Tuesday, September 30, 2008

quick but shameless plug

Actual information that might be actually interesting to NFL fans is being posted weekly at Unified Football Theory, my other blog.

It isn't of any use to fantasy football players, but it might be worth a look for people who like to put a buck or two down on the outcome a professional football game, though I understand that is illegal in most states in the union.

Just sayin'.

New pet peeve

My peeve is directed at the Huffington Post, though I have plenty of peevishness to go around on this one. Katie Couric asked Sarah Palin about Roe v. Wade, and she had an opinion, of course. But after that, she couldn't name another Supreme Court case.

Not one. Stone silence. The Huffington Post called this a gaffe.

My peeve is that is not a gaffe. A gaffe is when I write Lance Rentzel when I mean Lance Alworth. A gaffe is confusing the Czech Republic with Czechoslovakia or Slovenia with Slovakia. It might be a lack of knowledge, it might be a slip of the tongue, but it's a gaffe.

Not knowing one other Supreme Court case is Rock F*#king Stupidity.

Just to show I am not Rock F*#king Stupid myself, here's a few Supreme Court cases I can recall without the help of the Google. Marbury v. Madison. Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, KS. Griswold v. Connecticut. Flood v. Major League Baseball.

Bush v. Gore, for pity's sake!

So, for the record, Sarah Barracuda shows some more of her massive supply of stupid, and the Huffington Post shows they should buy a new thesaurus or hire someone who can read a thesaurus.

Separated at BART?

Back in 2004, I was getting on a BART train at Lake Merritt, and someone not just thought I looked like Howard Dean, he actually thought I was Howard Dean for a minute.

Yesterday, I was getting off a BART train at the Coliseum/Oakland Airport station, and someone said I looked like a young John McCain.

The positive view of these two experiences is that I look like guys who never became president.

The more nuanced view is that in Oakland, all grey haired white guys kinda look alike.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Okay, to hell with should I be. I'm officially worried.

The House didn't pass the bailout. To be honest, like a lot of my blog buddies who posted on the same topic, I didn't want them to pass it. I called Pete Stark to let him know, and his office let me know that I was probably in Barbara Lee's district now, so I let folks at both the offices know I was a Democrat and I was against it. Both of them voted no.

Good on ya, Babs and Pete!

But I do think that the chickens are coming home to roost at long last. The markets went nuts. Not only did the Dow and NASDAQ take a pasting, but several things that usually move in sync stopped moving in sync. Gold had a terrific day, but silver and crude oil fell, and the U.S. Dollar Index rose. Usually the metals and crude move in one direction, and the USD goes in the opposite. Gold going up by itself means unsophisticated people with a little extra cash are scared. I know how they feel.

I'm not sure it's the apocalypse or anything, but I do think it will be a mess and it will last a while. Credit should tighten up, it had to eventually, so economic growth will be hampered and we will see a lot more bank failures and other scary headlines. It's not going to be fun for the next president, but I'd much rather it was Obama not having the fun instead of Old Grumpy Grandpa in the fun-free zone.

On the Huffington Post, they are featuring quotes that made it look like McCain and his surrogates were claiming the bill would pass because he rode to the rescue this weekend, so the failure is on his shoulders. I honestly don't care who gets the credit or blame. The markets took years to get in this mess. If they can't wait a few months until the next presidency to get some help, I say let the chips fall where they may.

I don't trust Bush or anyone he appointed as far as I can throw them. And I mean all of them at once with their pockets filled with gold coins.
And if it is the apocalypse, does anyone know the whereabouts of Rupert Giles or Buffy Summers? They've seen a few, so I figure I'd hang with them until this one blows over.

The Palin plummet.

The McCain numbers are heading south, as Obama has been holding a steady five to six point lead in the daily tracking polls for nearly a week, but they are not heading south nearly as fast as the numbers for Sarah Palin. On September 11, her positive ratings were 15 points above her negative ratings. As of this weekend, her positive ratings are 10 points below her negatives, and she is losing support left, right and center.

I want to say that I put in writing that I thought Palin was a great pick for one 24 hour news cycle, but I thought by five days or so, the bloom would be off the rose. I was wrong about the five day prediction, largely because she diffused the question of who is the mother of baby Trig by coming out and saying her daughter Bristol was pregnant out of wedlock. The way the Republican base rallied around this white trash story was yet another example of something we have seen dozens of times this decade, the special exception known as It's Okay If You're A Republican, shortened to the acronym IOKIYAR.

Since I admitted I was wrong about how quickly her numbers would turn south, I would like to say that I got one of her problems right by stating that media is a plural. No, it's not just that one of her now famous rambling non-answer answers had her using the word "mediums" for "media", but that she is taking attacks from many different parts of the press, left, right and center. That left-wing bloggers don't like her is a given, but she also has taken hits from centrists like CNN's Campbell Brown, who chides the McCain campaign as sexist for keeping her from the fray, the resident CNN curmudgeon Jack Cafferty, who is terrified by some of her incoherent answers, and Fareed Zakaria, who has asked if it is possible to put her out of our misery. On the right, George Will expressed doubts nearly from the very beginning, and the National Review's Kathleen Parker, once a supporter, eviscerated her last week.

Since Palin herself self-identified as a pitbull with lipstick, I think it is fair to lump her in with other right wing female attack dogs. If we continue the metaphor, it is fair to call Palin, Michelle Malkin and Ann Coulter bitches, and it is also fair to say they have overstayed their welcome. It's no surprise they are reviled on the left, but even right wing blogs feel free to criticize all three of them from time to time. Malkin spearheaded the charge to boycott Dunkin' Donuts because spokesperson Rachel Ray wore a scarf Malkin thought looked too "Palestinian", and a lot of right wingers thought it made the entire movement look trivial and foolish. Coulter's 'comic' calls for the deaths of people she disagrees with politically are legion, and many right wing commentators have failed to see the humor in wishing that the New York Times is bombed or that a sitting Supreme Court justice is poisoned.

So Sarah Palin can find no safe haven, attacked in the pages of the National Review and the National Enquirer alike. From her personal life to her far too personal management style to the rambling non-answers she gives to questions that remind people of that poor idiot of a beauty pageant contestant from South Carolina who wandered through one of the most embarrassing bits of public speaking ever seen.

Since I have admitted my own errors in how quickly it would take the public to turn on her, I will toot my own horn a bit and note that if you Google "palin narcissism dsm iv", your top choice will lead you to my humble blog. Sarah Palin is not going away unless the electorate wills it, because she actually thinks she deserves to be vice president, which might be the scariest thing about her.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sunday numbers, Volume 4: Sept. 28, 2008

You know when you see the grainy rendering of the abacus, it must be time for The Sunday Numbers! This week, Pollster.com had updated information from 31 states, and both the national and state trends favored Barack Obama. There has been no new state polling reported since after the debate, but all the national polls have Obama up by 5 to 6 percentage points. Of course, The Sunday Numbers are about the electoral college count as the polls have it standing, so let's take a look at those, shall we?

States strong for Obama: CA, CT, DC, DE, HI, IA, IL, MA, MD, NJ, NY, OR, RI, VT, PA, NM, WA, ME, WI
233 electors
States leaning for Obama: CO, MI, MN, NH
40 electors
Total electors for Obama if the election were held today: 273

States strong for McCain: LA, TX, AK, AL, AR, AZ, GA, ID, KS, KY, MS, ND, NE, OK, SC, TN, UT, WY, SD
155 electors
States leaning for McCain: NV, VA, MO, MT, FL, IN, WV
75 electors
Total electors for McCain if the election were held today: 230

States currently too close to call: NC, OH
35 electors

McCain definitely has his work cut out for him. A clear sign of his troubles is that Indiana is a state in play as my system calls it, while Pennsylvania currently is not. The odds for Obama winning Pennsylvania are well over 90% using the Confidence of Victory method. We must recall that all these predictors are based on the statement "if the election were held today", and we are still more than a month away from Election Day.

I'm also including this handy chart with each update from now on. We see the Palin bounce in week two, but does appear to be a bounce, going up and down. I've read some commenters on other websites explain why all the economic woes can be laid at the feet of the Democrats, but their arguments aren't swaying a lot of undecided people.

As Keith Olbermann says on that MSNBC ad, anyone who says they know what will happen next is wrong, but if these trends continue and Obama is still over 270 in mid October, Matty Boy, Investment Advisor to the Stars*, will probably put a few bucks on Obama to win the presidency over on the intrade.com website.

*Those of you new to the pronouncements of Matty Boy, Investment Advisor to the Stars should be aware that he is:

a) broke
b) crazy
c) not actually giving financial advice to anyone, let alone any stars.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman 1925-2008

Paul Newman has died at the age of 83. He was one of the best film actors of his generation. He was drop dead gorgeous back in the day, and with Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson and few others, he defined what cool was.

But for all his accomplishments in front of the camera, most importantly he was a man. He stayed married to his lovely wife. He stood firm for what he believed in. He gave back to the community.

He had a lot of great roles when he was young and beautiful. He could deliver a smartass line better than anyone this side of Humphrey Bogart. He also did some great work as an old man, including The Road to Perdition and The Hudsucker Proxy. But for some reason, the thing I think about now is the time when he paid for a full page ad in Variety, begging his friends not to watch The Silver Chalice on TV, an early and truly forgettable role in his career. I never met him, but that silly little detail endears him to me.

God bless and keep Paul Newman. All the best wishes to his friends and family, from a fan.

Friday, September 26, 2008

McCain never looked at Obama.

Not once. An hour and a half and he didn't look once.

I teach for a living. If you have to school a young'un, you have to look at him or her. What's up with this disrespect?

McCain laughed off the disrespect of Spain's Zapatero. He did not admit that the evidence is the Georgians fired first in this latest shooting war. Europe at first believed Saakashvili's denials, but that support is wavering from the people closest to the situation.

NOBODY brought up that Iraq is harboring terrorists, and that's why the Turks are invading.

I don't agree with Obama on every point. But McCain is living in some antique fantasy world. He's always right on every thing we do militarily. What about our stupid, useless, pointless bullshit in Grenada and Panama and Nicaragua and Guatemala and El Salvador, you militaristic prick? What was the fucking point there?

Long story short. The Obama-Biden sign stays up.

Economic misery does NOT mean the end of good laughs!

As Marshall Lucky would like to remind us.

Still one of my favorite comic scenes... evah!

A standalone Random 10

Friday means Random 10!

Ancient photo of Padre Mickey and Matty Boy, taken by The Lovely Mona.

Substitute The Ramones
I’ve Been to Memphis Lyle Lovett
Unmarked Helicopters Soul Coughing
Through These Architect’s Eyes David Bowie
Spanish Bombs The Clash
Gun Street Girl Tom Waits
Mansize Rooster Supergrass
Got To Get You Into My Life The Beatles
Town Cryer Elvis Costello & the Attractions
Let’s Start a Rumour The Wonders of Science

Those of you who also check out Padre Mickey's Dance Party know that I nicked the idea of the Random 10 from him. He posts his Random 10 on Friday as well, and always as a separate post, while I usually stick mine at the end of whatever else I want to say on a Friday. I decided to present this one Padre Mickey style because of how much influence he has on these songs randomly chosen from my computer.

I never listened to The Ramones, The Clash or Supergrass until Padre Mickey told me I should.

I had listened to David Bowie before I met Padre Mickey, but he let me know that I probably should listen to more.

I did listen to plenty of both Tom Waits and Elvis Costello before I met Padre Mickey, and these musical influences convinced Padre Mickey that I might have a small spark of cool and it was okay to form a band with me.

The band was The Wonders of Science, so I never would have recorded Let's Start a Rumour except that I met Padre Mickey.

So when people ask "Who are your musical influences?", somewhere near the top of the list I put... Padre Mickey.

Padre Mickey is on the road this week. Bon voyage, Padre, and a safe trip back to Panama and your lovely bride.

(Jeez, I repeated his name so many times, you'd think I was Sarah Palin or something.)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Well? Should I be worried?

Well, the answer, as Sarah Palin might put it, is "Yup!" and "Nope!"

The Yup part: The New York Times reports the government has seized the assets of Washington Mutual. Their general ability to make good loans? Not so good.

The Nope part: J.P. Morgan is buying up most of the branches and assets, except for the bad loans, and I have WAAAAY less in my checking account than the $100,000 limit for federal insurance.

Do I think this is being done at this moment by the Bush administration to make the problem look more serious and to put some pressure on the people against the bailout, which right now looks mainly like Republicans in the House and Senate?


A few words from two very different Republicans.

So The Only President We've Got went on the air last night, and told us about how bad it would be if we don't hand over 700 billion dollars to him and his pals, and sooner rather than later. Bad badness was just around the corner if we didn't do as he says, kind of like the hypothetical mushroom cloud he saved us from when he invaded Iraq about five years ago.

What is the difference between what Bush did last night and what villains do in movies when they ask governments for gigantic ransoms or else they will unleash horrible destruction? Really, what is the difference between a laughingstock like George W. Bush and an over the top comic villain like Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers movies?

The main difference I can tell is that in Dr. Evil's imaginary world, his threat is more credible.

The people in Washington who don't like this bailout are people I generally hate, like Newt Gingrich and James Inhofe. This should make me think twice about my position against it, but I'm still very skeptical.

But I did hear from one Republican whose opinion still carries some weight with me, and that would be the gosh darned pater familias, the man on whose knee I happily bounced about a half century ago.

My dad's big idea is that any financial institution that has bought a bundle of mortgages and other loans at some ridiculous price like 22 cents on the dollar should by law be compelled to negotiate with the people paying those loans off at similar prices. Of course, these weasels are in business to make a profit, so let's say everybody in that particular bundle of loans gets a deal at 33 cents on the dollar. Sure, some folks will still be unable to pay, but if two thirds or more can pay at the reduced rates, there's a profit in it for the vultures and massive savings for the people who got in over their heads in a "no fault insurance" kind of way.

My dad was an insurance adjuster back in the day. He was very keen on no fault insurance.

Maybe the government could promise to reimburse these particular hypothetical vultures at say, 27 cents on the dollar for those loans where the borrowers can't pay under any circumstance. This would cost the taxpayers some dough, of course, but nothing like the horrific $700 billion price tag that we are being sold now.

Just a thought from my dad this week, which is one more thought than George W. Bush has had this year, as far as I can tell. I think the idea has some merit, and who knows? Maybe one of my student loans, which I'm paying back faithfully thank you very much, got put in one of these bundles, and I might get some fabulous savings. That would certainly be frosting on the cake for me.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The wheels on the bus go off and off...

10 days ago, the fundamentals of the economy were strong, according to John McCain. Now, his handlers say if the bailout isn't made law by Monday, five days from now, we may be in another Great Depression.

Wow, that's a dramatic two weeks!

So now McCain must suspend his campaign, because this problem is too serious and we might all be wearing barrels by Halloween. Oh yeah, there's supposed to be a debate on Friday. No time, whoopsie!

Honestly, is this how he thinks you talk to adults?

Senator, a presidential election is a serious thing, too, though it doesn't seem like a serious thing the way you do it. We would kind of like it if the next president could actually multi-task, because the crises happen when they happen, and you can't just call for a time out because this is a REALLY BIG CRISIS.

Remember, another big crisis that demanded instant action gave us the Patriot Act.

Why is it so big? Because you say so? Look, we've seen really big crises in the past few years, and I for one am not taking your word on this one. 9/11 was a crisis. Katrina was a crisis. We saw your party's response to both and frankly, we weren't impressed. But now, everything has to come to a halt.

To hell with you. Be a man and tell us why you should be president. If you can't handle that, be a man and send Sarah Palin out to really campaign, to answer questions from the press and audiences that aren't hand picked. Have her really say something, not the same tired old lies from her acceptance speech or the handful of phrases she repeats like she was a parrot.

Laura Bush says Caribou Barbie doesn't know crap about foreign policy, but I'm sure that just because old Crazy Eyes is used to dealing with girl geniuses like Condi Rice, Karen Hughes and Harriet Myers.

The economy has many problems, though you and your Republican pals were reluctant to see that for most of this year. I don't trust you people to fix this, and even if this bailout fixes this part of the problem, it makes the problem of debt in this country, both public and private, even worse.

Yay, Flags of many lands™! Yay, Namibia!

It may only be Padre Mickey who will get this reference, since I'm a weird old geezer, but I cannot hear the name of the nation of Namibia without wondering, "Do they have enough fondue pots? How are they fixed for the forks?"

Wednesday Math, Vol. 40: i, the imaginary number

Teaching math is tough enough, just dealing with the concepts, but sometimes even the language gets in the way. People grasp the concept of positive whole numbers fairly easily, and even zero, which is a tricky idea having a symbol expressing nothing, is now nearly universally accepted. But then we get negative numbers, and some people begin to have problems, and fractions cause even more trouble. Worse still, we have numbers that can't be expressed as fractions, like pi and the square root of 2, and it was decided that they would be called irrational. Then some clever guy decided we needed the square root of -1, and since it wasn't on the number line, it would best be called an imaginary number.

Many centuries ago, before the time of Isaac Newton, finding roots of polynomials was considered the most important thing in math, and the nationality of the best finders of roots was Italian. Instead of calling a person who excelled at algebra an algebraist, they used the word cosista, which translates directly from Italian as "thing-ist". Their goal was to find the thing, la cosa, so this was the word they coined.

The simplest polynomial that resisted having its roots found was x^2 + 1 = 0, and you have to admit it's pretty simple. To have a solution, you would need a square root of -1, and any real number when squared will be greater than or equal to zero. Okay, said one of the Italians, let's say there is a number that when squared equals -1, even though no real number works. Let's see if we can define such a number and work with it.

The square root of -1 was called the imaginary number. Some mathematicians used it, but many mocked it. Descartes thought it was idiotic. But the guy who really made an effort to understand it and integrate it into a consistent mathematical system was My Favorite Lenny, Leonhard Euler. If you have a number that is part real and part imaginary, it is called a complex number, and Lenny figured out how the math worked. If the imaginary number line was at 90 degrees from the real number line and the two lines met at zero, that would create the complex plane, and addition, subtraction, multiplication and division can be described by (relatively) simple geometric operations on vectors. This geometry is absolutely essential to the understanding of many scientific fields, most notably electrical engineering, but electrical engineers call the square root of -1 j instead of i, because there is nothing imaginary about it in their world.

After the excellent Euler, it is the great Gauss who makes the next most important steps in understanding the complex number system, including his many attempts to produce a good proof of the Fundamental Theorem of Algebra. Gauss did not give Euler much credit, or at least did not put him near the top of mathematicians, which is now considered an oversight on Gauss' part. He may have been miffed at Lenny for giving the root of -1 the official name of i, which stands for imaginary in a lot of languages. If Gauss had his way, positive numbers would be called direct, negative numbers would be called inverse and imaginary numbers would be called lateral or inverse lateral. (Yes, you can have negative imaginary numbers.) While I'm not thrilled with how little love Gauss showed for My Favorite Lenny, he was a fracking genius and he did have a very good idea here.

Of course, we have the problem that there are centuries of textbooks that use the words negative and imaginary, but maybe all we need to do is stay "on message". After all, now all swamps are "wetlands" and sludge is a "biosolid" and bad debts are "non-performing assets", why can't all mathematicians just start calling numbers direct, inverse and lateral? It's not actually a lie, just a re-naming, and it would make things a little easier for future generations of students and teachers alike.

Sometimes, even lying weasels can perform a public service with their example, if an honest person is open to a teachable moment.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Call your congresscritters - JUST SAY NO!

President Bush says that it's no time for partisanship on the massive bailout of the financial institutions that got themselves into boiling hot water by being stupid and greedy. What he really means is it is no time to disagree with him.

You don't have to be partisan to hate this deal, and it may not be possible to make it much better.

1. It costs too damn much. Whether it's $700 billion or a cool one trillion, we are talking about two to three thousand bucks burden for every man, woman and child in the country, and the numbers are even higher if we only count taxpayers. Democrats, Republicans and independents have to concerned about the price tag.

2. It gives completely un-American power to one person. The bill as it stands isn't some giant document like the Patriot Act. It's three pages long. And sitting in those three pages is this gem of a sentence.

Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.

Ah, hellz no, as we like to say in Oakland. This is America. Some bureaucrat does something, somebody gets to look over his shoulder. No one gets this crazy amount of power, especially Henry Paulson, who only thought this was a crisis when his old company Goldman Sachs might get brought down in this shit storm of bad debt.

The jerks from the Bush administration tell us this crisis needs immediate attention. To hell with them. They told us everything was peachy earlier this year when others on all sides of the political spectrum were pointing out there were obvious problems. They tell us that without immediate action, a recession is unavoidable. How often have they been right in the past?

I say let the next president deal with this. The advice of these thieves is worth less than zero. Call your senators and your representative and tell them to just vote no on this crap.

The suicide map

You may have already seen this map before, as it has been published in several places around the internet. It shows pictorially where male suicides are most prevalent in the Lower 48. The data is nearly twenty years old, but looking at tables from more recent years, the general pattern on a state by state level hasn't changed much. If they were pictured, Hawaii would be very blue and Alaska would be very red. Depending on the year reported, Alaska is often the number one suicide state, and is rarely below the ranking of three.

In the darkest red areas, male suicide rates rival the scariest murder rates of any urban area. As the legend on the map states, the regions are health services areas, so I would assume most data is collected by county. Since the colors are red and blue, it would be easy to make a red state/blue state comparison, but that is not a very good correlation. The Southeast of the U.S. is very Republican, and it's a little redder than the largely Democratic Northeast, but it a very pale pink compared the dark red West. This might be attributed to sparsely populated states, but that doesn't quite explain it either. Note that the deep red slash in the inland West doesn't include the sparsely populated Dakotas or Nebraska or Kansas or Oklahoma, but Colorado is definitely in the red area, and it is much more densely populated than most of the states that don't border the Pacific but are west of the Mississippi.

The very large red region best corresponds to the Sierras and the Rockies, the two great mountain ranges and the lonesome land in between them. There is a reddish area that spills out of the Rockies to Sierras region up in northern California and southern Oregon, an area dominated by forests and parts of the Cascade and Coastal mountain ranges. All these areas are generally considered beautiful, and photographers have taken many famous pictures in this dark red region which show the majesty of the territory. To my mind, most of this land is much prettier than the west of Kansas or Nebraska where the people are not as prone to suicide. But living in these wild, lovely, lonely places makes men in particular much more likely to kill themselves, a death rate that compares to the murder rates found in the worst urban regions, where the violence is blamed on many causes, not least of which is the scourge of illegal drugs.

Any ideas why?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Thoughts on the bailout.

Forget the technical definition of recession. Ignore the 1930's term of a depression. What we are experiencing now is best described by the popular 19th Century term for a severe economic downturn.

We are in a full-blown panic.

The Bush administration wants to spend between 700 billion and one trillion dollars of taxpayer's dollars to bail out the corrupt moneylenders who caused the financial mess. The idea is to buy a giant mass of bad debt that the market doesn't want. While "responsible" economists are in favor of this, voices left, right and center are against it. Honestly, when was the last time you heard Paul Krugman agreeing with Pat Buchanan and Bill Kristol?

Both McCain and Obama came out in favor of it, but now the Democrats are talking about conditions and not signing a blank check. One can only hope they will show some spine, but pinning your hopes on Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid is like to being a Chicago Cubs fan. After you've said "maybe this will be the year" for a century, you may still have hopes but not actual faith. Continuing this simile, it's late September and the Cubs really do look like the best team in the National League. Maybe years ending in 08 are lucky for them.

Returning to the financial mess, a lot of focus of the Democrats is on the bankruptcy laws passed a few years back when the Republicans were in charge of both houses of Congress and the executive branch. We definitely need to have these laws changed in a significant way, as they turned bankruptcy into something akin to house arrest debtors' prison. If the Democrats can tie bankruptcy reform to the bailout, something good could come out of this. If it makes the bill unpalatable to the Republicans and Bush and it is vetoed and the veto can't be overridden, so be it.

Those in favor of doing something, even a gigantic stupid something, point to the Japanese who did nothing in a similar situation in the 1990's and saw about a decade of slow to negative growth. Right now, I'm not sure any past result is a good analogy for the mess we find ourselves in today. But this pattern of unfettered capitalism for the big winners and compassionate socialism for the big losers in the markets is not the answer to the deregulated mess the Republican "free market fundamentalists" have handed us.

We need new leadership, and McCain-Palin with economic advisors Phil Gramm and Carly Fiorina aren't it. These people have to go. In 2000, we were told "the adults" would be back in charge in Washington. The "head adult" turned out to be Dick Cheney. The current crop of GOP "adults" may not be quite as evil, but they don't have the best interests of working Americans at heart.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sunday numbers, Volume 3: Sept. 21, 2008

First, a quick review of my methods.

Source: Pollster.com, a clearinghouse for polling data.
Number of states (and D.C.) with new polls this week: 49 of 51

What is the system for taking in new polling data?
0 new polls in a week: numbers stay unchanged
1-2 new polls in a week: Take the newest polling numbers. If tied for newest, take the one with the largest number surveyed. If that's a tie, flip a coin. (No coins have yet been flipped.)
3 or more new polls in a week: Take the median poll of the three most recent. This tends to downplay outlying data.

This week's numbers are good news for Barack Obama, but the election is still close. As of Sunday morning, the median polls in Pennsylvania and Florida both show a flat-footed tie, so 48 electors are up for grabs. If McCain wins both those states and doesn't lose any of his other states, he would be president. Obama only needs to win one, or gain the lead in a state leaning towards McCain without losing any states currently leaning his way, and Obama would be president.

States strong for McCain: MO, NH, SC, LA, GA, TX, AK, AL, AR, AZ, ID, KS, KY, MS, ND, NE, OK, TN, UT, WY
States leaning McCain: NC, MT, VA, NV, IN, SD, WV
Flat footed ties: FL, PA
States leaning Obama: MI, MN, WI, CO, OH
States strong for Obama: CA, CT, DC, DE, HI, IA, IL, MA, MD, ME, NJ, NY, OR, RI, VT, NM, WA

When the election is about serious issues instead of lipstick and pigs, this usually helps the party who can say "Don't look at us! Those guys got us into this mess!" I'm not happy about the bailouts, and I wish Obama would say "Enough!" and vow to get us out of the insurance business and the stupid game of Hot Potato with bad debt.

Who can say what the new day will bring, as we leave Summer behind and head into Fall?

Stay tuned, gentle readers. Same time next week. Same blog.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The two neglected pillars of successful blogging

It was William Randolph Hearst who said sometime last century that a magazine whose cover was graced by a pretty girl, a baby or a dog was destined to sell well. I've been doing my part to keep pictures of pretty girls in circulation here at Lotsa 'Splainin', but I haven't been as generous with the babies and dogs.

This is my small attempt to rectify both errors with a single picture nicked from I Has A Hot Dog, the canine companion site to the feline I Can Has Cheezburger.

And, by the way, iz not times infinity.

More information than you actually need...

About My People and Our Agenda.

Technically, this isn't a giant woman picture. This is a shrunken man picture. While many of My People like any instance of a large woman and a small man together, some are choosy. Some only want a woman who is larger than the things in her environment. Some only want a man dwarfed by the world around him.

It is believed that my maternal grandfather Garmaliel Rogers, born in Oklahoma, was kin to Will Rogers, though we don't have any paperwork proving it. As my maybe cousin Will once said, "I belong to no organized political party. I'm a Democrat."

Likewise, I belong to no organized group of sexual weirdos. I like the big gurlz.

And by the way, the picture is from an ad campaign by the clothing manufacturers Kookai, who did a series of shrunken men ads about a decade ago.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Nothing succeeds

I would like to go on the record and say I disliked Carly Fiorina long before I found out she was a Republican.

I will also admit I flip flopped on Carly Fiorina, in that I liked her before I disliked her. I was glad to see a woman get a top position, especially at Hewlitt-Packard, which was famously good to its employees for many a decade.

But as her tenure became more contentious, as she was responsible for more layoffs and more hiring of foreign workers to take American jobs, any time she got in hot water with the old guard at H-P, she was very fond of bringing out a line of defense that boiled down to "they're picking on me because I'm a girl".

No, they picked on you because you ruined the company and many people's lives in the process, though that didn't seem to cause you many sleepless nights.

A few years back, after she was fired from H-P, she said it was education that America needed to stay competitive. I don't disagree with that. A lot of people say that. But when someone who was famous for sending high tech jobs overseas says that, it just pisses me off.

I'm an educated person, Ms. Fiorina. But I can't be six times more educated than some guy with a degree in India. If I'm a software engineer, and thank God I'm not anymore, the Indian guy can claim to do my job for one sixth the salary, and you are the sort of person who would be happy to take my job from me and ship it to that guy.

Here's a little advice. After you stab a person in the back like that, it's not such a good idea to try to give him a pep talk.

She said some things this week the McCain campaign didn't like, so she is going to "disappear" for a while. She's still on the payroll, so she isn't getting the comeuppance she truly deserves, but I can applaud any bad thing that happens to Ms. Fiorina's work situation.

So Carly Fiorina "bounced back" from the ignominy of being fired for losing a company a boatload of money. Certainly there must be some level of public failure so great that a person is pretty much consigned to oblivion after some massive screw-up.

There must be, but it appears that the public screw-up must be worse than the one committed by Marcia Clark. The district attorney who rose to fame by failing to bring O.J. Simpson to justice still has a job, and a very public one at that. She's the legal correspondent for Entertainment Tonight. She dyed her hair blonde and maybe got a little work done, or switched to a much, much better make-up person, but there's our plucky little Marcia, dispensing tidbits of legal knowledge for all the rubes out in TV land.

Any idea what trial she's covering now?

C'mon, hypothetical question asker, that one's too easy. She's covering the new O.J. Simpson trial.

Yay, Flags of many lands!™
Yay, Mozambique!

Now that I have flags from 145 countries, including almost all of North America, South America and Europe, as well as much of Asia, new flags are fewer and farther between, but I'm always happy to see one more.


Friday means Random 10!

Try Me! James Brown
Past Three O’Clock The Chieftains
Beaten to the Punch Elvis Costello & the Attractions
Crawling From The Wreckage Dave Edmunds
I Told You So William Bell
The Love I Saw In You Was Just A Mirage Smokey Robinson & the Miracles
Red Right Hand Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Burning Down the House Talking Heads
She’s An Angel They Might Be Giants
Lady Marmalade Labelle

Last week closed with James Brown. This week he opens it up with an early song from his career before they figured out he wasn't a ballad singer. Nice triple play of Chieftains to Elvis (they worked together) to Dave Edmunds (he recorded Elvis songs and was bandmates with Nick Lowe, Elvis' producer). I'm sorry there is so little William Bell on YouTube, because discovering his stuff on the Stax/Volt box set was one of the highlights of those CDs. If you want a creepy song, you go with Tom Waits or Nick Cave or you don't go at all. More examples of my nerd street cred with Talking Heads and They Might Be Giants. And to close, Miss Patti singing her heart out.

If there's a heaven, and I get in, I hope they hand me a bass guitar, point me to the stage shouting "You're on, You're on! Go!" and I walk in and the drummer counts it out, and we start playing Lady Marmalade, and Miss Patti is blasting it out for all she's worth, 'cause she's worth a lot.

Yep. That would be heaven. Because that bass line is DA BOMB!

Please, no need to thank me.

It has been reported that Microsoft has decided to pull the Bill Gates-Jerry Seinfeld ads from the air after two versions have been aired for about two weeks.

Now, if I was Bill O'Reilly, I would take credit for shaming Microsoft into getting this crap off the air. But I am not Bill O'Reilly, and I thank God for that nearly every day.

To my credit, I ragged on some awful Viagra ads, but they disappeared before I did the ragging.

It wasn't the merciless 'splainin' of the awful suckitude that killed these ads and made the ten million dollars paid to Jerry Seinfeld one of the worst business decisions in this year of truly awful business decisions. It was the suckitude itself. I was but one man in a mighty army of haters of these commercials.

So please, there's no need to thank me. It's just me doing my job.

The one I don't get paid for. That I do out of the goodness of my heart.

You can't wear the Cranky Pants all the time.

I was going to do a rant about The Dark Knight and chide my many readers for the fact that no one warned me how bad IT SUCKED, but one does not live on bile alone, and I've decided to do a post about two quickie videos that do not suck.

The first one uses the mighty power of the words of Eddie Izzard, combined with the awesome animation techniques available to those who buy lots and lots of Lego. This was sent to me by my friend Alan Ponder, my host when I was in Santa Barbara earlier this summer.

The second is the ninja cat, stealthiest of all creatures taught the techniques of the stealthiest of all humans to create a stealth beyond stealth, a sneakiness that goes beyond the power of words to describe it, so we have to use pictures instead. This was sent by my sister Karlacita!

These videos do not make me cranky. These make me laugh. Try one for yourself and see.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Wednesday Math, Vol. 39: e, the base of natural logs

After pi, the number e is the most important and useful transcendental number. Remember that a transcendental number is not only irrational, but it is not the n-th root of any rational number. Unlike pi, defining e is not a simple thing, easily demonstrated with a visual idea. Just think of any circle, and pi is the ratio of the circumference to the diameter.

The number e is very useful in calculus because the derivative of the function e^x is e^x. Defining the number can be done in several different ways. It is the infinite sum of the reciprocals of the factorial numbers, where 0! = 1, 1! = 1, 2! = 2 x 1 = 2, 3! = 3 x 2 x 1 = 6 and n! is the product of all the whole numbers from 1 to n.

Another way to think of e is compound interest, and the number of compounding. If an investment promised 100% return on your money in a year, that would be pretty cool. On the other hand, it would be even better if it was 100% a year compounded twice a year. In six months, you would have 1.5 times your original investment, and at the end of the year you would get 1.5x1.5 = 2.25 times your original investment. If there were three compounding periods, you would do even better, four would be better still.

What if there were infinitely many compounding periods? In math we would call compounded continuously. Would you get an infinite amount of money? No, each time you increase the number of compounding periods, you get an improvement, but those improvements get smaller and smaller, and the limit of this compounding advantage is that 100% a year compounded continuously would mean you would have e times your original investment in a year.

The number e is named for my personal hero Leonhard Euler, who I tagged as My Favorite Lenny just last year, the 300th anniversary of his birth.

Math later. Lazy blogging now!

I would write "No time for blogging!", but I understand Dr. Zaius has trademarked that, and I really don't want to get into a legal hassle right now.

I am a little pressed for time this morning, so Wednesday Math will appear this afternoon. As a place marker, I give you this picture of a tiny little guy and a very tall woman. The 2009 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records is being introduced to the public, and the publishers decided to bring together the world's shortest man, He Pingping, who stands 2'5" or 74 cm, and the world's leggiest woman, Svetlana Pankratova. Ms. Pankratova is 6'4" (1 m 93), which is not the tallest woman in the world, but her legs measure about 4'4" (1 m 32).

It must take her all morning to shave those legs. Any volunteers to help her?

Now, now, let's not always see the same hands, as teachers often have to say.

And as a leggy blogging, excuse me, lazy blogging bonus, I give you a picture of Indira Varma. Ms. Varma is not always on a movie set or at a dazzling red carpet event. Sometimes she just on her way to do some chores or something and isn't all dolled up at all. Sometimes she wears a warm-up jacket with a zipper, and has her hair pulled back in a ponytail, and wears little to no makeup.

Yes, sometimes even Indira Varma isn't an amazing glamor puss, just an everyday, run of the mill GODDESS WHO WALKS AMONG US!


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

David Foster Wallace, 1962-2008

I've never read any David Foster Wallace. I had heard jokes about how long he could take to make a point, but I never stuck my nose in one of his books while he was alive. Clearly, that is a mistake on my part, and I have time to rectify it.

I never read any Jane Jacobs before I read her obituary, but after the fact I read and was very much impressed by Cities and the Wealth of Nations and I'm currently reading her last work Dark Age Ahead, though it is a little slow going because it is so depressingly accurate.

The major differences between Wallace and Jacobs are obvious. Jane Jacobs died from a stroke at the age of 89, an old woman. Wallace hung himself at the age of 46, a young man.

This is a mistake he will not have time to rectify.

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll has an appreciation of Wallace in today's column, including this passage from the commencement address Wallace gave at Kenyon College in 2005.

"Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful, it's that they're unconscious. They are default settings.

"They're the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that's what you're doing.

"And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving. ... The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

"That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing."

Cranky Pants meets Hatin' on Commercials: Bill Gates meets Jerry Seinfeld

Microsoft has come out with a new ad campaign featuring Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld. I am not alone in thinking this is in the running for the worst ad campaign of all time.

Let me repeat that.

Of. All. Time.

The ads are supposed to be funny. Let's stipulate that Jerry Seinfeld has an industrial sized barrel of funny at his disposal. But when you dump that barrel in the mighty ocean of NOT FUNNY that is Bill Gates, you get... NOT FUNNY.

The first ad is about Gates buying discount shoes at a mall. Is this funny? Are we supposed to think Bill Gates is a regular guy or some bizarre miser? With the way the economy is going, are we supposed to wonder if Bill Gates knows something we don't? Is this an ad for a fictitious shoe called The Conquistador? Do they ever really talk about the product?

Good questions all, hypothetical question asker. The answer to the last one is... never. They never talk about Microsoft in any real context. Seinfeld asks Gates “are they ever going to come out with something that will make our computers moist and chewy like cake so we can just eat them while working?” Gates adjusts his shorts to answer yes.

Not true. Not informative. Not funny.

The second ad has Bill and Jerry staying with a "regular" family. The family largely hates them. I agree with the family.

I'm hoping the third ad is an on screen apology with a vow never to make another stupid ad in the series.

The obvious impetus for these ads are the successful Macintosh series featuring two guys claiming to be a Mac and a PC. These ads are everything the Bill and Jerry ads are not. They are funny, largely because John Hodgman as the PC is very funny. They are clever. THEY TELL THE VIEWER ABOUT THE ADVANTAGES OF THE PRODUCT THEY ARE TRYING TO SELL, NAMELY THE MAC.

One of the sentences in the previous paragraph is more important than the others. Can you tell which one?

Yes, hypothetical, I can. I think everybody can.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Who's to blame?

People are looking for scapegoats after today's financial meltdown, which may very well have ripple effects. Some are blaming Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, some the Bush administration's lack of caring about regulation, but let's not forget Phil Gramm, who in 1999 did the necessary leg work to gut the Depression era Glass-Steagal Act, which put proper oversight in place to make sure the banks would not become the kinds of trusts which stole the country blind in the 19th Century and early 20th Century.

Gramm was sent to the woodshed for calling us a "nation of whiners" when we worried and rightly so about the shape of the economy, but don't kid yourself. He's still the main economic guy on Team McCain, and his corruption knows no bounds.

Just like the Bush administration, team McCain would make our country weaker in a dozen different ways.

Trying on the Cranky Pants for size: Burn After Reading

[Vague spoiler alert. If you skip the review, the main point is, don't go to see Burn After Reading.]

Tim Goodman, TV reviewer for the S.F. Chronicle, does some great stuff, and some of his best is when he is going to give a bad review, at which time he calls himself Mr. CrankyPants. This week, I am fitting myself for a pair of Cranky Pants, reviewing some movies and TV that deserve a damn good whacking.

The number one movie in America is Burn After Reading, the new film from Joel and Ethan Coen. If you've seen the ads, and they have been playing on TV for months, you'll see that it is has a great cast. John Malcovich, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, George Clooney and Brad Pitt, pictured here, are just the best known of the cast. A lot of other really good actors show up here as well, including Richard Jenkins, J.K. Simmons and David Rasche. The problem is that the movie is billed as a comedy, and it isn't funny.

There's a lot of swearing, and swearing can be funny, but not here. Characters have funny flaws, but I wasn't laughing much early, and after a certain point, I wasn't laughing at all.

The big problem is two very not funny acts of violence, portrayed very graphically. Some of the audience I saw the movie with were still laughing during the first pivotal scene, but I stopped and so did Jodi, the friend who went to the movie with me.

I'm not against slapstick, and not even against graphic violence in a comedy if those are the ground rules. I laughed my ass off at Shaun of the Dead, but I knew going in that it was a horror film/comedy. The Coen Brothers' earlier film Raising Arizona is about the kidnapping of a child, and has some very violent scenes, but it sticks to some rules. We see by reaction shots that the baby never thinks of himself as being in grave danger, and the worst violence happens to the comic villain, The Lone Biker of the Apocalypse, played by Randall "Tex" Cobb, but because he is nearly a cartoon villain, when he gets blowed up, it's almost more like Yosemite Sam or Wile E. Coyote.

Burn After Reading plays like a bumbling caper comedy, but then... BANG! Not a comedy anymore. The character who gets the brunt of the violence doesn't deserve it by showing evil tendencies. There's even a second act of violence nearly as graphic, and the second victim deserves his fate even less.

These are small spoilers, I know, but I want to warn people away from this flick. I really hated it, and now that it is so popular and getting generally good reviews, I get the feeling a lot of people will see it and come away disappointed.

Mr. Cranky Pants says save your money.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sunday numbers, Volume 2: Sept. 14, 2008

Welcome to week two of the Sunday numbers. This was a big week for McCain-Palin, as the ticket pulled slightly ahead of Obama in the electoral college. Depending on polls in New Mexico and New Hampshire, if the election were held today, the electoral college would either split 269-269 or 270-268 for McCain. In case of a tie, the election would go to the new House of Representatives state by state, so no one can say for sure, but little red states get an equal vote with gigantic blue states. Ick.

The expected value, which factors in probabilities of states, favors McCain, 275 to 263.

States strong for Obama: CA, CT, DE, HI, IA, IL, MA, MD, ME, MN, NY, OR, VT, WI

States leaning Obama: CO, MI, NJ, NM, PA, WA

States strong for McCain: AK, AL, AR, AZ, FL, GA, ID, KS, KY, LA, MO, MS, MT, ND, NE, NH, OK, SC, TN, TX, UT, WY

States leaning McCain: IN, NC, NV, OH, VA

Undecided states with Obama tendencies: DC*, RI

Undecided states with McCain tendencies: SD, WV

*I changed my mind about DC. I'll wait for someone to take a poll. While I fully expect it's three votes for Obama, I'll wait until there's real data, like I was a mathematician or something.

Next update next Sunday.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Padding a resume, or just flat out lying?

And the lies just keep on coming.

The McCain camp did the right thing today. That's one day in a row! They admitted that Sarah Palin never visited Iraq, but stayed in Kuwait. That's one of the problems with staying with the Army. They tend to tell the truth about such things.

So, one more resume pad has been removed.

More than that, the McCain campaign has been padding the number of people who show up at the McCain-Palin events. Bloomberg News went to the trouble of checking some claims made by McCain campaign, and the people who allegedly gave the McCain campaign the crowd size numbers say that they did no such thing.

Imagine that.

Then there is a smoke screen that is not quite a lie, but has the intention to deceive. When asked her opinion on the man made causes of global warming by Charlie Gibson, Palin said this: "Show me where I have ever said that there's absolute proof that nothing that man has ever conducted or engaged in has had any effect or no effect on climate change," Palin told ABC News in an interview broadcast Thursday and Friday. "I have not said that."

Nobody said you did, Sarah. What you have said goes more like this.

In an interview with the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner within the last year, Palin said: "I'm not an Al Gore, doom-and-gloom environmentalist blaming the changes in our climate on human activity."

Nothing there about absolute proof, she just doesn't believe it.

If a new drug were being brought to market and there were this many lies and misstatements and smokescreens and evasions, it would not only be pulled from the market, people in the company would be facing jail time. Sarah Palin is much more dangerous than a bad drug foisted on an unsuspecting public, because many more people's lives are at stake if she becomes president, God forbid.

She won't do. Gender has next to nothing to do with it. Lying and corruption and inexperience and her Rock F*#king Stupidity are the problem.

Using the L word.

Part of the political calculus being used by the Republicans right now is the tendency of the media to be "balanced", which means that if the press is going to report something negative about one campaign, they will often bring up a similar flaw with the other campaign, and even if they are not really of the same scale, they will be made to look equal.

But right now, many in the media are using the "L word". They are correctly calling John McCain and Sarah Palin liars. So much of the rollout of the new 2008 Sarah Palin model has been done with compelling stories that run counter to the truth, easily discovered lies. It's not just one or two. It's been a boatload, and having started lying, McCain and his campaign have had a hard time stopping.

Paul Krugman in the New York Times has a piece about several of the lies and the media's general reluctance to call them lies. Paul Sarobin in the National Journal wrote a long and dreary piece about how McCain is about honor and Obama is about empathy. I link to both, but I must say Sarobin's piece isn't worth reading, because he decided on a theme without looking at the facts on the ground.

John McCain speaks of honor, he sells baseball caps with the word honor, but he doesn't display honor.

Some will scream when this is said. He was a prisoner of war! How dare anyone judge this man! You did not endure what he endured!

The first and last of those exclamations are true. While all such experiences are unique, whose story can be put on the same level as McCain's? Nelson Mandela, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, survivors of the death camps and death marches during World War II.

But do those of us with more bland pasts dare judge him? Of course we can, and in fact, we must. Because honor is not like being a sports champion, something once achieved that can never be taken away. Honor is an everyday thing, something we all have to do, a simple decision not to lie, not to cheat, not to steal, to play by the rules. And day after day in this campaign, most notably since Sarah Palin has joined this campaign, John McCain has been without honor.

McCain has two great punchlines on the stump that he has repeated. "She sold the plane on eBay!" (laughter.) "And she made a profit!" (laughter.)

Great stuff. But both are factually incorrect. Simply put, both are lies. She put the extravagant plane bought by her predecessor on eBay, but it didn't sell. She hired an aviation broker to sell it, and it sold for $600,000 less than the purchase price, with a $31,000 broker's fee on top of that.

Right now, Senator McCain is without honor. To get honor back, he must start by repenting his sins. If he really wants the votes of the American people, he should confess his sins to them. And after that, he must go and sin no more. No more lies.

Having seen parts of his appearance on The View, I don't think he's up to it. There is no Straight Talk Express anymore. It's just an empty slogan, as he is an empty suit, the man who sells honor like it was a breakfast cereal, but has none to sell.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Ya know something that really bugs me, Charlie?

Ya know, Charlie, there's one thing that really gets my goat, Charlie. When I'm having a conversation with another person, and there's nobody else in the conversation, Charlie, and that person keeps repeating my name.

I first noticed it when I was with pushy salesmen, Charlie, usually when I was planning to purchase something expensive, Charlie, ya know, like some new clothes or a stereo or a car. Sometime when I was gonna plunk down hundreds of hard earned dollars, Charlie, or maybe even more.

Whenever I hear someone do that, Charlie, I get this funny feeling that they are trying to sell me something and I start wondering in the back of my mind, "Can I really afford this? The person talking to me won't tell me, I know that for sure. I'd better step back, because I know this person does not have my best interests at heart."

Charlie, didja ever find yourself in similar situation? Do ya know what I'm talk about, Charlie?

These are for you, McNulty.

Having just finished watching the final ninety minute episode of the final season of The Wire, I dedicate this week's Random 10 to detective Jimmy McNulty, a drunk, a liar, inconstant to the women he loved, unobliging to those under whom he served, a man so full of sin it becomes impossible to list them all.

But if you watched the show, you pretty much had to love McNulty, because his greatest sin was this. McNulty gave a fuck, even when it wasn't his turn to give a fuck.

McNulty was natural po-lice.

He was true murder po-lice.

And so, this week's Random 10 starts with the song played at McNulty's wake.

The Body of an American The Pogues
Valse #3, in F major (Chopin) Claudio Arrau
Veteran’s Day Matthew Hubbard
Hello Mabel Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band
In The Midnight Hour Wilson Pickett
You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet Baby Kirsty MacColl
Three Little Maids From School Are We Shirley Henderson, Dorothy Adkinson and Cathy Sara
There’s A Place The Beatles
Shabby Doll Elvis Costello & the Attractions
Three Little Birds Bob Marley & the Wailers

All over the place this week. Valse #3, Three Little Maids, Three Little Birds is a cute little coincidence. And that guy in the third spot, whoever he is, I'm sure that fits in somehow. The One True Living Elvis shows up twice, since he produced The Pogues' song in the lead-off spot. Kirsty MacColl makes her second appearance in as many weeks, covering a tune from the Smiths that sounds like it was written for Caribou Barbie.

And as for Bob Marley telling us not to worry about a thing, don't worry, WORK! There's less than eight weeks until the election. Get off your butt and do something.

As for the title of this post, it comes from this scene from the very first episode of The Wire, one of the many scenes that let the public know that this cop show was going to be different, and by different, I mean better.

And don't forget the dots. The deputy likes dots.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

It's a proud day to be a Bulgarian.

Hey, Matty Boy! Why haven't you been keeping us up to date on the goings on in the exciting world of women's international athletics?

Well, hypothetical question asker, I didn't know there was a big demand, but since you asked, here goes.

The Olympic qualifying women's ice hockey tournament is being held in Latvia, and Group A was playing their games in lovely Liepaja. While most of the world was not paying that much attention, it became worldwide news when the Slovakia beat Bulgaria by a score of 82-0.

For those of you unaware of the rules of ice hockey, the game is 60 minutes long. This is more than one goal a minute.

Bulgaria lost all its games in Group A. The Italians beat them 41-0, host country Latvia were rather rude to whip them 39-0, and Croatia narrowly escaped with a win by the score of 30-1.

The Croatians let the Bulgarians score? Does this mean they suck, too?

Good guess, hypothetical! The Croatians lost by scores of 9-0 to Latvia, 8-0 to Italy and 18-1 to the Slovaks. These would be stunning shameful routs if the Bulgarians hadn't been so jaw droppingly awful.

It does give as a new simile, though.

Blind as a Bulgarian goalie.

It has a nice ring to it, especially with the double alliteration.

I wish I'd written that.

I don't drink beer that often. I prefer red wine. But for a not too expensive evening out with friends, I'm always happy to go to some local brewpub. For much of the past twenty years, I lived in the East Bay Area of San Francisco, either in or near Hayward, and so my "local" was Buffalo Bill's on B Street. They have many beers on tap, some seasonal, some year round, mostly their own stuff but also beers from other breweries. This is not the place to go to get a Bud or a Pabst Blue Ribbon, but if you go into a brewpub, that's a given.

I often still have a glass of red wine at brewpubs, but I have tried many of beers and ales from Bill's. Tasmanian Devil is their "knock you on your butt" drink, the highest alcohol content at around 7%, and it is what I order most often. But I do have a soft spot for one of their original beers, Alimony Ale, billed as "The bitterest brew in America". Those who like the bitter flavor actually dispute this moniker, but the name is very clever, and I love the tagline: "It's irreconcilably different."

But for in your face marketing, it's hard to top Arrogant Bastard Ale, brewed by the Stone Brewing Company out of Escondido, California. And when it comes to taglines, well...

I wish I'd written that.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

New post on the Chimp 9/10/08

New post up on The Smirking Chimp entitled Sarah Palin, the Rapists' Best Friend. It's short, it's snappy, I could have put it here, but I didn't have a picture I wanted to put with it, and I'd like it to be read by more folks.

I connect two simple, well sourced dots to come to a inescapable conclusion. How would wise but fictional managing editor Gus Haynes feel about Ms. Palin's political judgment and her extremist and unyielding views?

Wednesday Math, Vol. 38: Pi, or the Circle and the Rope Stretchers

People have known about pi for a long time. It's an irrational number, which means that you never have a pattern in the decimal digits that repeats itself forever. It's also a transcendental number, a special kind of irrational number, which means it isn't the square root or cube root or n-th root of any rational number. I've heard of people who have memorized the first few hundred digits. I never saw the point. When I was a kid, we were told to round it to 3.1416; I learned that the first five places after the decimal were 3.14159, so that's what I used. I never went any farther than that in memorizing digits of pi.

The easiest way to represent pi as a concept is as the ratio of the circumference of a circle to the diameter. In ancient Egypt, some careful calculations were done that gave a very good rational approximation using a method called rope stretching.

Let's say we have a circle that is one cubit wide. Wikipedia says that there were a lot of measurements that called themselves a cubit over the millennia, but let's say this cubit is 22 inches long, or 560 mm. The rope stretcher had a long length of rope, and also an official length of rope that was exactly one cubit. If he wrapped the long rope around the circle and stretched it tight then cut it, he would have a length of rope for the circumference. He could mark the cubit length against the circumference length, and he could see that the longer piece of rope was three times the cubit with some leftover. What he would do then is cut a small piece of rope the length of the leftover, and see how many times it would go into the cubit. He would find that seven times the leftover is almost exactly the cubit. This means that pi is almost 3 + 1/7, or 22/7 if we write it as an improper fraction. This is a pretty good approximation, but the "almost exactly" is important.

If our rope stretcher had good eyes, he would see that a cubit is slightly longer than the leftover times seven, and the new smaller leftover is about .03 of an inch or .7 of a millimeter, small but not invisible. That new leftover goes into the original leftover 16 times, so this means 3 + 1/(7 + 1/16) is a better approximation. This isn't exact, but how much it misses by is not visible to the naked eye. There is evidence the ancient Egyptians used this better approximation. This is called a continued fraction, and to write it as an improper fraction, it becomes 355/113. This is a much better approximation.

How much better? Let's say we had a circle where the diameter was a mile. If we say the circumference of the circle is 22/7 miles, we are off by 6 feet, 8 inches. If we say it is 355/113 miles, we are off by the thickness of a sheet of bond paper.

Of course your calculator has a much better approximation inside it if it has a button labeled pi, but it is interesting to see how folks did math in the dark era before 1973.

Or interesting to me, at least.