Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Blog Action Day, October 15: Climate Change

Yet another Blog Action Day is upon us, scheduled for the October 15. If you have something to say about the changing climate, make a point of saying it two weeks from tomorrow and sign up at this website.

It's hard to keep track of all the crap that is raining down on humanity on so many different fronts. One of the major crap storms is a feedback loop due to our current addiction to cheap energy. We need it so bad, we go into environments we would have avoided at all costs only a few decades ago. This means we have to pay attention to ecosystems all over the world, and some of them are in major crisis. We may not see the effects of rising oceans or shrinking glaciers or melting permafrost in our own neighborhoods just yet, but these things are real and the human causes of the changes we've been seeing are denied at our own peril.

Please join me two weeks from Thursday and write something on your blog to help educate the folks that stop by.

Thank you for your kind attention.

Wednesday Math, Vol. 90: Are z-scores obsolete?

Statistics is a calculation intensive field and it has been for well over one hundred years. Some of the calculations are nightmarishly difficult to do, especially the integral calculus stuff. For that reason, one universally used method found in statistics books, both modern and historical, is the look-up table. Instead of asking students to find the area under the normal curve when it is cut by a vertical line at some pre-determined position defined by a z-score, the student only needs to find that z-score, round it to the nearest hundredth and look up the value on a table, so long as the z-score lies between -3.5 and +3.5. This is not a major inconvenience, as problems that produce z-scores higher or lower than those boundaries are very rare indeed.

The z-score is a middle step needed to find information. The idea is that you have data taken from a set where the average and the standard deviation is known. For example, let's say you get an 82 on a 100 point test. Is that good or bad? Some grading systems would say that score is a B, or possibly a B-. The idea of "grading on the curve" is to see if 82 is lower or higher than the average.

Example #1: If the average is 74 and the standard deviation is 5, then the z-score for 82 is (82-74)/5 = 8/5 = 1.6. This says that a score of 82 is 1.6 standard deviations above average. If this were a normally distributed set, that would correspond to a score that is better than about 95% of all scores. Unless the teacher using the "grading on the curve" method is super strict, this is probably worth an A.

Example #2: If the average is 84 and the standard deviation is 4, then the z-score for 82 is (82-84)/4 = -2/4 = -0.5. This says that a score of 82 is 0.5 standard deviations below average. If this were a normally distributed set, that would correspond to a score that is better than about 31% of all scores. This time, the 82 isn't worth a B or an A, probably more like a C or even a D.

Normal distribution as a concept is not dead. Nassem Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan, hates the normal distribution, but his is a mind without nuance. Normal distribution should definitely not be used in all cases, but in its correct venue it is invaluable. What could be going away is the z-score.

The z-score is a middle step. We need the raw score, the average and the standard deviation to find out the percentile. Going the opposite direction, if we have a percentile, the average and the standard deviation and we want to know the raw score that corresponds to it, there are methods for that as well.

If you use Excel, the formula to use to find a percentage given a raw score is =normdist(score, average, std. dev., 1). The "1" at the end is for a Boolean variable dealing with whether you want the information cumulative or not. No middle step of calculating the z-score is involved, the computer does it all for you. Likewise, if you want to find the raw score that corresponds to a given percentile, the formula is =norminv(percent, average, std. dev.). The most popular high end Texas Instrument calculators like the TI-83 and TI-84 can do these calculations as well, without ever resorting to the student finding the z-score. Besides being easier, the answers are more precise, because any table look-up system is prone to rounding errors.

This presents a conundrum. The z-score is still an important idea, it's just not a necessary tool anymore to get from one set of information to a desired new piece of information. A lot of math teachers over the past few decades railed against calculators, that the students were incapable of doing anything by hand. The teachers have a point, but they may be fighting a battle that is far behind the times. Calculators themselves may be getting out of date now that computers are so ubiquitous. It's a little like someone arguing that we should return to vinyl records and stop using compact discs when a growing number of young people look on CDs as an out of date technology, preferring the easier MP3 standard to move their music from a computer to a player or back.

To the outside world, math may seem like an unchanging edifice, handed down to us by great minds now long dead. But math at the forefront, seen by only a handful of people around the world, is most definitely still changing. More to the point of this post, math education, which effects nearly everyone at some time in their lives, is in a constant state of flux, and some advances which are clearly progress still come with a cost.

Yay, Flags Of Many Lands™! Yay, New Caledonia!

Like French Guiana and Martinique, New Caledonia is still a outpost of French colonialism, but at least the New Caledonians get their own flag.

Before this, the only thing I knew about New Caledonia was that it was an important destination for the getting of cool stuff on the TV show McHale's Navy.

Bienvenue, mes amis!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A true story.

In the 1920's, the Los Angeles Police Department was violent and corrupt at a level that is hard to believe. They bragged of their "gun squads", that had open battles in the streets. Some people brought into police custody were killed in private only to have the bodies dumped in the streets by night. While they needed a warrant to arrest someone, there was no such legal nicety about the cops throwing some citizen in a psychiatric ward. It may not have been on the same scale, but the L.A.P.D. of that era committed the same acts that were seen in Central America under the death squads or in Stalinist regimes in the Soviet Union, East Germany and Romania.

The situation was so bad that the Reverend Gustav Briegleb, a Presbyterian minister who had a local radio show, would often spend his broadcast not praising the Lord or trying to increase his flock, but railing against the unending stream of injustices perpetrated by the police.

Imagining a radio or TV program like that now seems nearly impossible, especially from a person of standing in the established community.

If this weren't dystopic enough, 1928 saw an increase in the number of disappearances of young boys. Through a lucky lead and not solid police work, a series of crimes were unearthed that became known collectively as the Wineville chicken coop murders. Wineville, about an hour east of downtown Los Angeles near Riverside, was so overwhelmed with negative publicity that the city fathers changed the name to Mira Loma in 1930.

These facts are in the public record. Earlier this decade the L.A.P.D. were about to destroy the original records. J. Michael Straczynski, best known for the sci-fi TV show Babylon 5 and known to his fans as JMS, was informed by a friend that these records were about to be lost, so JMS scoured the documents and made them the basis for his script for the movie Changeling.

JMS worked with the lawyers from Universal Studios to fact-check the final cut of the movie so that they could say the movie was "a true story" instead of "based on a true story". To get all the elements of the story into the movie, it was decided the protagonist of the movie would be Christine Collins, a mother of one of the missing boys assumed to have been at the Wineville chicken coop, though that was never proved. Her story allows the movie to explore the callous disregard of the L.A.P.D. in ways that would have been impossible if the focus had been on the murderer, Gordon Stewart Northcott.

My philosophical sticking point is with the very idea of "a true story". The truth is a messy set of things that happened. A story needs a plot, a beginning, middle and end, a main character and challenges for that character to overcome. A story can be triumphal or tragic or even a little of both, but eventually a story must end. The truth just keeps on going.

People who have done the research have only a few quibbles with the facts JMS presents. Some of the central characters in the actual events were left out of the film, most notably Northcott's mother, who acted as his accomplice. One confession was chronologically out of place for dramatic effect.

The big flaw in "a true story" comes from when we decide to say the story is over. In JMS's script, Christine Collins and the forces of justice are shown to prevail in an important aspect of a civil proceeding. Doing some research online, that moment of victory was undercut later by the punishment handed down to the wicked being overturned.

Story and history do come from the same root word. It is a natural thing for humans to want to make a narrative for the events they see unfold around them. But we should always be careful when composing a story from the facts of real life, because we may never know when, if ever, the story actually ends.

The changelings in Changeling

In 2008, Angelina Jolie starred in the Clint Eastwood directed movie Changeling. The plot of the movie sounds nearly unbelievable, but all the major events happened in Los Angeles over the span of a few years starting in 1928. Christine Collins, a telephone operator supervisor whose husband abandoned her, comes home from work one evening and discovers her son Walter has gone missing. The boy is gone for five months before the police inform her Walter has been found in the Midwest. When the young boy returns on a train, Mrs. Collins says the boy isn't her son, but the police persuade her to "take the boy home and try him out for a few days." When she persists in saying the boy is not her son, the police, already suffering from the publicity of several scandals, take steps to have Christine Collins silenced.

The movie's script, written by Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski, took a circuitous route before getting made, as many scripts do. Once it was finally bought, the plan was for Ron Howard to direct, but his busy schedule would have postponed shooting for several years, so Clint Eastwood stepped in as the director. Straczynski was very happy to hear Eastwood say that he wanted to shoot the script as it read on the page, which is a rarity for Hollywood scripts.

The two names that are above the title are Jolie and John Malkovich, who plays the Reverend Gustav Briegleb. While I liked both of their performances, I never forgot I was looking at Angelina Jolie and John Malkovich. Movie stars don't often disappear into their roles completely. In some ways, that's kind of the point, since the business model of movies around the world is that people come to see the stars. There are many very good actors in smaller roles who I knew from other films and TV shows who do a better job of disappearing, including Colm Feore as the Chief of Police, Jeffrey Donovan from Burn Notice who plays the police captain who takes credit for returning the Collins child to his mother. Two other excellent non-star turns are done by Peter Gerety from The Wire and Denis O'Hare from Michael Clayton as doctors working with the police to discredit Christine Collins' claim that the boy is not her son.

There is plenty of credit to go around in Changeling, but I like to give special notice to Amy Ryan, who plays the small but pivotal role of Carol Dexter. I have been a fan of Ms. Ryan's work in several films and TV shows before this, most notably in her role in The Wire on TV and her film work in Capote and Before The Devil Knows You're Dead. As much of her work as I have seen, I literally didn't recognize her here, so completely did she disappear into the role.

There are a lot of actors in the "He/She is always good" category. Amy Ryan is always flawless. I always believe she is the person she's portraying. Since she isn't the star, her job is often listening, which is harder than it looks. Her reactions are right on the money in every scene.

Ms. Ryan will be turning 40 in November and she's been working on TV since the early 1990's. Her window for becoming an overnight sensation has closed. But that doesn't stop me from counting her among the best actors in the English speaking world today. I'm so keen on her work, I've decided to add her to my Adopt-An-Actor list with Jeffrey Wright, Christopher Guest and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

It pains me to admit this, but I have only seen one episode of her most famous work, her recurring work on the American version of The Office, and I haven't her most acclaimed work, her Oscar nominated role in Gone Baby Gone, for which she won several awards from different film critics' circles. The movie is winging its way to me by Netflix as we speak. As for The Office, I'm going to pass. Humor based on the constant humiliation of a character has always been hard for me to watch.

In summary, I give a thumbs up to Changeling and recommend a whole bunch of stuff that features Amy Ryan, my newly adopted actor. Welcome to the family. Dinner is at 6:30.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Real and fantasy football updates - Week 3

This week, Frank Summers did not suit up for the Pittsburgh Steelers. I don't know how the pro football contact works, so I don't know if they even have to pay him.

Football is a vicious business model put on top of a vicious game.

The good news/bad news is that Frank's replacement was injured in the first quarter. We'll see if he makes it back into the line-up next week.

On the fantasy football front, the Mutant Mercenaries were the worst team in the league yet again, so of course we lost. Our opponent, Ashley Shaffer BMW, was the eleventh best team in a twelve team league.

How can you possibly win when you stink that bad? Play my team, of course.

Last week, the Mercenaries were the worst in the league because players underperformed. This week, the team was bad because of coaching decisions.

The high profile change, benching Tom Brady and putting in Joe Flacco at quarterback, worked like a charm. It was the changes with less star power, benching the Browns' D'Qwell Jackson on defense and the Texans' troubled wide receiver Jacoby Jones that turned out to be disasters, most especially Jones. Jacoby got a $5,000 fine for fighting and the announcement of being found guilty of a DUI this week. He went out and scored 31.8 points in fantasy football, far outstripping any wide reciever the Mutant Mercenaries put on the field this week.

Coach Omar Little has taken the blame for the loss, though the decisions were reached jointly between the coach and the ownership consortium, which includes Matty Boy and Hypothetical Question Asker.

"It's on me, yo. I did wrong." Coach Little said to reporters.

As the owner, I have to say that Omar Little is a stand-up guy, especially for a stick-up artist/cocksucker.

You have to respect that.

So who is the better dancer?

Choice #1: The bird dancing to the Egyptian pop tune.

Choice #2: The baby getting down with Beyoncé singing All The Single Ladies.

Notice I didn't ask "Who is the best dancer?" The obvious answer to that is Beyoncé.

The poll will be available until next Monday. If you like it then you oughtta put a vote on it.

Oh oh oh.

A little bragging and a lot of surprises.

I have some topics in the real world I want to discuss, but I woke up this morning to some stats from the blog that I found remarkable.

I have now been blogging for two and a half years, almost every day except for a few short breaks. According to Sitemeter, the software that keeps track of my website's statistics, these past seven days have been the most popular week in Lotsa 'Splainin' 2 Do history. There wasn't one colossal day among a bunch of average days, but instead, more than 400 people stopped by every day, with 600 stopping by on Sunday. For most of this year, I have been averaging about 300 visitors a day, This was going to be a very good week even before the significant traffic increase on Sunday. The weekends are often the slowest days, so this was a surprise on top of a surprise.

The cause as far as I can tell is that the gods of Google have smiled upon this place. People searching for stuff, all kinds of stuff, are stopping by to look at pictures. You might think it would be My People looking for pictures that further Our Agenda, and there is some of that, but not much more than usual. The Wednesday Math feature is getting more people looking at the archives, but not that many more.

The big difference this month, on its way to being the biggest month ever for the blog, is that scores of people every day want to find pictures of Irish Setters or Val Kilmer or The Simpsons or the globe, and they are coming to the archives of this place to find them. Regular readers will take note that I haven't made any of those topics a major priority over the past few years, not like I have with Indira Varma or lolz or even shopping at Trader Joe's.

Maybe this is my two and a half year birthday present from the Google.

Let me say thanks. Of all the presents the Google could get me, this is the one I wanted most.

Besides keeping track of how many people show up, Sitemeter also keeps track of what countries the visitors are from. There are some visitors whose Internet Service Providers are unknown to the Sitemeter software, and often the Unknown category is the second most popular, after the United States. The percentage of Yankee visitors usually hovers between 50% and 75%, but traffic was very high this morning. More than 100 people stopped by between the hours of midnight and 5:00 am Pacific time, when most of the United States is asleep. Less than one quarter of the readers were from the U.S. during that period, and for a hot minute it looked like it was possible the United Kingdom would pass the U.S. as the number one country on my list of visitors. That's never happened and it's never even been close until this morning.

I have two metablogging posts "planned" for this year. I hope my 200,000th visitor of all time will show up this year, and with some luck I hope that the total for 2009 will be more than 100,000 visitors. Barring something unforeseen and unfortunate, the first of those two events should happen before Halloween, and I might see the second milestone happen around Thanksgiving.

This last week was unforseen but fortunate. If this keeps up, who knows? Maybe Matt Drudge will realize he can't compete with Matty Boy and I will become Matt #1 on the entire Internet!

And maybe pigs will fly.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

It's finding that first joke that matters.

You recognize the President and the First Lady in this picture, no doubt. The real question is obvious. Who is the woman in red?

She is Chantal Biya, first lady of Cameroon. You may have seen her before. If so, it is unlikely you forgot her.

There are uncountably many jokes that could be made here, and I say that as a mathematician. The problem is that there must be a correct first joke.

If I make a correct first joke, it opens the door for others to make their clever comments. The ball rolls and rolls and much merriment ensues.

My problem is simple. I don't know the right first joke. I know who would know the right first joke every time, but alas, she is gone.

I miss Princess Sparkle Pony.

Because ritual is important.

Whenever I have a meal that goes well with tortillas and wine, I always take the time to say a few words beforehand, because ritual is important.

Some might say, "You know, Matty Boy, you are going straight to H-E double hockey sticks for that little joke!"

My only answer is, that might well be true. I mean, heaven sounds like a nice place, but how much fun would I have there with so few of my family and friends around?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Random 10, 9/27/09

The Love I Saw In You Was Just A Mirage Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
It's My Fault Darling Professor Longhair
Let's Go Get Stoned Ray Charles
Black Coffee In Bed Squeeze
Message To You Rudy The Specials
Breakaway Tracey Ullman
Honeysuckle Rose Rose Fats Waller
Town Cryer Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Solsbury Hill Peter Gabriel
Out Come The Freaks Was (Not Was)

Eight of ten on The You Tubes. There's not enough Professor Longhair on that site for my taste. There's plenty of Ray Charles, just not this particular tune.

Here is yet another list that makes me wonder how random a Random 10 can be using the Shuffle function on iTunes. It starts with three tunes from soul and rhythm & blues artists, then three songs from the New Wave era, then a jump to Fats Waller, the back to music from the eighties.

There have been a lot of articles speculating on this topic, and I used to discount those arguments. Now, iTunes has the Genius function, which is supposed to listen to your stuff and recommend artists not found on your list. I have to wonder if any of the subroutines used by Genius in the new software package also get used by Random.

Just sayin'.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The apostrophe posse.

You may already have seen this on websites with about a jillion times more traffic than mine, but from what I understand, having me put it here makes it "viral".

You know, like swine flu.

Let's review.

Greta Van Susteren has had bad and obvious plastic surgery.

She works on Fox News.

She's a Scientologist.

People working for her in the advertising department are serious morons.

Doesn't this mean that every human on the planet has cause to hate her?

I know that some people have problems with its and it's. People typing loose when they mean lose or vice versa is very common. Their, there and they're were put on this earth to trip us up.

But get's?


You have to work hard to make that mistake. Is it short for "get is"? No, that's completely silly. Is there something that belongs to the "get", and so it needs a possessive? Get is obviously the verb in this sentence and not a noun, so it's a little hard for it to take on the possessive form.

San Francisco columnist Herb Caen used to have items where he would "call the apostrophe police", usually for grammatically incorrect signs put in store windows. Mr. Caen is gone now, so I have deputized myself into an ad hoc apostrophe posse. We are planning to make a citizen's arrest.*

*(Note the correct use of the apostrophe in the word "citizen's". Nothing gets by Matty Boy.**)

**(Actually, things do get by Matty Boy, but never something this obvious.)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The undying stink of the 60's and 70's

Much of the culture wars of today are a re-hash of what happened during the administrations of J.F.K., L.B.J. and Nixon. Social conservatives hate almost everything from the era.

They hate the women's movement.

They hate environmentalism.

They hate gay pride.

They hate the opposition to the Vietnam war and any war America sees fit to fight. Social conservatives have only had doubts about a few of the stupid wars we got ourselves into over the last fifty years, and those were the ones started and ended by Bill Clinton. They didn't say a peep about the ones started by George W. Bush that he didn't have the sense to know how to end.

Some social conservatives now say they don't hate the civil rights movement, but I was there. They hated it plenty at the time.

And, of course, they hated the hippies.

I was a pre-teen in sleepy old Alameda when the Summer of Love was taking place across the bay in San Francisco. In general, my memories of hippies are fond, with one glaring exception.

I hate patchouli.

Until recently, everyone I ever met who wore patchouli perfume was a flower child or a wannabe.

If you don't know what I am talking about, consider yourself fortunate. Patchouli is the nastiest smell anyone ever put on their own body on purpose. An extract of a plant related to mint, it's like combining the sticky over-sweetness of honey with the acrid sting of paint thinner. The smell lingers in the air like skunk juice does. A professor in the Mills biology department told me that kind of unavoidable smell means the molecules do some kind of bonding with membranes in the nostrils. It's a truly miserable experience.

Yesterday, I was once again inflicted with the cloying stink of patchouli, though there wasn't a hippie in sight. I was on the BART train traveling two stops south of Lake Merritt to the Coliseum station when two middle aged women came on board at Fruitvale. Neither of them had the look of ex-hippies, but one never knows. One of them was wearing patchouli. It wasn't a crowded train, the air circulation system worked fine and the women went for seats in opposite directions of the car. Both of them got seats at least ten or fifteen feet away from me, maybe more. But I could still smell patchouli until I got off the train about four minutes later.

Gentle reader, if you are a user of patchouli, I beg you to stop. Even though the odds are good neither of us will ever smell the other, I consider the readers of this blog to be my friends, and friends don't let friends wear patchouli.

Some fads of the era, most especially patchouli, should remain in the distant past instead of chemically bonding to the olfactory systems of unsuspecting passersby.

Yay, Flags of Many Lands™! Yay, French Guiana!

Someone visited from the capital of the French colony in South America, the city of Cayenne, where I am sure the people are spicy, and hopefully not with patchouli.

I now only need a visitor from Guyana, the former U.K. colony, to complete the set of South American nations.

Lazy blogging Thursday morning.

A longer post later.

A lolz cat now.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Wednesday Math, Vol. 89: Mode

There are several ways to determine the "center" of a set of data. The three most commonly taught methods are mean, median and mode. The mean, also known as average, can only be done with numerical data, since you have to add up all the values then divide by the number of things on the list. The median can be done with any data that can be put in order. Once put in order, find the middle position on the list, and the value in that position is the median. For example, if we put all the students in a college in order by class, freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors, because students drop out there are likely more freshmen than sophomores, more sophomores than juniors and more juniors than seniors. This means the median is likely a sophomore, unless the drop-out rate is so severe that the median is a freshman.

Then we come to mode, which means the most common value in a data set, as long as there are any duplicates on the list. I was checking sources about the definition. I nicked the definition description seen here from a website for teachers, and I defaced it because as far as I've been taught, it's wrong. Mode can be used with any kind of data, whether it's a set of numbers of a set of categories. For example, if we have a set of cars, we can have as our data the make of car, or the model or the color. For any of those non-numerical variables, we can discuss the mode, which would mean the most popular manufacturer or most popular model or most popular color, respectively. In the example of college students above, freshman should be the mode.

There are some types of numerical data where order does not have much meaning, especially coded data. Take zip codes, for example. If we take a set of zip codes, we can take the average, but it is a number without meaning. Likewise the median has no meaning. This is because two zip codes that are a single number apart can be very far apart on the map. Locally, 94501 and 94502 are right next to each other in Alameda, but 94503 is up in American Canyon, more than forty miles to the north. For such a set of numerical data, the mode is the only measure of center that tells us something useful, and that would be the most popular zip code on a list of data.

Besides the lack of agreement on whether mode is just for numbers and can be used on any data set, mode has exceptions to the rules, something that isn't true with average or median. A set needs to have duplicate values to have a mode. If the data was the social security numbers of a group of people, or the registration numbers of a set of cars, we would expect that all those numbers would be unique, so those sets would have no mode. If there are duplicates in a set, but there is a tie for the most frequent value, then we can have more than one mode. If we take the set of U.S. Presidents and look at the variable of first name, the most common value is James, as there have been six presidents with that first name if we include James Earl Carter. If instead we look at last names, we have several that have shown up twice but none that have shown up three times. The modes for last name are Adams, Johnson, Roosevelt, Harrison and Bush.

And this brings us to Excel and its mode function. The nice folks from Microsoft have decided that there is no mode when dealing with a non-numerical set. Whether checking for first names or last names of presidents, the answer Excel 2007 would give on such a data set is "N/A", or not applicable.

If you are working with a numerical data set with no repeats, Excel will also tell you "N/A", and this time that's actually the correct answer.

The big problem Excel has, which is why I've shown this picture of their dark side logo in colors opposite the green and white they usually use, is that it will not tell you when a data set has more than one mode. If a data set has two values of 3 and two values of 77 and no other duplicates, Excel might tell you the mode is 3 or might tell you the mode is 77, depending on how the data is sorted.

There are workarounds. You can take a data set, let's say it's in column A in your spreadsheet, and copy it into column B. There's a function under the data tab called "remove duplicates". If we perform that on the copy of the list now in column B, and Excel tells us no duplicates, then there is no mode. If there are duplicates, type in this formula into the first cell of column C. (We are assuming the data is in column A from row 1 to row 100.)

=countif(a$1:a$100, b1)

Now in cell C1, the number will tell you how many times the value in B1 shows up on the unadulterated list in column A. Click and drag that function down the C column, and that information can be found for all the distinct values, regardless of whether the original data was numerical or categorical. You can then select columns B and C together and sort by biggest number in column C. This will tell you the mode, and it will also tell you if there is more than one mode, if the number in C1 is the same as the number in C2. In the case of the presidential last names, columns B and C would start as follows, assuming the original list of presidents was sorted by chronological order of their administrations:

Adams_____ 2
Harrison__ 2
Johnson___ 2
Roosevelt_ 2
Bush______ 2
Washington 1

It's always nice when there is a workaround for your problems, but it's better when there's agreement on definitions that avoids the problems in the first place. The more I study statistics, the happier I am my degree is in mathematics.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

That's not what your mother said last night, Trebek!

I haven't written about Jeopardy! since June of last year. I don't watch that often. I was told the rules pertaining to appearing on game shows are that you can't go on the same show twice without some special dispensation, so the bloom is off the rose for me and the game on which I won $25,550 way back in 1985.

But I did hear about Andy Richter putting a serious beatdown on the somewhat snotty Wolf Blitzer. This is the second half of the game that aired. There's video of the practice game floating around somewhere on the 'net, and Blitzer did poorly on that as well, as well as being dismissive of Richter. You can see he didn't miss everything, but he guessed incorrectly several times and paid the price. He also called Julia Child "Julia Childs" and they correctly docked him for that.

If we take into account that Celebrity Jeopardy!, like several of the special editions, is like slow pitch softball compared to the real deal, Blitzer did some solid work if his intention was embarrassing his family for generations to come. On The Huffington Post, several conservative commenters made statements to the effect of "He's on librul CNN, that's why he's so stoopid!"

Dudes. Ask a liberal. We don't consider CNN liberal. If Keith Olbermann or Rachel Maddow went on the show and tanked, then liberals would have to bow their heads in shame. But for us, Blitzer is just another pompous windbag who thinks he actually knows the stuff that scrolls across his teleprompter.

Kind of like a Jewish Ted Baxter.

If Wolf wants to feel a little better, he can take comfort that he is nowhere near as stupid as Sean Connery is, or at least the version of Sean Connery portrayed by Darrell Hammond. This is where this post's title comes from, as if you didn't know.

Real and Fantasy Football update - regular season week 2

The second week of the regular season is now officially over, and Frank Summers is still officially a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, but hasn't run the ball or caught a pass yet.

And the Steelers lost this week in a lackluster performance on the road against the Chicago Bears.

In Fantasy Football, the Mutant Mercenaries took a serious pounding, scoring less points than any team in the league this week, underperforming the projected score by 44 points and losing by 60 points.


As for my blood relatives also in the league, my nephew Adam's team, KennyPowersIsGod, got in the win column for the first time, beating the team that was the best in the league in the first week, getting some family revenge by beating the team that beat his dad's team in the first week. Adam's dad, my brother Michael, managed the 11th best team in the league this week, and since he didn't have the good fortune of playing the 12th best team in the twelve team league (that would be mine), his squad the Hornets fell to defeat for the second week.

My upcoming opponent is Adam's girlfriend Liz. Her team, Ashley Shaffer BMW, is undefeated and the Mutant Mercenaries are going to have to bring it strong or get their heads handed to them again. I will be conferring with head coach Omar Little as to the best strategy for who to play and who to put on the bench this week. Expect some changes.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The bird in question.

Blog buddy dguzman came down from Rohnert Park to Oakland on Sunday, and we went out on a little bird watching expedition. I first thought a walk around Lake Merritt would be a good choice, but on Saturday I took a bike ride around and the pickings were slim. So once she had driven all the way down here, we got back in her car and made the short trip from Oakland to Alameda to see what we could see down on the shore.

Delia likes the songbirds more than the shorebirds, but she did catch a few lifers over in Alameda, and then we drove down to a nice marsh near the Oakland Airport, where we saw a songbird new to both of us, a little black bird with a small crest on his head and a white diamond shape on his belly.

"Lark Bunting?" Delia wondered, but looking at this picture, we both agree that wasn't the bird we saw.

We guessed it might be a junco of some kind, but the pictures in the field guide dissuaded us from that. The closest match was the Black Phoebe. The bill is right, but this one had a little tuft at the top of his head and a lot less white plumage.

I went home and checked the website Delia had suggested. I thought the tuft of feathers might be the important clue, the website led me to the Phainopepla, which has a range in California, but usually not in the Bay Area.

Not a Phainopepla. Nowhere near that shiny and the crest wasn't as pronounced.

The best guess is a Black Phoebe that is more black than usual and having a slight bad feather day.

After our walk, Delia and I found ourselves in a bar, watching large young men run into one another at high speeds on the television. Given their markings and the habitat alluded to by the announcers, both Delia and I are confident those were the Cowboys and the Giants.

I want to thank dg for making the trip down to my neck of the woods. It was great fun spending the afternoon with her.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Random 13, 9/20/09

Águas de Março Antonio Carlos Jobim & Elis Regina
The Ladies Who Lunch Barbara Walsh
Coolsville Laurie Anderson
Daddy's Little Girl The Mills Brothers
Sardonicus UB40
Beginner's Luck Fred Astaire
So It Goes Nick Lowe
I've Got A Feeling I'm Falling Fats Waller
Bushfire The B-52's
In Germany Before The War Randy Newman
Pretty Women Alan Rickman & Johnny Depp
Knickerbocker Fukiya & Miyagi
Waterloo (English Version) ABBA

Last night, I consolidated the songs I had stored on my laptop with the stuff that sits on the desktop computer that is now my main machine, the gracious gift from my friend Alan Ponder earlier this year. I sorted the music by number of times a song has been played, and I only chose tunes that iTunes told me had never been played before on the new machine. Since I had forgotten a Random 10 this month, I decided to make this one a Random 13 instead.

11 of 13 are found on The You Tubes this week. There's actually a version of Bushfire, but it's an awful live version. The list is full of live versions, including Tom & Elis in the studio, Barbara Walsh on stage, Nick playing live with Rockpile, Fats Waller playing a brilliant medley of solo piano tunes, and ABBA playing Waterloo live at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974, taking home the prize for Sweden for the first time. I went to look at the tunes that have won the Eurovision Contest, and ABBA's tune is the only one out of the fifty plus songs that I know. There are some artists I know, but for truly world famous songs, it's pretty slim pickings.

And one final word: I have Knickerbocker on my computer because of a recommendation by the one and only Princess Sparkle Pony. As sorry as I am that she won't be blogging anymore, I am glad she decided to leave the website up for people to reference. Still some of the funniest stuff I've seen on the web.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Straw men and bar stools.

I was up in Sacramento on Thursday night at a bar, listening to my nephew perform. (More about that on my Facebook page, if you are interested.) I was waiting at the bar to get a pint, eavesdropping on a guy chatting up a lady. Neither of them were particularly young, so it wasn't a conversation of the sexy, flirty talk. It was pretty much a monologue, with the guy spurting out a long diatribe that you might hear listening to any of the goons on the AM radio dial.

His view was that letting progressives do what they want to do would be the start of totalitarianism. Oh, not with guns, but totalitarianism, just the same.

Seriously, do they grow them stupider in Sacramento?

Well, hypothetical question asker, I would say yes, a little bit stupider. It's easier to believe this sort of crap when you've never met someone from a totalitarian state. Sacramento is a big town. The San Francisco bay area is actually like living in a big city.

It's also remarkable that someone who fears the erosion of our liberties is pissing himself with fear over the health care debate, while I'm guessing he hardly batted an eye over the torture of prisoners and the intelligence organizations spying on citizens that happened in the last eight years.

You know, the actions that are the signature events of totalitarian states.

Some people who accept that evolution is the guiding principle of biology wonder if this blowhard isn't the contradicting evidence. From what I understand of the biological sciences, and I will grant I don't know as much as I do about math, this guy is evidence to me that intelligence is controlled by at least one recessive gene, and probably more. This limits the number of really smart people in the population to no more than 25%. If it's two recessive genes acting in concert, then it's 6.25%, and the more recessive genes in the mix, the worse the numbers get.

Now isn't that a cheerful thought?

To finish a gloomy post with at least a smile, I quote Adlai Stevenson. Years ago, a woman wanting to compliment the senator said, "Mr. Stevenson, you seem to be the thinking man's candidate."

Stevenson smiled and said, "Perhaps, madam, you may be right. But in a democracy, one must get a majority of the votes."

Friday, September 18, 2009

Artists, the Internets and my obsessions.

It should come as a surprise to no one that I go searching for pictures on the Internets of the stuff of which I am inordinately fond. This illustration of Indira Varma was done by an artist named Euan MacTavish. The hair and earring look like what she wore in a particular scene from Rome, where she and her husband are invited a much swankier party than they are used to attending.

This photo mash-up is credited to Bob Tokyo. A lot of giant woman collages focus on scenes of destruction, but I'm not very fond of that concept in general. I like this one, though, in part because of the color matching and in part because she's got a nice hinder. If I have any misgivings, some work should have been done so that she cast a shadow on the building. This would have been tough because the main light source on the model looks like it comes from the right, while the sun in the picture of the building is obviously just off camera to the left.

This falls into the category of "Beggars can't be choosers". While the options of My People have improved with the expansion of the Internets, we still qualify as beggars for the most part.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Those are people who died, died.

Looking at news websites and checking the newspaper, there were a bunch of names I recognized in the obituaries over the past few days, so I went to the New York Times' obituary site to check a more complete list. That list had even more names on it that I didn't need a story to 'splain who they were, so many that it moved me to deface an illustration by William Blake entitled Death's Door with a lolz caption.

The best known name was Patrick Swayze. He was youngest on the list but his illness had been tabloid fodder for several years, so it wasn't such a big surprise.

Other actors in the past few days include Paul Burke from the sixties TV show Twelve O'Clock High and Henry Gibson from Laugh-In. There was also a note mentioning the passing of South African actor Zakes Mokae, who starred in Master Harold... And The Boys.

From the world of music, there was Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary, and Jim Carroll, the punk rock poet, from whom I knicked the title of this post.

And if that wasn't enough in about a three day span, the obituary list also included Jody Powell, advisor to Jimmy Carter, former NCAA president Myles Brand and American tennis great Jack Kramer.

That's a lot of famous folks in so short a time. I'd like to ask whoever is in charge of these sorts of things to knock it off. Give us a day or two to catch our breaths, will ya?

My best wishes to the friends and family of all these people.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Wednesday Math, Vol. 88: 3-SAT

Last week, I talked about subset sum, one of the problems that is NP-Complete. NP-Complete is a set of problems, many of them easy to explain but all of them hard to solve in a general way. Any particular example of a problem is called an instance, and we can come up with a nice method that will take care of some instances in a very tidy way, but with any method for an NP-Complete problem, there will be instances that are very thorny.

The particular problem I talked about last week was subset sum, and this week the topic is 3 SAT. The idea can be put forward in many ways, but all the different settings are really different ways to look at the same problem.

Consider that you are a deejay at a gigantic dance club with seven different dance floors, and you have seven different turntables, each one broadcasting a song to one of the dance floors. Everyone in the club has sent you a card with three requests out of a possible fourteen songs on seven records, each record with an A side and a B side. Your job is to make everybody happy, play seven songs on seven dance floors so that everyone who filled out a card has at least one song playing somewhere that was one of their requests. You have 2^7 = 128 different choices for the songs playing on the seven dance floors, and it is possible that given the particular cards sent in, it will be impossible to satisfy everyone, that there will be at least one customer who refuses to dance. We will say you solved the problem if you can get everyone to dance, or if it is impossible, for you to state correctly that it is impossible.

I chose seven dance floors at random. The thing about any instance of this problem that isn't random is that everyone sent in a card with three choices, which is why it is called 3-SAT, short for three satisfiable. It could be many, many more dance floors with a record for each one, but the problem is officially solved when you put the records on and everyone dances, or you claim that it's impossible to get everyone to dance and you are correct in your claim.

I've tried to turn some of the classic NP-Complete problems into games that could be turned into phone app games. I still believe it's possible, but I haven't found the game that really clicks yet. My feeling that there might be that one that clicks comes from the fact that both Tetris and Minesweeper have been proven to be part of NP-Complete.

The search continues.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

True believers and confirmation bias.

In the 1976 book The Psychic Mafia, M. Lamar Keene coined the phrase "True Believer Syndrome". In the original context, it dealt with people who continued to believe in a psychic's powers even after the psychic had been shown to be a fraud, even admitted in public to being a fraud.

What a quaintly 20th Century concept this is.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan is given credit for the saying, "You are entitled to your own opinion, but not to your own facts."

Sadly, Mr. Moynihan is dead and his wisdom looks to be on its last legs as well.

People from every part of the political spectrum are convinced in conspiracies that look mad to the outside world. Orly Taitz, pictured here, is Queen of the Birthers, the people certain that Barack Obama isn't a citizen and therefore isn't actually president. In general, most people who believe any of the 9/11 conspiracy theories are from the left wing, though that isn't 100%, as many people who hate government hate it no matter what party is in charge. For example, Lyndon LaRouche's world view makes Queen Elizabeth, Dick Cheney and Al Gore all out to be horrible villains, and no one has yet successfully explained the logic of that threesome to me. With luck, no one ever will.

The original phrase true believer syndrome came from the study of psychics, and similar strongly held belief systems form around ideas from "alternative medicine". Whether the belief is from the stand point of New Age methods of healing or from the belief in the power of prayer held by some Christians, the need to believe is so strong that every success that coincides with a treatment or a prayer intervention is clearly due to that act, while failures are chalked up to not enough faith.

Either way, the believers can't lose. The patients, on the other hand, aren't so lucky.

In the modern world of conspiracy theories, people demand the right to their own facts. Any debunking can be ignored as coming from a biased source. To conservatives, people on the left are moonbats or libtards, either crazy or stupid. To liberals, people on the right are wingnuts or morans, either crazy or stupid. (Cropped out of this iconic picture is the "GO USA" sign in the left hand of Mr. Mullet with the Flag Doo-Rag.)

It's time to admit that not everyone on the other side of an argument is either crazy or stupid.

I blame the media in part. The media loves shrill like nobody's business. If there had been just general booing and catcalling during Obama's speech on health care, it wouldn't have nearly as interesting as it became when Joe Wilson shouted out "You lie!" in a voice loud enough to be heard. That supposedly objective people have disproven his claim means nothing to his supporters. As soon as someone contradicts a belief of a true believer, the gainsayer loses all claim to neutrality.

But if I had to point to the major cause for the shattered nature of our society, I would go with the Internet. It's so easy to decide in what part of the 'Net you want to spend your time. The same way that the 'Net lets folks with odd interests like My People and Our Agenda know we are not alone in the world, it also lets people get only the information that will confirm their beliefs, not the information that could make them have doubts. This is confirmation bias. It has always existed, but the Internet makes it worse than ever by being easier than ever.

Here I am, trying to be fair, but I am on the left wing side of most issues. I'm not saying I will never change, but given my age, major change seems unlikely right now. One of my major problems is that those who deny science have much more sway on the conservative side of the ledger than they do on the liberal side. That's a deal breaker for me.

Here's a video from the CollegeHumor website comparing how imperial stormtroopers feel about the destruction of the Death Star to American's feelings about 9/11. I saw it first on the Facebook page of my friend Jeremy Gross. I post it in part because I found it funny, but also because we should know that even a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, there were true believers and confirmation bias.

Real and fantasy football update - Week 1, regular season

According to the Pittsburgh Steelers' depth chart, Frank Summers is the #1 fullback on the team.

In the 21st Century, that doesn't mean as much as it used to, as a lot of teams don't play the fullback that often.

Frank suited up and played, but didn't carry the ball or catch a pass, used only as a blocker.

My nephew Adam has invited my to play fantasy football this year. As my friend Jodi puts it, fantasy football is like Dungeons & Dragons for people who used to beat up people who played Dungeons & Dragons.

My team, the Mutant Mercenaries, was projected to be the worst team in the league by the computer. But managed by the legendary Baltimore stick-up artist Omar Little, the Mercenaries easily won the first game against We Got Vick, outscoring the opponents by 75 points. Outstanding performers were the Philadelphia Eagles' defensive squad, who got five interceptions, two recovered fumbles and two return touchdowns against Carolina, and Tom Brady, who led the Patriots to a comeback win against Buffalo.

There were some under-performing players on the squad as well. I was not impressed by Lance Moore or Mewelde Moore, so next week, the team will have less Moores. While Omar Little is famed for his loyalty, the owner of the Mutant Mercenaries is about as loyal as former fictional Baltimore mayor Clarence Royce, which is to say, almost not at all. It will be interesting to see how many players originally signed by the Mercenaries make it all the way to the end of the season with the team.

Next opponent: The Golden Domers, who also won their first game.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Better Than Nate.

So what would possess you, a mild-mannered math professor, to compare yourself to Nathan Fillion?

That's a fair question, hypothetical question asker.

True, he's younger than I am and a few inches taller. He's been the star of several TV shows and had featured roles in major motion pictures.

Some might call him handsome, if you go for that lanky, square jawed look with a natural boyish charm.

Did you know he dated Tricia Helfer for a while, that long, cool drink of water who played Number Six on Battlestar Galactica?

I'll admit it. I did not date her.

Okay, he's younger, richer, more famous than I am, with more notable success with the honeys. Besides the ability to classify simplicial complexes, how can I think of comparing myself to Nathan Fillion?

If you believe the lyrics of the songs in Commentary! The Musical, Nathan was jealous of his co-star in Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, Neil Patrick Harris. Nate felt it was unfair that NPH should get more songs and screen time just because Neil played the title character and had starred on Broadway. On the commentary soundtrack, Fillion sings Better Than Neil, putting forward the arguments claiming his superiority over his more successful castmate.

One of Nate's strongest arguments was that he had the high score on Ninja Ropes Extreme, a phone app game that several people enjoyed during the downtime of the shoot.

119.7 yards.

What's Matty Boy's best score?

132.6 yards.

Suck it, Fillion.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

What's a little lie between friends?

There was a demonstration in Washington D.C. yesterday. This is not a picture from that scene, but it does contain Matt Kibbe, leader of FreedomWorks, one of the groups organizing the protest.

Kibbe said on a microphone to the crowd that ABC News told him there were between 1,000,000 to 1,500,000 on hand. The crowd gave a not particularly mighty roar for an audience that size.

The thing is, ABC News said nothing of the sort. Not even close. The crowd was estimated between 60,000 and 70,000. For unknown reasons, Kibbe decided multiplying by ten was too conservative, so he tried multiplying by twenty.

To be fair, 60,000 people is definitely a crowd. But this one was pushed hard on Fox News, and this was a tiny drop in the bucket compared to the worldwide crowds who protested before the invasion of Iraq.

Here is a picture of Market Street on the day of the big protest in February 2003. Official estimates were between 60,000 and 70,000, but the officials were lying. There was an aerial photograph that showed not only Market Street this clogged, but also the open space of the Civic Center where the speeches were given packed with people.

I've been to sporting events with crowds of 85,000 when Brazil played Cameroon in the World Cup in 1994. This was bigger. The organizers claimed 200,000 to 400,000, and that sounds about right. On that day, San Francisco was one of dozens of cities around the world that had such protests.

There's another big difference. The people who protested the war in Iraq had a point. It was a bad idea, a waste of our money and our blood. The people who are against health care reform are wrong. Our system does not work well when compared to any other industrialized nation in the world, and the big problem is the dominant position of the profit motive.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Less chaos, but chaos nonetheless

It was about a year ago we were informed that the entire financial sector was up to its eyeballs in debt and had to be bailed out, lest another great depression started. We bailed them out, and we now have real unemployment levels in the double digits.

So glad we averted that crisis.

The news tends to focus on the stock market, which has seen major volatility. Two years ago, the Dow Jones was hovering around a high water mark of 14,000. One year ago, it was around 12,000. Six months ago, it bottomed out below 7,000 and has now climbed back to 9,600. A lot of people had a lot of wealth on paper vanish.

There were other madhouses going in different directions. The dollar was incredibly weak during the worst of the turmoil. Crude oil notoriously climbed to over $140 a barrel in the summer of 2008, only to plummet to less than $40 a barrel at the beginning of 2009. In the middle of this worldwide depression, where people are spending less in general, the price of crude oil is now at about $70 a barrel. That price is not as startling as it was in the last summer of George W. Bush's miserable stewardship of the economy, but I still don't see how the price doubles in less than a year when the economy is in such a bleak situation.

And then there's gold and silver. The metals often do well when there's either inflation or weakness in the dollar. The dollar is showing weakness in the short term, but nowhere near as bad as it was in Crazy '08. The CPI says prices are decreasing so far for the year. But, as of close of the markets on Friday, gold is selling for more than $1,000. This is only the second time in history an ounce of gold has cost more than three digits worth of greenbacks.

The prices of gold and silver correlate pretty well, but not perfectly. The last time gold was above a grand an ounce in March 2008, silver was over $20 an ounce, the high water mark for that commodity in quite a while. When both prices fell from their high points, silver fell harder. Gold lost about 25% of its value, while the price of silver dropped over 50%. Still, both metals made a comeback. In February, gold finished a week at $993.20 and silver was at just over $14. Both fell from those prices, but not as steep a drop as they saw in 2008. Now both are on the upswing, and silver is showing a better percentage increase. As gold closed yesterday at $1005.10, silver was at $16.73.

Matty Boy, Investment Advisor to the Stars*, is not in love with the precious metals right now. I don't pretend I can make sense of the markets, and I deeply distrust anyone who says that they can. Still, I think the $1,000 mark is a strong psychological barrier for gold, and that a lot of people put in sell orders when that price is reached. Moreover, if it's a hedge against inflation, inflation is the least of our worries right now.

My read of the situation is that the markets are still being gamed. The speculators seem slightly less insane than they were when they drove the whole of the world economy over a cliff, but things that are supposed to be historically linked aren't linked anymore. Americans are saving, and it's about friggin' time, but we have an economy based on the model of Americans having as much sense collectively as a group of sailors, each with his own personal fifth of Old Crow.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The 24 hour news cycle... Yur doin' it wrong.

When you bring disgrace to you and your family, what's the best way to handle it?

Well hypothetical question asker, one of the best is to apologize, resign and get the hell off stage.

California assemblyman Michael Duvall almost got it perfect yesterday. He was caught on audio tape yapping about having sex with a lobbyist, telling a story with wonderful details like spanking and pirate eye-patch underwear. After originally saying "no comment", within 24 hours of his local story embarrassment becoming national, he apologized and resigned. Way to go, Mr. Duvall!

Except he forgot... the get the hell off stage part.

He saw some reporters with microphones and he just couldn't resist. Now we are supposed to believe that none of it is true. He is NOT a serial fornicator whose marriage vows mean nothing. He's just a sad old fat guy who makes stuff up to impress people who probably aren't that impressed with a guy who won't shut up about his sexual exploits.

I mean, like, if this guy is talking to you about having sex, aren't you going to naturally have to picture him having sex in your mind's eye?


But he still resigned.

Let's do the quick roll call of 21st Century Republican sex scandals, shall we?

Larry Craig: Pleads guilty in court of lewd conduct, though to be fair, this is the sex scandal with the least amount of actual sex involved.

Craig did not resign, but didn't run in 2008.

David Vitter: The D.C. Madam scandal finds his name on the list of clients. He likes dressing up in diapers.

He did not resign and is still in the Senate.

John Ensign: Admitted without being caught that he had sex with a staffer, a woman whose husband is also on the staff, so to speak. Plenty of money gets paid to the woman and her family through several channels, including about $96,000 from Ensign's parents to the woman in question, and a staff position for the woman's son for a few months.

He did not resign and is still in the Senate.

Mark Sanford: Caught lying about his whereabouts after going missing for a very long weekend, Sanford admits he was in Argentina with the woman he loves deeply, who sadly is not his wife of twenty years and mother of his four children. For days and days, Sanford will NOT SHUT UP about how much he loves the little Argentinian home wrecker, thinking that somehow he's making the situation better by rubbing his family's nose in it again and again and again.

He did not resign and is still governor of South Carolina, though the legislature may have something to say about that before long.

Apparently, having extra-marital sex, either the kind you pay for or the kind you make your family pay for, is not reason enough for a Republican to resign nowadays. But if the world finds out you are a sad old fat guy with a big mouth and an over-active imagination, you are unfit for public office and must leave immediately.

I'd like to leave a wake-up call. Call my room just as soon as the world makes sense again.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Shame and guilt

Let's say for argument's sake there is a difference between shame and guilt. The primary definitions of both words are very similar, but following definitions and clarifications show a split. Guilt is feeling bad about something because you know you did wrong. Shame is feeling bad about being caught doing something wrong.

The Republicans have plenty to feel guilt about and to feel shame about, but many Republicans clearly aren't feeling one or the other of these emotions at the appropriate moments. The disgraceful actions of some of the Republican representatives during Obama's speech last night has produced little guilt. The guy who yelled "You lie!" during the speech about a statement that the fact checkers say the president got right and the rude scumbag got wrong was shamed into apologizing for being a rude scumbag, but the apology shows he feels no guilt about making his own facts.

Closer to home, a California assemblyman was undone by that enemy of all politicians everywhere, the live microphone. Mike Duvall of Orange County was waiting for a committee meeting to begin when he started talking to a colleague about how much he was enjoying having sex with a lobbyist about twenty years his junior. He was particularly fond of spanking her, which he really liked because she is such a "bad girl".

So a local TV station gets ahold of the audio tape that they sync up to a videotape from the same committee meeting, and they try to get Duvall's reaction. His reaction is like that of a cockroach to a light going on at 3:00 am, and he scurries away as quickly as he can.

Ambush journalism. So funny!

But within 24 hours of being caught graphically explaining how much fun it is to have your hand in the cookie jar, Mike Duvall, who regularly got 100% ratings from groups interested in the family values issues, feels enough shame to resign his post.

In the 21st Century, this is rare for Republicans. Democratic governors of New York and New Jersey have resigned recently over sexual scandals, but a hell of a lot of Republicans either get caught and decide not to resign. Some, like Mark Sanford, don't seem to show either guilt or shame, talking about the pure love he felt with a woman not his wife and refusing to resign even when people in his own party are talking impeachment.

So at least Duvall resigned when the truth came out. Baby steps are important. There is a famous definition of an honest politician as someone who once bought, stays bought. A slightly less famous take on the honor of elected officials comes from former Speaker of the California Assembly, Democrat Jesse Unruh. Mr. Speaker, very powerful in his day but largely forgotten now, is given credit for these deathless words.

"If you can't drink a lobbyist's whiskey, take his money, sleep with his women and still vote against him in the morning, you don't belong in politics."

And now you may go about your day's business, feeling wiser.

UPDATE: Dr. Zaius also has a post about Duvall and his lobbyist friend, adding the exciting detail of pirate eye-patch underwear! Not to be missed.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

One princess too few.

(photo by Jeff Goulding/Hudson Valley Times Herald Record)

Crown Prince Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands and his wife Princess Maxima were on hand in New York for a 400th anniversary of something or other, and there were plenty of pictures of the royal couple from many news outlets. Here, the Dutch royals are chatting amiably with cadets at West Point.

(photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Princess Maxima isn't exactly the dutch Ursula Plassnik, since she stands a "mere" 5'10" tall, but she does have an exciting concept of what is fashionable. Wearing unapologetic multi-inch heels, she makes Mayor Bloomberg look like a wee, wee mannie indeed.

Of course, these aren't the sort of pictures that really belong on this blog. This is a prime example of something Princess Sparkle Pony would have done a much better job with than I ever could. PSP would have had funnier captions and probably chosen better pictures from the many news outlets available.

I miss Princess Sparkle Pony.