst five of The Drunkards' Hit Parade, chosen by Matty Boy, helped by his big brother Michael Macrae.

5. Proud Mary. This choice is on the list because of my brother. He had a bandmate whose dad was a professional jazz musician back in the sixties and seventies, and this song ended the career of many of the jazz musicians of the day. I actually kind of like the tune as done by Creedence and by Ike and Tina Turner, but as an instrumental, there's almost nothing there.

4. Memories. It might be enough to say I hate Andrew Lloyd Webber. Actually, I've come to have a begrudging respect for Evita after many years, but Cats wiped out all that goodwill and then some. I remember my friend Mina, who had a nice enough singing voice when she wanted, but often screeched a tune for comic effect, was very fond of the David Letterman parody lyrics "MIDNIGHT! AND THE KITTEHS ARE SLEEPING!" After which she would mercifully stop and we would laugh, partly out of relief that there weren't anymore parody lyrics after that.

On second thought, let me just say I hate Andrew Lloyd Webber.

3. Lady in Red. Not the sprightly tune from the 1930's later popularized by Carl Stalling by being quoted in countless Warner Bros. cartoons, the drunkards' favorite is the miserable dreary love dirge that was the claim to fame of one-hit wonder Chris De Burgh. De Burgh tells the story of Princess Diana coming backstage to thank him for writing the song for her, since red was her favorite color. He was sorry to inform the princess that he wrote the song for his wife and not for her. I tell this story on Diana, now a beloved martyr, to give credence to the views of many of my British friends, who before she died thought of her as a spoiled airhead, and liked her just a little more than I like Paris Hilton.

2. Achy Breaky Heart. As much as I hate Lady in Red and Memories, they could not crack the top two because Billy Ray Cyrus had a hit with this piece of crap. My brother disliked it so much, he tried to write a parody called Hanky Panky Pancreas. I myself took a shot with Tricky Dicky Nose. I was unable to complete the task. I am unsure whether my brother succeeded or not.

There is a good chance that Billy Ray Cyrus will be better remembered as the father of Miley Cyrus, the young woman who plays Hannah Montana on the tweenybopper hit show. I've never heard a note of her music and I'm pretty sure I wouldn't care for it much, but I couldn't possibly hate it as much as I hate Achy Breaky Heart. Unless she covered the next tune.

1. Feelings. Like Lady in Red, Feelings was the work of yet another one-hit wonder, Brazilian born Morris Albert. Couldn't they have been zero-hit wonders? Would that have been so hard?

I can't remember for sure the first time I heard this song. I would imagine by the third time I heard it, it would have registered enough that I would have thought, "I recognize this tune and I'm already tired of it." Every repeat after that brought feelings, woah, woah, woah feelings of unbearable weariness and desire for bloody revenge. The only exception would be when Bill Murray's lounge singer character sang an excruciating version on Saturday Night Live. Yes, I thought! Someone else hates this song as much as I do!

Having reached the half century mark and then some, I have this odd compulsion to try to be fair when I get angry about something, to try to see the other side of things. You might have noticed this in my paragraph about Memories. Giving in to this obvious character flaw, let me say this in defense of Feelings. Nearly every important singer still working in the 1970's covered this thing. A partial list includes Sarah Vaughn, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone and Elvis Presley. Who am I to argue with all of them?

In rebuttal, let me say this. They're all dead and I'm still alive, and on this point, I'm right and they were wrong. Even after I no longer have the advantage of being alive, I will still be right about this.

Feelings sucks.

Woah, woah, woah SUCKS!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Should I be worried?

The S.F. Chronicle published the analysis of a banking industry expert on what banks are at risk now that the government has taken over the IndyMac bank. The guy had two methods of measuring risk, and my bank Washington Mutual was at the bottom of the "troubled" category by one measurement and just inside the "at risk" threshold by the other measurement.

Speaking selfishly, my money should be fine, since I don't have anywhere near $10,000 in assets at the bank and the feds insure up to that point. The expert said that things aren't nearly as bad as the S&L disaster of the late 80s. You know, that's when John McCain took a campaign bribe and tried to stop regulators from looking into the criminal acts of Charles Keating.

What the bank expert said is true, we have seen things worse than this. That's true with many parts of the economy. There are very few numbers at record highs or lows. The main one is the price of crude oil and with it the price of gas. Crude fell this week to back under $130 a barrel, off from the highs of over $145 earlier this month. That's encouraging, though it is still up 30% since New Year's. Watching the U.S. dollar index USD, the markets have decided for the last four months that the dollar has finally found its level, trading in a range from 71.5 to 73.5. The level is lower than at any time this decade before 2008, but stability at a previously bad number is better than a new low record every month or every week.

No one thing on its own, no one measurement of our economy spells disaster. What we have is a lot of little leaks. In 2006, the most recent year for which I could find data, U.S. median income finally rose after sinking for most of Bush's term, climbing to 4% over the highest previous value seen in 1999. The combined inflation rate for the intervening years was about 18.8%, and this is using the gamed numbers the government presents on statistics. In other words, working people are falling behind, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, but rarely are we really playing catch up.

I have said this before but it bears repeating. The Republican Party in its current configuration is all about thievery, Robin Hoods in reverse, taking from people who have less and giving generously to people who have more. The Democrats are little better. The laws on campaign financing and rules restricting lobbyists are like changes in the tax code. Before the ink is dry that signs the bill into law, someone has found the new loophole and the system continues on as before. People not wealthy enough to afford lobbyists of their own are screwed. That's almost everybody. The few watchdogs the government employs are overwhelmed, and the Republicans treat regulatory agencies like leper colonies, blights to be eradicated for the good of all concerned.

As citizens, we need to vote for change and to keep our representatives' feet to the fire. As consumers, we need to change our spending habits and driving habits and a thousand little things we have done forever because they won't make sense financially anymore. This latest fallback of crude oil may be like the fallback shown by gold and silver and several foreign currencies that happen in mid March, a discovery of a new level price for a time. But that new level is very different from the previous levels, and we will feel the pinch for some time to come.

Act accordingly.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

A few thoughts on the Yang worship word.

For those of you who are not quite as nerdy as I am, and that would be most of my readers but by no means all, the Yang worship word is "freedom". It comes from a Star Trek episode that is one of my least favorites, because it uses one of my least favorite plot devices, the planet light years away from Earth that has uncanny, some might say hackneyed, parallels to earth's history.

Still, as little as I liked the episode, sometimes when I hear the word, I cannot help myself but think of the corny and badly delivered line, "Freedom? You will not speak it. It is Yang worship word!"

It's really everybody's worship word. No matter the ideology a person subscribes to, everyone believes in freedom, at least as they define it. It is so beloved precisely because it is so poorly defined. As a mathematician, I have a great antipathy for poorly defined words. The word "love" for example, is another universally revered concept because its definition is so bad.

The best defined universally beloved concept is chocolate.

But I digress.

Let's go with this definition as the basis for the rest of this essay. Freedom is my right to do whatever I want, and to be fair, it is your right to do whatever you want. I do not deny there are problems arising from this definition, but let's start there.

There are a lot of Americans who think freedom is an American invention. Those would be the people who think the opposite of "Freedom" is "French", as though France is a land of secret prison camps, over-reaching government surveillance and the torture of prisoners held without charges or on trumped up charges. It might surprise them that the French national slogan translates to Liberty, Equality and Brotherhood. It also might surprise them that the earth revolves around the sun, but that is a surprise for another day.

Of course, we have Five Freedoms listed in the First Amendment to the Constitution, all about what Congrefs, sorry, Congress, cannot do. We are free to worship and free from a national religion being established, we have freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to assemble peaceably and to petition the government when we think we have been wronged. Notice how little responsibility is mentioned here, only that assemblies be peaceable. Everything else is about freedom, the right of anyone to do anything he or she wants to do in these areas.

The Second Amendment starts by talking about the need for a militia to keep the peace, and since it is necessary, people should have the right to own guns. Of course, we don't do militias anymore, so Fat Tony Scalia now tells us it just means we have the right to own guns, with no added responsibility. We no longer have the Founding Fathers, but we do have a Floundering Fathead.

Lucky us.

In early 1941, with an eye on the troubles brewing around the world that we were not directly involved in at the time, Franklin D. Roosevelt gave the Four Freedoms speech, rights that all people on the earth should have. Carved on the wall, the first is listed as Freedom of Speech, but is often written now as Freedom of Expression, so it would include the press and peaceable assembly and the right to redress grievances. Then comes Freedom of Worship and two freedoms not named in The Constitution directly, Freedom From Want and Freedom From Fear. A world where no one is starving is still a long way off, and it is a sad fact that governments today, including our own, like the populace to be afraid.

Compare these freedoms of Roosevelt's to the Four Freedoms that are in the European Union charter.

* The free movement of goods;
* The free movement of persons (and citizenship), including free movement of workers, and freedom of establishment;
* The free movement of services;
* The free movement of capital.

This is freedom using the definition favored by Milton Friedman, the freedom of what people can do with money. On the cover of his book, metaphorical giants in business appropriate attire are free to look at the world as their own personal file cabinet, one in which they are free not to close drawers when they are finished rifling through them. As Donald Rumsfeld might say, freedom is messy.

Even in those places where the ideas of Milton Friedman are revered as unto a fetish, some free markets, some ways people like to spend their money and others use to make money, are brutally suppressed. The free markets of pornography, prostitution and drugs are matters for law enforcement in most countries, and the Netherlands, the most open country in the world on these topics, is considered irredeemably socialistic by the Friedman Faithful. Of course, they have an entire country built below sea level, not just one town like New Orleans, so the idea they should work together to maintain levees ready for thousand year floods is just common sense, not communism.

Milton Friedman was not enamored of freedom of workers to unionize, which is to say to peaceably assemble and to air their grievances. His father's business was destroyed by a strike when Friedman was young, and it had a profound effect on his political thinking all his life. Starting in the 1970s, many countries around the world began implementing the ideas of Milton Friedman, ideas which lead inevitably to the globalization we see all around us today. First was Chile, where the suppression of the workers was particularly vicious. As the free market ideas spread, the need to destroy unions spread with it. After all, in a free market world, capital is free to go wherever it wants, and if workers are going to get uppity someplace, or some local government is going to get their panties in a bunch and enact laws protecting workers or the environment, capital should have the right to go somewhere else more business friendly.

Some people are beginning to understand that their freedoms come with the responsibility to be citizens of their country and citizens of the world, and the freedom of capital can spell the enslavement of the people.

Which brings us to this suspicious looking character, Friedrich Hegel. Like many 19th Century writers, Hegel took a lot of paragraphs to get to a point, but he did have an interesting definition of freedom. We all live in society, and none of us gets to do whatever we want. I might want to have sex with Melissa Theuriau, but that isn't going to happen because

1) She lives one continent and one ocean away and
2) She has a say in this matter as well.

So here is Freddy Hegel's definition of freedom. Since we are all people who live in nations with laws, the most free person in a society is the person whose personal desires and moral code most closely conform to the laws of the nation. If no law interferes with what you would do anyway, you are as free as that society lets anyone be. Most of us, for example, do not feel like killing someone most of the time, so those laws against murder really don't put a major dent in our personal freedom. People who find many laws of the land keep them from doing what they really want to do will experience aliention, or so said Freddy Hegel. Hegel's definition of alienation has a symptom list that is as good or better than most of definitions found in the DSM-IV.

So here is my view of freedom. We Americans are free to be citizens, and we need to be citizens to preserve our freedoms or to expand our freedoms. Sometimes we need the government to protect us, but we should never forget that sometimes we need to protect ourselves from the government. Five of the ten amendments in The Bill Of Rights are about what the government can't do to you, even when you are accused of a crime. We might not think of ourselves as criminals or potential criminals, but the laws keep changing, and many are written by people who believe deeply in their own freedom, but not so much in the freedom of others. Some are working with a single mindedness that is easy for an idiot to muster. Those of us who are of many minds, and frankly better minds, must work even harder.

Boy, that's lotsa 'splainin'. Glad it's a Saturday.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Phil Gramm. Under the bus?

Phil Gramm, grease weasel scumbag that could only be elected in some benighted territory like Texas, has resigned from the McCain campaign after calling the United States a "nation of whiners" and the multiple economic woes we are going through a "mental recession".

Let's be clear about this. If we as a nation make the horrendous mistake of electing John McCain, Phil Gramm will have either a major cabinet post or be chief of staff. This trip to the woodshed is completely cosmetic. It's not like he needs the money that McCain pays him. His wife was a board member of Enron, which means she got paid big time and was not hosed by that company's criminal collapse.

The 21st Century Republican party is about thievery, plain and simple. Anyone who believes in fiscal responsibility can't vote for these people, and if you are a Christian, know that these people regularly and proudly break the Eighth Commandment, and when asked about it, they break the Ninth.

Standing up for my adopted actor

The story from Shreveport is getting worse. The undeniable facts are that Josh Brolin and my first adopted actor Jeffrey Wright were arrested at a bar at 2 a.m. last weekend, during the wrap party for the Oliver Stone movie about George W. Bush. The story now is that the cops used pepper spray on Brolin, tasered (tased?) Wright several times when he was down on the ground, and used everybody's favorite racial epithet. The Shreveport police say they have reviewed the situation and found that everyone involved were completely professional. The website TMZ, which deals with celebrities and their run-ins with the law, says that someone has footage of the scene on a cell phone camera, but I haven't found it on the web.

I wasn't there, and everyone is innocent until proven guilty, of course, but it's my guess that the actors were drunk and the cops were vicious scumbags on a power trip. Maybe I've watched The Wire too much, but I wouldn't be surprised if the cops were lit up as well.


Friday means Random 10!

It Hurts Me Too Eric Clapton
Black Sails In The Sunset Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Table Top Joe Tom Waits
Days The Kinks
Old Fashioned Girl Matthew Hubbard and Michael Dresbach
I Can’t Stop Killing You Kirsty MacColl
It Hurts Me Too Elmore James
Lie Still Little Bottle They Might Be Giants
What’d I Say Ray Charles
Blitzkrieg Bop The Ramones

I'll let you in on a dark secret of the Random 10 here at Lotsa 'Splainin'. Usually, artists don't show up twice in the same ten, because I edit out repeats from the shuffle. Padre Mickey doesn't do this kind of editing, because he often has artists show up twice. But today's ten has a repeated song, with both Eric Clapton and Elmore James singing and playing guitar on It Hurts Me Too. That was such an odd coincidence, I had to include it.

The most obscure artist on the list are those guys who recorded Old Fashioned Girl, but if you read this blog or Padre Mickey's Dance Party, I think you'll know who they are.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Lazy blogging... Melissa Theuriau...

Two great tastes that go great together.

If I had more time, I'd tell the story I told Mlle. Theuriau that elicited this happy smile from her. The joke is somewhat idiomatic and does not translate well from French, but when I was done, she let out a girlish Gallic giggle and tilted her lovely head in a way that said, "You know, I hadn't thought about it until now, but I suppose I must have sex with this charming American!"

But on the advice of counsel, I have been told that this story only happened in my wildest dreams.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Wednesday Math, Vol. 32: The doubling cube

Since this is the 32nd Wednesday Math post and 32 is a power of 2, 2 to the fifth power to be exact, I'm going to write about the doubling cube, an addition to the rules of backgammon first introduced in the 1920's in New York City which helped revitalize the game and made it much more challenging. Backgammon is very ancient. It's hard to find good information on when people started playing by the modern rules we use now, but there are examples of variations of the game played in many cultures around the Mediterranean and east to Persia, and some of these date back to millenia before Christ was born.

The doubling cube is a way to increase the gambling action. Every game is played for a set stake, let's say a dollar. By most rules, if you win a gammon (this means winning by a lot), the game is worth two dollars and winning a backgammon (which means winning by a whole lot), the game is worth three dollars. So, without the doubling cube, the best or worst you could do in a single game is win or lose three times the set stake in a single game. Most people who play will play many games in a single sitting.

The doubling cube sits off to the side when the game begins. The faces of the cube have the numbers 2, 4, 8, 16, 32 and 64 on them, the first six positive powers of two. Let's say that I think I have an advantage as the game progresses. After my opponent finishes a move, but before I roll the dice for my move, I can offer the doubling cube to my opponent with the side that has the 2 on it face up. What this means is that I want to play for double the stakes. My opponent now has a choice.

Option #1: Refuse to play for more and resign the game.
Option #2: Accept the offer to play for more and take possession of the cube.

If I was correct and I have an advantage, why would someone take the cube and probably lose two dollars? Well here's the math.

If I truly have an advantage, I should win the game from that position more than 50% of the time. Let's say I should win 60% and my opponent should win 40%. In this case, the opponent should take the cube because it is a better play in the long run. Lemme 'splain.

Option #1: My opponent loses one dollar.
Option #2: 60% of the time, my opponent loses two dollars and 40% wins of the time wins two dollars. 40% - 60% = -20%. -20% x two dollars = -40 cents.

In the long run, option #2 loses 40 cents, while option #1 loses a dollar. Take the cube and the smaller long run loss. The cut-off point is if a player thinks the chance of winning is 25% or less. Then the cube should be declined.

The math gets a little trickier if we factor in gammons and backgammons, and if the game changes and my opponent gains the advantage, ownership of the cube means he or she has the right to double the stakes once again, so we would be playing for four times the original stake if I agree to the new situation. There's also the immediate re-double called a beaver, and the re-re-double called a raccoon, and an entire menagerie of more exotic and ultimately expensive options.

It's a really interesting concept and can be added to many gambling games, if that's what you are into. I make no moral judgments on this matter.

Yay, Flags of Many Lands™! Super yay, Albania! Now with a visitor from Albania, I have the whole map of Europe except for the little postage stamp principalities like San Marino, Andorra, Vatican City and Liechtenstein.

What brings an Albanian around to visit my happy little blog? Discussion of secret prisons! Cheerful little bastids, ain't they?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A game... for My People?

The 1967 film Mars Needs Women, starring Tommy Kirk and Yvonne Craig, makes many of the lists of Worst Films Of All Time. While it is not as amazingly pretentious as Plan Nine From Outer Space, it does have all the elements that put it the running for all time stinker. The film's auteur Larry Buchanan made many horrible films in the sixties and beyond from his home base of Houston, Texas. He's kind of like Ed Wood without the cross-dressing or the foolish hope that he was making important art.

Knowing that seriously geeky boardgamers are among the fondest fans of sci-fi both good and bad, a game was published this decade called Venus Needs Men! I have not played the game, but I decided to print a reproduction of the board game box cover art.

Why did you do that, Matty Boy?

Well, hypothetical question asker, here is a list of the exciting elements in the picture, and you can decide which one made it worthy of being posted here at Lotsa 'Splainin' 2 Do.

a) ray guns
b) personal jet packs
c) space ships with fins
d) mini-skirted eight foot tall amazons
e) plexiglass helmets with purple speakerboxes
f) a panicked populace of guys wearing hats
g) mini-skirted eight foot tall amazons

Choose carefully. There may be more than one correct answer.

Monday, July 14, 2008

If I say something bad, it's slander...

but if I publish it, even on a blog, it's libel.

Or so I have been advised by my lawyer. So I might be in some legal jeopardy by posting this lolz of Miss Evelyn Mobley, known to readers of Padre Mickey's Dance Party as Miss Bebé, the World's Cutest Grandchile™, which insinuates that instead of being the bright and personable young lady those of us who have met her know her to actually be, she is some sort of Baby Amy Winehouse, heading for trouble and anxious to get there.

My lawyer further advises that comedy gold is a successful defense against libel, so on advice of counsel I have published this.

Of course, my lawyer's living quarters and office space are currently a 1993 Nissan Stanza, so I might find myself in need of better legal counsel in the near future.

I'll keep you informed.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A little love for my first adopted actor

One of my adopted actors, the lovely and talented Jeffrey Wright, made the news this weekend by getting arrested at 2 a.m. in a bar in Shreveport. Wright, who is playing Colin Powell in the Oliver Stone movie about George W. Bush, tried to get between officers who wanted to arrest a rowdy member of the crew who was part of the gang from the film in the bar. Josh Brolin, who plays W., was also arrested.

While I do not recommend closing bars in Shreveport, or anyplace else for that matter, if you are going to be picked up by the po-po early in the morning, the right way to do it is standing up for somebody in your crew. Many points are scored by both Mr. Brolin and Mr. Wright for this little altercation on the Matty Boy scale.

As you might notice from the casting, Oliver Stone has decided nearly every important role will be filled by somebody much younger and prettier than the person they are playing. For instance, Thandie Newton is playing Condi Rice. If Condi even dreams she was on her hottest day ever as hot as Thandie Newton, she better wake up and apologize.

A new post on the Chimp.

Oh yeah, I put up a new post on The Smirking Chimp about lovely Phil Gramm's lovely comment about how any economic troubles Americans think they are facing are just figments of their overactive and overly delicate imaginations.

Now I must lie down, for I feel the vapors overtaking me, delicate flower that I am.

Time to declare victory and leave.

Is there anyone in the world happier that Saddam was overthrown than the American conservatives are, the people who crow about how brave Bush was to get 4,000 Americans he isn't related to killed in five years so that he could remake the Middle East?

Yes, there is. The Iranians are happier than American conservatives. Their enemy has been completely neutered, democracy means that the religious majority in Iraq will be able to regain power, and they share the Shia faith of the religious majority of Iran. Instead of an unpredictable and belligerent neighbor being armed by a superpower, they have a neighbor crippled by a war that cost the Iranians nothing. This is not to say that centuries of enmity between Persians and Arabs are suddenly over, anymore than relations between the English and Irish are now perfectly peachy keen.

But the Iranians are the big winners.

The Iraqis are in no rush to sign a long-term security pact with the Bush administration. Can you say "lame duck"? Who knows, they may have an administration in Washington next January with a very different outlook on our future relations with Iraq, a relationship not based on opening our treasury doors to thieves.

Speaking of thieves, did you know that electricity and water service in Baghdad is still a problem? But not to worry, because Ahmed Chalabi is on the job! Earlier this year, the generals in charge were praising him highly for his energy and determination. The next month, another American news story was written, and those who worked with him most closely were not quite as charmed.

Chalabi leads a charmed life. Despite the fact that he can't win an election and he can't return to Jordan, (when you close the doors to your bank and flee the country and leave all your depositors high and dry, some less enlightened lands take a dim view of this and try you in absentia), as long as the Bush administration is around, he also can't seem to stay out of work for very long. You might remember that he was accused of being a spy for the Iranians a few years back. What could have happened there? His accusers were in the American government, then suddenly, they weren't anymore! It seems George W. Bush and his friends took Charming Chalabi's word over that of gloomy old Colin Powell and his pals, and quicker than you can say missing hard drive, Colin was a former government employee. As we know, former government employees can't be trusted, what with them being so bitter and all.

Can there be anyone in this wide world who isn't happy that Saddam is no longer in power? Some grumpy American taxpayers might not be happy with the three trillion dollar bill that is coming due, to be paid off in low, low installments for the rest of our natural lives, but really that's just American whining, as Phil Gramm might say. Anybody else?

The Turks might be a little miffed. Under Saddam, the Kurds were treated very poorly, but the Turks didn't have to worry about Kurdish terrorist attacks from across the border that much, and certainly never had to invade Iraq to put down the Kurdish terrorist groups. We might have been able to stop Iraq from being a haven for state sponsored terrorism, but that would have been the deluxe four trillion dollar war package, and we all know that Bush holds to a hard line against such budget busting extravagances.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Tony Snow, 1955-2006

Tony Snow is dead. I send my best wishes to his family and friends. I am neither, of course, and unlike most people I write obituaries about, I wasn't a fan, either.

Snow was the best of the four press secretaries Bush had. Ari Fleischer had whatever psychological disease Dick Cheney has. He actually enjoys lying. Scott McClellan was completely overmatched and it was pathetic watching him. Dana Perino should be on TV, attractive and stupid. Snow was a good looking guy and not an idiot.

The problem was that Tony Snow thought the job of press secretary was about Tony Snow. He still had the attitude of a TV star, which he was on Fox News Sunday. He was the first press secretary in history to travel the country campaigning for Republican candidates while he held the job that is supposed to be about letting the public know what the executive branch is doing and why they are doing it. I don't think his actions should be illegal in this matter. You would think that common decency would preclude a person from acting this way, but common decency is in short supply in Washington, and among Republicans it appears to be close to extinct.

Many published obits will mention what a swell guy he was. I honestly do not give two cents about that. I mention the swell guy stuff in obits when I think someone was actually competent and honest like Bill Walsh, or when I had some personal contact with someone, like local newsman Pete Wilson. It's icing on the cake. Tony Snow's cake was rancid, the continuous defense of the indefensible. If I have any human feeling for him at all, it's out of the the simple and selfish reason that a guy six months older than I am died from disease. Whatever I think of how he lived his life, it ended too soon.

Who knows? If he had lived longer, he might have repented. Stranger things have happened.

Friday, July 11, 2008

That is my least vulnerable spot. UPDATED.

Last month, I had a trivia quiz based on lines from The Princess Bride. Today, I'm going to run another, this time using lines from Casablanca. Casablanca is such a great movie for quotes I decided to use lines only spoken by Louis Renault, the cheerfully cynical police captain played so charmingly by Claude Rains. Rains gets fourth billing in the film, but he does an excellent job of stealing the scenes he is in.

So here's the idea of the quiz. Listed below are twelve lines from the script spoken by Rains in alphabetical order. Your job is to put them in chronological order from the movie. It was pretty easy to get twelve good lines from his character; shaving it down to just twelve was the harder part. The title of this post is a line of his I didn't use. I tried to use lines that stood on their own, that didn't need another line from another actor before or after to make sense. Here they are and good luck.

Put these lines from Captain Louis Renault in chronological order in the movie.

a) How extravagant you are, throwing away women like that. Some day they may be scarce.

b) How’s the jewelry business, Berger?

c) I’ll forgive you this time, but I’ll be in tomorrow night with a breathtaking blonde, and it will make me very happy if she loses.

d) I’m making out the report now. We haven’t quite decided if he committed suicide or died trying to escape.

e) I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here.

f) Love, it seems, has triumphed over virtue.

g) Major Strasser has been shot. Round up the usual suspects.

h) Make it 10. I’m only a poor corrupt official.

i) Serves me right for not being musical.

j) There’s no hurry. Tonight, he’ll be at Rick’s. Everybody comes to Rick’s.

k) Well, mademoiselle, he’s the kind of man that… if I were a woman, and I were not around, I should be in love with Rick.

l) You mustn’t underestimate American blundering. I was with them when they blundered into Berlin in 1918.

Obviously, I made this quiz too tough. I also overestimated the number of Casablanca fans that read my blog. Here is the correct order.

j) There’s no hurry. Tonight, he’ll be at Rick’s. Everybody comes to Rick’s.
a) How extravagant you are, throwing away women like that. Some day they may be scarce.
h) Make it 10. I’m only a poor corrupt official.
k) Well, mademoiselle, he’s the kind of man that… if I were a woman, and I were not around, I should be in love with Rick.
b) How’s the jewelry business, Berger?
l) You mustn’t underestimate American blundering. I was with them when they blundered into Berlin in 1918.
d) I’m making out the report now. We haven’t quite decided if he committed suicide or died trying to escape.
c) I’ll forgive you this time, but I’ll be in tomorrow night with a breathtaking blonde, and it will make me very happy if she loses.
e) I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here.
i) Serves me right for not being musical.
f) Love, it seems, has triumphed over virtue.
g) Major Strasser has been shot. Round up the usual suspects.


Friday means Random 10!

Days Elvis Costello
Money Don’t Matter 2 Night Prince
Dry County The B-52’s
Long Ago (And Far Away) Jo Stafford
Picture This Blondie
Frank’s Wild Years Tom Waits
My Old Man Ian Dury
Dancing to the Bagpipe Le Mystere de Voix Bulgares
The Love I Saw In You Was Just a Mirage Smokey Robinson & the Miracles
I Love The Sound of Breaking Glass Nick Lowe

You can't go too far wrong if The One True Living Elvis, Our Tom and The Purple One are all going to show up in a Random 10. Ian Dury's song for his dad is a great piece of sentimental stuff from a usually cynical fellow. Jo Stafford shows up to sing a song that isn't from the Rock 'n' Roll era, a lovely Jerome Kern show tune. There's also a tune from a Euro dance club remix of a Bulgarian female vocal choir, which I think qualifies for most obscure on this list. Strong finish with Smokey and Nick.

This is a Stuart Smalley approved list. It's good enough, it's random enough and, gosh darn it, people like it.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Back to normal...

which is to say, pretty laid back.

You may have read the report that the Japanese labor statistics board has listed the cause of death of a 45 year old auto designer at Toyota as overwork.

The probability you will hear a similar story about Matty Boy at some point in the future is... oh, let's just call it zero and leave it at that.

I could 'splain the idea of infinitesimals, but really, I'm just too lazy right now. It's minutes past 0-Wine-thirty hours at the start of yet another three day weekend for me, and I haven't even reached for the corkscrew yet. Clearly, I have to get my priorities straight.

A whole weekend with nothing to do... except grade 80 exams.

Really, not so bad.

Back to actual blogging tomorrow.

I know how this cat feels.

No time for blogging, as Dr. Zaius might say. Technically, I have the busy and not the dumb, but sometimes the busy and the dumb feel remarkably similar, and sometimes one has the busy by having the dumb of not planning ahead. I'm giving the midterms in my summer classes today, so this is as much 'splainin' as I have time 2 do, which is not Lotsa 'Splainin' at all.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Wednesday Math, Vol. 31: The trouble with string theory

Wolfgang Pauli, a 20th Century theoretical physicist, had a favorite derogatory statement about poorly constructed ideas in physics: "That is not even wrong." This meant either that there were too many mistakes in an idea to make it worth salvaging, or that it was not testable, with no way to prove if the idea was right or wrong with an experiment. Peter Woit has chosen the title Not Even Wrong to discuss his view of string theory, the popular ideas in theoretical physics about how unseen dimensions might be the best way to explain how the world works, and to reconcile the contradictory views of the design of the universe that are the underlying assumptions in the two great leaps forward in 20th Century physics, general relativity and quantum mechanics.

We like to think we live in a three dimensional world, but Einstein famously put forward that the universe has four dimensions, the fourth being time, to go along with the other three physical dimensions, which we call height, width and depth. The fourth dimension is obviously very different from the first three, and the math behind Einstein's spacetime reflects that difference. Physical objects, from particles to people to planets, have some latitude in how they can move up/down, left/right and front/back, but all of us are being carried forward in time together at seemingly the same rate. Einstein said that some things could travel faster in time than others, and he proposed experiments that could test this hypothesis. The experiments aren't easy, and some show that certain details of relativity may have been misstated, but the basics ideas of relativity have been proven true over the last 100 years. Einstein's original concept and the refinements that have been added, which together are called the standard model, are the best idea we have of the way the universe works. My favorite teacher Stu Smith calls the standard model the greatest work of art of the 20th Century.

The trouble starts, at least in Peter Woit's view, with a mathematician named Kalusa. Kalusa sent a letter to Einstein with a lot of fancy math that postulated that if the universe were actually five dimensional instead of four dimensional, the force of gravity and the electromagnetic forces could actually be shown to be manifestations of the same principle, which in physics talk means they can be unified. Unifying all the forces of nature, gravity, electromagnetic and two sub-atomic forces called strong and weak, was Einstein's great goal, and the unfinished work of the last fifty years of his life. He told friends about the Kalusa paper, and the idea was very intriguing. Unlike Einstein and his fourth dimension of time, Kalusa had no idea what this fifth dimension might be and did not even speculate. It was really a mathematical exercise more than a physical one, because there was no way to test its validity, unlike Einstein's relativity which can be tested.

String theory can be simply stated that if five dimensions are cool, eight or ten or even more could be even cooler! It hopes that all the forces can be shown to be manifestations of a single force and the seeming contradictions in relativity and quantum mechanics are not contradictory at all in the full n dimensional universe, but just puzzling evidence that those of us with only enough senses to comprehend what we call spacetime can perceive.

While the two ideas have very different sets of enthusiasts, string theory and intelligent design share a troubling and fatal flaw. Neither is testable, which is to say neither fulfills the first rule of science. String theory is a hopeful attempt at synthesis between relativity and quantum mechanics, while intelligent design is a hodgepodge collection of complaints by people whose world view cannot bear the idea that modern biology actually understands the working of the world better than the creation myths put forward by some pig ignorant dirt farmers from five to seven thousand years ago. Without some way to test the ideas put forward, both of these ideas would have to be put in the category Pauli called "not even wrong".