Wednesday, March 31, 2010

LL Cool J keeps it real.

Sarah Palin will be hosting a show about inspiring American stories on Fox News, and in the promo it shows she will profile ordinary Americans as well as famous people like Toby Keith, Jack Welch and LL Cool J.

Except nobody told LL Cool J.

The rapper whose name means Ladies Love Cool James put a message out on Twitter that he gave Fox an interview two years ago, that he had no idea it would be on this show he never heard of, and he considered the whole thing pretty desperate. Fox has reconsidered and pulled his segment from the show.

I am so glad he did this, because I would never again have been able to listen to my favorite Cool J beats. Out of respect for the man keeping it real, I give you his 1989 hit Goin' Back To Cali, pulled fresh off The You Tubes. It's definitely old school, as in hip replacement old, but still I love it.

Cool J and Sarah Palin? Excuse me, I don't think so.

Wednesday Math, Vol. 114: Divisibility

What math can I as a teacher expect everyone to know? Very little, actually. The basics of divisibility is a topic the vast majority of people have internalized, even those who tell me they hate math. By the basics, I mean divisibility by 2, divisibility by 5 and divisibility by 10.

Nearly no one is confused by even and odd. Look at the digit in the one's place, the far right side of the number. 0, 2, 4, 6 and 8 are the even digits, 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 are the odd digits. What it means is that an even number is divisible by 2 and an odd number isn't. Any even number is 2 times some other whole number, like 296 is 2 times 148, and 148 is 2 times 74 and 74 is 2 times 37, but 37 is odd, so it isn't a multiple of 2.

Divisibility by 5 also has a simple rule. The one's place digit must be 5 or 0 for a number to be a multiple of 5. Multiples of 10 have a last digit of 0, which is the both even and divisible by 5, since 10 is 2 times 5. 745 is 5 times 129, but 129 isn't a multiple of 5.

When we get to the rule for divisibility by 3, some students know it and some don't. It's not quite as easy as the rules for 2 and 5, but it's something people can do in their heads. Take the sum of all the digits in the number. If that number is a multiple of 3, the original number is a multiple of 3 and if it's not, the original number was not. Take 7,321,058 for example, as a number I typed on a whim. 7+3+2+1+0+5+8 = 26, and 26 is not divisible by 3, so neither is 7,321,058. On the other hand 7,321,059 has a digit sum of 7+3+2+1+0+5+9 = 27, and that is divisible by 3, so the larger number is a multiple of 3 as well. This rule also works for divisibility by 9, take the digit sum and check if that is divisible by 9. It was called "casting out nines" back in the day, and it was one of the topics taught in Robinson's New Higher Arithmetic back at the end of the 19th Century and in the early 20th Century.

Pictured here on the left is what we call a lattice in math. You can think of this as a three dimensional structure, if you like. There are lines that go left, lines that go right, and a third set of lines that go obliquely to the right. If two circles are connected by a line segment slanting to the right, the higher one is 3 times the lower one. If the connection is left slanting line, the larger number is 5 times the smaller. The lines that go obliquely to the right represent multiplication by 2. Only numbers that are multiples of just 2, 3 and 5 are in this picture, and the largest is 400.

If we included numbers divisible by 7, for instance, we'd need to add lines that were at some new angle like 90 degrees or 120 degrees. That would make this a four dimensional lattice, and when we get past three dimensions, more than a few students get confused. If we wanted to represent all numbers in such a lattice, every prime number would need its own angle, and since there are infinitely many primes, we would get an infinite dimensional lattice.

If you understood everything above the picture, but got a little dizzy reading the explanation of a lattice, don't worry. That's how I designed the lesson. Divisibility by 2 and 5 really is easy, and 3 isn't much harder. The structure of divisibility is beautiful, but it's definitely not something that "everyone should know".

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Chapter Five, Verses Ten and Eleven.

Yesterday, a judge decided that the father of a dead marine was obliged to pay the legal fees of the Westboro Baptist Church, a small sect from Kansas under the guidance of the Rev. Fred Phelps. The WBC sends its members around the country to stage protests at the funerals of fallen soldiers to publicize their view that the soldiers we lose in the wars we have chosen to fight are not the natural consequence of war, but rather the supernatural will of God to punish this country that does not hate homosexuality as much as the Rev. Phelps hates it. One grieving parent tried to sue the Church to make them desist from doing this to other families. The judge has decided that the WBC members are within their First Amendment rights to the freedom of religion, freedom of speech and the right to assemble peaceably.

"Common sense" accepts the view that religion makes people better. I disagree. Religion amplifies people. Those with love in their hearts can find more strength to do good in the world. Those who hate things can make themselves believe that God hates those same things just as much. The WBC have done everything in their power to make themselves repellent even to people who may agree with them about homosexuality. Personally, I think they have just taken the Bible and made some verses more important than others.

It's a big book. It's impossible to do otherwise.

Consider Matthew 5:10-11, two verses from the end of the Beatitudes, the list of the blessed from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. This is often put forward as the epitome of God's sweetness and light and the great comfort to the afflicted of this world.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

There is no question but that Rev. Phelps and his followers believe these verses are meant for them. They have no reason to be meek, because they do not want to inherit the earth. They are not interested in the rewards given to the merciful or the peacemakers. They want the kingdom of heaven, so they want to be persecuted. I doubt they believe their actions will change public policy towards gays. Their own salvation is much more important to them.

There is no part of the Bible that cannot be twisted by someone who is intent on nurturing the hatred that any human being can find in his or her heart with just a little effort.

And so, in my modest way, I have added to the persecution of the Rev. Fred Phelps and his flock, though I do not claim I have borne false witness against them. Let me say to them, you're welcome. If you want to thank me, a fruit basket would be nice.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Big Ugly Stick, meet The Ghost Writer. Ghost Writer, meet Big Ugly Stick.

In the past few years, I've tried to give more positive than negative movie reviews. I'd rather tell people to try something new and unusual, and only warn them away from something in the worst possible circumstances. While I have given lukewarm or negative reviews to some movies and TV shows, I've only pulled out The Big Ugly Stick twice before, once for Cloverfield and once for District Nine. So, for the third time in three years, The Big Ugly Stick is removed from its carrying case and I take a few well aimed swings with it.

I've read a lot of reviews of the new Roman Polanski movie The Ghost Writer. Most of them have been raves. I hated it with a white hot hate and I can tell you the reasons why.

I never like blaming an actor for a movie sucking. The people who hired the actor and the director are much more to blame that the person giving the bad performance. That person should be quietly fired and replaced.

In The Ghost Writer, the person who should have been fired is Kim Catrall. She is supposed to be the sexy woman working for the former Prime Minister, played by Pierce Brosnan, and her character is supposed to be British. She has the worst British accent I have heard in a generation. It doesn't help that everyone else around her in scenes actually is from the U.K., including Brosnan, Olivia Williams as Brosnan's wife and Ewan McGregor as the title character. It also doesn't help that the Brit Tom Wilkinson plays an American professor who studied in England and he sounds perfectly American, as he has in other film roles. Dialect coaching has gotten so good in the past twenty years, any actor with even a little bit of an ear for mimicry can play a character from anywhere English is spoken. Obviously, the ear for mimicry is what Catrall lacks. She ruins every scene she is in, but the movie isn't complete crap because of her. Still, there are so many attractive British actresses who could have played that role, it's a mystery why she was cast in the first place.

Another minor bit of clumsiness is that sometimes you can see people's lips moving, but different words are coming out of their mouths. There are several instances when the actor says "fuck", but the word "bloody" or "damn" is dubbed over it. I expect this was done to get the movie a PG-13 rating, but re-shooting scenes after the fact is a logistical nightmare due to Polanski's legal troubles.

These are just quibbles. The Ghost Writer is crap because of the writing. It's a modern day thriller dealing with politics and the intelligence agencies, so the important information should be hard to find. Our hero, the ghost writer whose name is never given, isn't a professional sleuth, and honestly, he's just too stupid to live. He gets the job because his predecessor died, allegedly a suicide. Not long after, the former P.M. is brought up on charges of aiding and abetting war crimes. The ghost writer continues to wander around like an idiot in a fog even though anyone with a lick of sense would realize the game being played around him is a matter of life and death. Besides being too stupid to live, he's too stupid to solve the mystery, but the mystery was made far too easy by the inept writing of Polanski and Robert Harris.

An example of the clumsiness. The ghost writer does a clever and dangerous thing and meets a mysterious character, who denies everything the ghost asks him, though clearly some of the stuff must be true. The ghost then goes home and Googles the mysterious character. All the information he needs is on the Internet! And, of course, the information on the Internet must be true since Mr. Mysterious is obviously lying. Mystery solved!

Mr. Harris wrote other novels that have been turned into films. Fatherland was about a "what if" story of the 1960s in Germany if Hitler had won. Enigma was a fictionalization of the work done at Bletchley Park during World War II cracking the German codes. He might want to stick to period pieces because the modern world is too difficult for him to understand. Any good intelligence thriller is about a looking glass world where no information is easy to find unless it's complete crap, and the hard to find stuff might still be a red herring. This is more like an old gumshoe novel where the hero wanders around in a dangerous world asking dumb questions, gets beat up a few times, laid at least once and pieces together the real story by putting his faith in what dead people told him.

If I can say a kind word, the film looks great. Polanski still knows how to frame a shot and get good work out of his actors, other than Kim Catrall. The problem with a bad movie is almost always the bad script, a story that doesn't work on multiple levels. That fault lies not with Polanski the director, but Polanski the co-writer and Harris, the adapter of his own novel. A book this bad should never have been turned into a movie in the first place.

I hope I can keep Big Ugly Stick reviews down to about one a year, but like with District Nine, you never know when you will be sucked into the movie theater by multiple glowing reviews that are completely off base.

I am not reviewing Polanski's legal situation, just the movie I saw yesterday. In a just world, all copies of The Ghost Writer would be melted down into guitar picks immediately. I've seen other bad movies and not warned my readers away from them. I'm making an exception here because of the remarkable level of awfulness and the stunning level of lionization. The Ghost Writer is now in contention for the worst movie Ewan McGregor has ever been in, and that category includes The Phantom Menace and The Island.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

You have been warned.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

An All-Star from the minor leagues.

A bigger budget has meant better or at least more lavish production for as long as there has been entertainment. The general rule was that A-list pictures were better than B-list pictures, and anything in the movie houses was better than anything on TV. Now that a bigger budget means more special effects and explosions, quality drama has next to nothing to do with budget, and TV series are putting forward some of the most interesting stories available.

Even if we take the TV industry on its own, you would expect the big networks to make the best shows, but even that "common sense" view isn't backed up by the facts on the ground. HBO makes fewer shows than the big networks, and while not all of them are great, the best of them are better than anything else, in large part because HBO is not repeating the tired genres to death, which is the greatest but not only flaw with network TV right now. Showtime has tried, but the team is making the decisions there is just not as good as their counterparts at HBO.

One should expect the basic cable networks to make the worst of the shows, stuck as they are with even smaller budgets, but AMC bucks that trend by producing only two shows, Mad Men and Breaking Bad, and so far making very good decisions. Breaking Bad, the story of a terminally ill chemistry teacher becoming a crystal meth producer, is now in its third season on the air. Since I don't have cable, I'm watching the second season now on Netflix, and I'm now going pony up the dough to watch the third season on iTunes as the new episodes come out.

For my money, the second season of Breaking Bad has been better than the first because the story has opened up. The first season was all about Walter White and Jesse Pinkman, the chemistry teacher and his stoner ex-student who become unlikely partners, played respectively by Brian Cranston (foreground, second from left) and Aaron Paul (far right). While they are still the center of the story, other members of Walt's family have become more proactive and less reactive and their arcs have taken interesting turns. Anna Gunn, playing Walt's pregnant wife Sklyer, has stopped just being the supportive and long-suffering partner and is starting to rebel against the secrets and lies.

The show is a cross between the action show and soap opera dramas, so it's not surprising that the character whose story has come forward the most is Walt's brother-in-law Hank, a DEA agent. In the very first episode, Hank seems more like a plot device than an actual character, the jock in the family sent to torment the family nerd, and also the convenient way Walt learns how much money can be made in the drug trade. But the writers have done much more with the character as time as gone forward, and Dean Norris, the bald guy in the background of the picture who looks like he's constructed out of bowling balls, has really shone in the role now that the writers have given him more to do.

Like with many of the best TV shows right now, it isn't a vanilla product and it might not be to everyone's taste. I was hesitant to watch the show when it started, worried that it would glamorize the drug trade, but there's nothing glamorous about this show in any way. Brian Cranston's work before this has largely been in comedy, but this show is not often going for laughs. The creator Vince Gilligan worked on The X-Files and the spin-off The Lone Gunmen, and this is his first great success on his own, not unlike Matthew Weiner's first great solo success with Mad Men after being on the creative team of The Sopranos.

This is another example of the Hollywood rule of Nobody Knows Anything. A little cable outfit gives the helm of a show to a guy with no successful track record and casts a TV sitcom actor as the lead in a serious drama. You would fully expect this not to work. But then again, if you took an actor who was usually the second bill in gangster B-movies, a first time director and a script from a novel that had already been made into two adaptations that weren't any good, you wouldn't have high hopes for that project either. The not yet star in this case was Humphrey Bogart, the first time director was John Huston and the book nobody knew how to film was Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon.

In Hollywood, sometimes there are All-Stars that come from the minor leagues.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Sometimes a song gets stuck in my head...

And it's a good song, so I don't mind so much. I have no idea how this one came seeping back in, because I haven't heard it in years, but the line "It was late in the evening, and I blew that room away" kept on repeating in my head, so I went to The You Tubes to see what I could find.

This is a live version recorded in Philadelphia. Fantastic band backing him up, with the rhythm section of Steve Gadd on drums and Tony Levin on bass (and cowbell for about sixteen bars).

These cats rip it up. Give it a listen if you are of a mind.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Random 10, 3/25/10

Waiting In Vain Bob Marley & the Wailers
So It Goes Nick Lowe
Bo Diddley Bo Diddley
My Old Man Ian Dury
Be Still Los Lobos
Lola The Kinks
I've Got a Theory/Bunnies/If We're Together Cast from Once More, With Feeling
Just A Memory Elvis Costello & the Attractions
The Honeymoon Song The Beatles

8 out of 10 from The You Tubes, not bad. Neither Los Lobos or Elvis C. are obscure, but these are older works from artists with very long careers. Only the Buffy song is from the 21st Century, but I'm old, we've already established this.

Being old, I'm also a little crotchety, and the Beck song comes with a commercial at the beginning. Grr! I like Beck, especially the Odelay album, but he's a Scientologist and now this... two strikes, dude.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The place that makes the other blog work

My other blog It's News 2 Them is easier to write than this one, since it's all just rip and read and add the occasional snark and context. But it would be impossible without a place where I can get the headlines from all of The Only Ten Magazines That Matter, and that means I get on my bicycle every Thursday and visit DeLauer's News Stand in downtown Oakland. As you can see from the sign, the place has been a fixture on Broadway (between 13th and 14th Sts.) since 1907. It's currently owned by some very nice guys from Ethiopia, and even though I don't buy the magazines, I try to give them some patronage when I go in and treat their business like a browsing library.

DeLauer's is conveniently located near the 12th Street BART station and their selection of magazines and periodicals of all kinds is second to none. I know that this blog is read by people all over the place, but if you are local to the San Francisco Bay Area, why not stop by and give DeLauer's a look see? It's your one stop place to shop for new periodicals of all kinds.

Making heroes out of cowards.

In America, we have always shown reverence for the Founding Fathers. The clearest manifestation now is the grumblings of a bunch of old white people who have called their movement the Tea Party. It's not surprising that their message is one of unfocused violence, because they have decided that cowardly scum were actually heroes, a lie we have been feeding impressionable kids for over two hundred years now.

The men who led the original Boston Tea Party, the most famous of their number being Sam Adams, were a bunch of racist vandals. I work on a college campus where vandalism is a fact of life, and I have a hard time making heroes out of people destroying other people's property, whatever the reason. Worse than that, they dressed up as Indians, if I can use the quaint term we learned back in the day when I first heard this story in school. It was a stupid ruse and everybody saw through it at the time, but these weasels lied about it anyway. You have to imagine the guys who thought it was clever were pretty well liquored up when they decided it was worth a go. I always think of these jerks as the inspiration for people like the child murderer Susan Smith or the woman who put a backwards B on her forehead during the 2008 election, people who commit awful acts and throw the blame on some made up scary black guy.

If you are going to make heroes of cowards, the next logical step is to commit cowardly acts yourself, and that is the story this week from the Tea Party crowd. There have been several acts of vandalism and many threats of violence from these creeps this week, most targeting the offices of Democratic lawmakers. One of these self-proclaimed constitutional scholars decided to vandalize the home of a brother of a congressman. Do they think this makes them look serious?

These unstable idiots are being egged on by jerks on talk radio. I am loath to predict the future, but I do not see this ending until blood is spilled, until these deluded so-called patriots and revolutionaries kill somebody. I don't know what will happen after that. I expect that it will splinter the already fractured Tea Party movement even further. The assholes that think they are the modern day equivalent of the racist coward Sam Adams will want more violence, while a lot of everyday folks will realize this isn't a second American Revolution, just an extension of the white Reign of Terror that plagued the South when I was young, the last gasps of stupid people on the losing side of history.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Reading the news and stealing from professionals.

According to the news, Saudi Arabia has arrested over 100 terror suspects with "Al-Qaeda ties."

I've said it before and I'll say it again. If you don't want to get arrested, don't wear those ties.

Joke stolen from Jonathan Katz, professional comedian, known to cartoon watchers as Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist.

The Runaways with Molly Hayes, not Joan Jett

While my driver's license and Facebook page tell me I'm 54, given my level of emotional and psychological maturity, I prefer to think of it as my chance at turning 18 for the third time. Now that I'm a member of the Oakland Public Library, since the choice of scientific texts is minimal, I find myself renting the occasional video and catching up on my comic book reading.

Because, you know, comics are hella expensive now.

I got into a relatively new title in the Marvel universe called Runaways, which was started in 2002 by the writer Brian K. Vaughan, who has since graduated (?!) to the TV series Lost. I think his comic book work is vastly superior, but maybe that's just me.

The premise of Runaways is that all kids at some point think their parents are evil, but for six young people in Los Angeles, their parents actually are. They are evil masterminds in The Pride, a secret society that runs L.A. and has made a secret pact with powerful ancient beings called the Gibborim who want to eliminate humanity from the planet. The parents have different powers and skills, criminal masterminds, dark wizards, mutants, aliens, mad scientists, etc., and some of the kids have inherited powers and others have not.

There's a lot to like about the books, but for my money, the best character in the group is the young mutant Molly Hayes, who would like to be called Princess Powerful, but instead got stuck with the superhero name Bruiser. While all the other Runaways are teens, Molly is eleven and the older kids are protective of her, though her strength is shown to rival that of Thor or Iron Man. Her weakness is that after using her power too much, she gets sleepy.

I didn't start reading the series from the beginning, but instead jumped in on the middle because there were six books written by Joss Whedon, who won an Oscar for the screenplay of Toy Story and an Emmy for the web-based musical Dr. Horrible's Sing-A-Long Blog. Whedon takes the group out of Los Angeles, pretty much Nowheresville for Marvel super heroes and puts the group in New York, the center of the Marvel universe. There, they run into old school Marvel characters like the Kingpin and the Punisher.

Here is the Molly vs. the Punisher fight reprinted in its entirety. One punch and the uber-violent Mr. Shooty Guy is knocked out and down for the count.

The other kids yell at Molly for hitting someone who doesn't have powers, though she didn't know. Later in the issue, the Kingpin unleashes an army of ninjas on our heroes.

"Does ninja count as powers?" Molly asks in the middle of the fracas.

"It counts twice!" an older kid answers, and she continues clobbering the ninjas.

There's talk that they will turn the comic book series into a movie. Keep an eye out for it, it could be good. Take it from someone taking his third go-round at being 18.

Wednesday Math, Vol. 113: Algebra meets the IRS

Click on the picture to embiggen.

If you've ever wondered what kind of jokes are posted on the bulletin boards in a math department lounge, wonder no more. I saw this up on the wall at the Laney math lab and I thought it was cute, so here I am posting it on my blog.

There is a little bit of actual pedagogical debate going on behind this parody. Should we teach math methods as a series of steps or should we teach it as formulas? In the 21st Century, the winning side is formulas whenever possible and series of steps, often known as algorithms, only when things get really complicated. By modern standards, the quadratic formula is not considered complicated, since it can be written as a fraction using three unknown values A, B, and C. Back at the end of the 19th Century, a book like Robinson's New Higher Arithmetic avoided formulas like the people of that era avoided flossing. (Obscure reference from Joss Whedon, 'splained up good later today.)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Science Fun, Vol. 5:Bumblebees can't fly?

When I was a kid, long before the word "meme" was in popular usage, there was a meme that said "science says bumblebees can't fly". It was usually repeated by people who wanted to prove that scientists were stupid. Many but not all of the people repeating this story were trying to cast doubt on something else scientists say, quite often the theory of evolution. In general, scientists are both not stupid and unlikely to make statements proven false by actual experience. Where did this story start?

According to Cecil Adams* at The Straight Dope website, this story came about because of a discussion between some German scientists at a dinner party. A physicist did some quick calculations and determined the bumblebee could not flap her relatively small wings fast enough to produce the necessary lift. A biologist heard this, and wanting to show up someone from "the hard sciences", spread the story far and wide. As Adams puts it, once the physicist sobered up, he saw his error. The number of firings by the bee's nervous system does not produce enough flaps, but the wings vibrate many times per flap, not unlike a string vibrates many times on one pluck or a drum head vibrates many times when hit only once. The vibrations account for the extra necessary wing movement, and science tells us what we already knew, bumblebees fly. The difference is, now we know how and the answer is not one that could be arrived at using that over-rated commodity, "common sense".

I bring this up because there are still people wishing to discredit some part of science, and they often try to do so by bringing up some story to show that science has been wrong before. Without question, scientific knowledge changes, sometimes refining an idea, sometimes overthrowing it completely when a new revolutionary theory explains all the data previously explained and reconciles puzzling evidence the old theory could not. Mathematics, my field, isn't quite as fickle, but it also isn't quite as useful.

While there are still people trying to cast doubt on evolution, the theory that is being hit hardest right now is anthropogenic climate change, the idea that human action has something to do with with general warming trend of the past hundred years or so. It is the standard model used by climate scientists, and it is possible that it could be overturned, but if it is, it will be overturned by a truly better theory that explains all the data at least as well and in some cases better. It will not be overturned by the wishful thinking of people who just don't want to stop making obscene profits or just don't want to alter their overly comfortable life style.

*(Note: Adams answered this question in 1990 and the source link he gives is dead. If anyone can find an earlier source, I'd be glad to make a link to it.)

Monday, March 22, 2010

My take on the health care bill.

Here's Tom Tomorrow's take on the situation back in 1994. The Republicans threw everything they had into defeating the bill and they got the job done. They tried again in 2010, doubling down on the anger and the crazy, and they came up craps.

Just like HillaryCare '94 and HillaryCare '08, the bill that passed is not made to punish the health insurance industry for their many past misdeeds. I have blog buddies who are very happy, like Oliver Willis, and others who are not, like Tengrain. Both are on the left side of the spectrum.

I'm glad some progress was made, because our system is the worst of both worlds. The grotesquely expensive stuff helps keep people who can afford it alive, but even people with insurance can run into astronomical bills that spell either death or bankruptcy. And then there's the emergency room care for people who can't afford anything. I've had it and it sucks.

If more young people have health insurance, we might start seeing some improvement in infant mortality rates. It would be nice to be competing with Canada and the United Kingdom in the number of babies we keep alive, instead of being stuck somewhere between Cuba and Croatia.

I don't like the idea of making everyone buy in to the private system. Time will tell if the help for low income people will be enough. I didn't like it when California made it a crime to drive without car insurance, and I don't like this either. I think health insurance is a better deal by far than car insurance, because it gives you the chance to see a doctor when you are well. If car insurance paid for oil changes and tune-ups, it would be a far more valuable commodity.

The Republicans are counting on keeping the hate and anger up for another seven months or so and do well in the midterm elections. I don't know if that works. You have to give your electorate hope, and the idea that they will "repeal" the health care bill makes no sense when Obama is still the president. The Tea Party movement is a double edged sword for them, and many of the newly energized people in that movement distrust the Republican establishment as much as they distrust the Democrats. Lots of bitter primary fights could lead to less attractive Republican candidates, unable to sway moderate voters.

2001 to 2008 was a very dark time in our history, and people who voted Democratic in 2008 want things to be fixed faster than they currently being fixed. I understand that. But this Monday, I want to thank a pragmatic president named Barack Obama for pulling off the biggest legislative victory any Democratic president has achieved since the master horse trader and arm twister Lyndon Baines Johnson was sitting in the Oval Office.

Good on ya, sir. Sorry your basketball brackets have gone to crap, but I think you'll be remembered in the history books for something else that happened this weekend instead.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

So she got a callback for the lead in Flashdance.

Okay, not really, but this is a picture of my baby sister Jennifer way back in 1983 when if you were a cute girl, you either dressed like Jennifer Beals or Madonna, or maybe Pat Benatar if you wanted to pretend you were tough.

And she was a cute girl. Still is.

Photo by Marina Fusco Sims.

Do rock stars die younger than the rest of us?

Indulging my morbid curiosity again, I decided to find a list of 100 rock and rollers to see if they tend to die younger than the general population, much in the same way I tested the theory about the premature death rates of baseball players and football players last weekend.

Again, I decided to find a list of 100 people, this time born in 1944 or 1945 and check how many were still alive. I started the list by going through all the bands in the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, and when that list did not produce enough people born in those two years, I looked at the bands who produced hits in 1967, figuring a lot of those people would be the right age that year.

To choose 1944 and 1945 means the Beatles and the Stones were slightly too old, but not the Beach Boys, the Kinks, the Who, the Supremes and a lot of other bands who first hit big in the mid 1960s. For example, all three of the most famous guitarists to play with the Yardbirds, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page are all born in those two years. The biggest surprise to me was that Debbie Harry of Blondie was on the list. She's a few years older than Cher. The next biggest was Bob Seger, whose success comes about ten years later than that of his contemporaries. All these people are still alive.

You might remember that the death rates for the samples of 100 athletes in the 64 to 66 year age range in 2010 were lower than the expected number of 16, with the number of baseball players who didn't survive at 13 and football players at 9. As you might expect, musicians did slightly worse that the general public at 18 of 100. Given the small sample size of 100, this difference is not considered statistically significant.

The name all music fans would recognize on the list of musicians that didn't survive is Bob Marley. Also among the famous fallen from that time period are the Beach Boys' Dennis Wilson, the Who's John Entwistle, Noel Redding of the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Pigpen McKernan of the Grateful Dead. Among the living from that time period are Stephen Stills, Rod Stewart, Roger Daltrey, Pete Townsend, Diana Ross, Gladys Knight and Van Morrison.

While I mistrust "common sense", these small samples do agree with what we should expect. Athletes on average take better care of themselves, and as such they tend to survive better than the general public. Musicians tend to party harder than the average, and they do not survive as well.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Photobombing mom.

A few months back, I found out about the website My Mom, The Style Icon, and I decided to send this picture from 1948 when my mom worked as a model, long before she was my mom or anybody else's mom. Piper Weiss, the woman who runs the website, sent a note back and asked if there were any other pictures.

I sent e-mails to brother and sisters, but no one could find another fashion shoot photo of mom, though I do recall seeing some back when I was a kid. I wrote back to Ms. Weiss that the baking contest picture was what we had.

A few days later, my sister in law Janelle found several photos from back in the day, and I sent one of these to Ms. Weiss. She thought it was perfect and said she'd run with it post haste.

This is the picture that went up. Not nice proto-mom thinking about baking, but dolled up for a party mom, drinking, smoking and practicing her thousand yard stare.

In her defense, I'd like to point out it was the early 1960s, and drinking and smoking were mandatory. Watch Mad Men if you think I'm lying.

Also, we see an early example of the now popular practice of photobombing, getting in the frame of a picture meant for someone else and making a spectacle of yourself. The skilled photobomber on the left is my sister Karlacita! The less talented intruder on the right obscured by my mom's drink holding hand is the author.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Random 10... no, make that 9, 3/19/10

Angel Kirsty MacColl
Never Gonna Dance Fred Astaire
Soul For Hire Elvis Costello
When Your Mind's Made Up Glen Hansard and MarkÃ©ta IrglovÃ¡
Respect Aretha Franklin

Seven of nine songs on The You Tubes this week, respectable numbers for 2010. My favorite video on the list is the opening to Season Two of The Venture Brothers with the rave dance tune from Rozalla. But once Miss Aretha shows up, it's not going to get better than that, so the Random 10 ends one song early.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Alex Chilton, 1950-2010

Alex Chilton, who got his big break in music as the lead singer with The Box Tops at the age of sixteen and later went on to form the very influential power pop band Big Star, has died at the age of 59. The latest incarnation of Big Star was slated to play at the SXSW festival in Austin this weekend. Here are three songs he wrote for Big Star, Thirteen, In The Street and September Gurls.

Won't you tell your dad get off my back?
Tell him what we said 'bout Paint It Black.

I wish we had
A joint so bad.

December boys got it bad.

Best wishes to his friends and family, from a fan.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Bible Stories Illustrated!

One of the proofs of the divinity of Jesus is that they never found the body when they opened the sealed tomb. But scholars who have read the lost Gospel According to Kal-El have this passage where The Man Of Steel tosses both the cross and the man crucified on it into outer space. Mystery solved!

If you wonder why he would do such a thing, you may need to go to this website to see many examples of Superman being a dick.

Actually, I'd like to discuss a bible story found in the regular version available at stores near you, almost all hotel rooms and quoted in places around the Internet. Adam and Eve.

Adam and Eve is one of my least favorite Bible stories. As a factual account of the history of humanity, it leaves a lot to be desired and even as a metaphor, great is its suckitude. I was shopping at my local supermarket yesterday and the nice Jehovah's Witnesses ladies had lured someone into a conversation. They were discussing original sin, and the nice J.W. lady asked the possible convert if she agreed that Adam was born without sin. She agreed, so this meant that original sin is something humans brought upon themselves, not something God did to them.

A young man nearby felt the strong need to correct these ladies about their error in scholarship. Adam was completely free of sin and would have stayed that way except for his wicked wife Eve, who was foolish enough to listen to the talking snake with legs, and so the fall of mankind was obviously the fault of the half of mankind that do not have penises, or so believed this individual from the penis enabled half.

These people were having a passionate argument about a story where one of the main characters is a talking snake with legs. Seriously.

I don't want to speak ill of all religion and religionists. I have evolved past that. I went to the grocery store today, and nearly every kind of beer was on special, and I'm pretty sure we have St. Patrick to thank for that. So, good on ya, Paddy!

Wednesday Math, Vol. 113: MergeSort

Last week, the topic was sorting lists quickly, a problem one runs into regularly in the field of computer science, and I showed the first pass of the algorithm QuickSort, which uses a general method known as divide and conquer. This week, I'll show all the steps of the MergeSort method, which also works on average at the rate of nlogn operations, much faster than the brute force methods that work at ½n² operations. A standard sorting method that works at the slower speed is to search the list to find the smallest thing and put it at the front of the list, then find the second smallest and put it in position #2, etc. until completed.

Let me give an example of MergeSort from my real life. I have two sets of graded papers from the same class and both sets are alphabetized. If I want to merge the two piles into one, I don't have to start all over again, I can use the work that's already been down alphabetizing them separately. The first paper on the merged list has to be either the top paper from list #1 or the top from list #2. I take that paper and put it on a new stack face down. Now I make the comparison between the new two papers on top of the stacks and put it face down on the new stack, again and again, until all the papers are on the new stack face down. Once one of the original stacks is depleted, there are no more comparisons to be made and I can put the rest of the remaining stack face down on top of the merged stack, turn it back face up and it is completely sorted.

If we start with a list that hasn't been sorted at all, our first step is to split it into sublists that are sorted from lowest to highest. I underlined in red those lists, and the algorithm is to start a new list if the thing on the list is less than the previous entry. It looks like this.

Sublist #1: 31 94
Sublist #2: 69
Sublist #3: 62
Sublist #4: 25
Sublist #5: 9 20
Sublist #6: 13
Sublist #7: 11 37
Sublist #8: 5

We then look for consecutive sublists that have only one thing, lists known as singletons. For example, if we take Sublists #2 through #4 we have 69 62 25. If we switch the order to 25 62 69, this is a new Sublist in ascending order 25 62 69. We now have six sublists instead of eight.

Sub list #1: 31 94
Sub list #2: 25 62 69
Sub list #3: 9 20
Sub list #4: 13
Sub list #5: 11 37
Sub list #6: 5

The algorithm now is to merge the adjacent lists, #1 with #2, #3 with #4, #5 with #6, etc. So after this pass, we should have exactly half as many lists as we did before if we had an even number of lists, and one more than half if there were an odd number of lists. We do that again with the new lists, effectively cutting the number of lists in half every time, which means we should be down to one list in relatively few passes. For example, let's say we had 10,000 things on our list and on our first pass we had 3,257 ascending sublists, which means on average we have about three things on a list before a small thing comes after a larger thing. Even with this very unordered mess, it should only take 12 passes before we are down to a single list, and every time we go through a single pass we make slightly less than 10,000 comparisons.

After pass 1: 1,629 sublists, about 10,000 total comparisons.
After pass 2: 815 sublists, about 20,000 total comparisons.
After pass 3: 408 sublists, about 30,000 total comparisons.
After pass 4: 204 sublists, about 40,000 total comparisons.
After pass 5: 102 sublists, about 50,000 total comparisons.
After pass 6: 51 sublists, about 60,000 total comparisons.
After pass 7: 26 sublists, about 70,000 total comparisons.
After pass 8: 13 sublists, about 80,000 total comparisons.
After pass 9: 7 sublists, about 90,000 total comparisons.
After pass 10: 4 sublists, about 100,000 total comparisons.
After pass 11: 2 sublists, about 110,000 total comparisons.
After pass 12: 1 list, about 120,000 total comparisons.

To be fair, there are the 10,000 comparisons we do the first time through on Pass 0, when we count the number of sublists, so this algorithm in this made up instance needs to go through about 130,000 comparisons. That seems like a lot to a human, but a computer will do that work in a blink of an eye, and it's a lot more elegant than the brute force method finding the smallest thing, then the next and the next, etc. Doing it that way will take fifty million comparisons, much slower than the few hundred thousand we need when doing MergeSort.

Yay, computer science!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

It's felt like this for more than a year now.

Charles Schulz died ten years ago, but his strip lives on. Whether that's a good thing is debatable, but given the strip's longevity, I am confident that even young people know what this panel means.

For me, it's an analogy to the health care debate we are now told is mere days or weeks from being resolved.

If I can pick at my own analogy, the flaw is that in the comic strip, it was always the same football, it was always Charlie Brown hoping to kick it and it was always Lucy Van Pelt pulling it away. With the health care debate, the football has changed, there have been several hopeful kickers and several people happily pulling it away at the last second.

The Republicans are barely in the Charlie Brown-Lucy metaphor. Maybe for a little while Olympia Snowe was playing hard to get, but for the most part, the part of Lucy has been played by Democrats or independents. Max Baucus had a few weeks when he got to pull the football away. When the public option died early on and the Medicare buy-in plan was the strong fallback position, it was the despicable scumbag Joe Lieberman who played Lucy, opposing a plan he had supported mere months before. House Democrats as different as Bob Stupak, Nancy Pelosi and Dennis Kucinich have all taken their turn pulling the football away, whether the thing being pulled away was the whole bill or just the public option. The death of Ted Kennedy and the result of the special election was yet another defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.

There are a lot of parts of the bill as it currently stands that I don't love. That's politics. I'm not convinced that the defeat of health care is the end of the Obama presidency. Bill and Hillary Clinton lost the heath care debate early in his first term and he still won re-election. Presidential elections have a lot to do with the actual candidates running, not just the electorate's mood towards the parties, and right now the Republicans are not inclined to put forward a nominee as moderate as Attila the Hun. With all that said, I do want the House and Senate to get a bill together that Obama can sign. I know it won't shut the Republicans up, but it might get the press off their narrative that Obama can't get anything done when in fact a lot of changes have been implemented.

People allegedly in the know say we are at the end game. Still, it feels like there's a football, there's someone trying to kick it and someone else promising to hold it, and we've seen this story before.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Yet another reason...

I don't have a cat.

Wonders of Science news!

Once again, people interested in obscure vinyl from the 1980's have found out about The Wonders Of Science through that modern wonder of science The InterTubes, and someone has contacted me about my old band and the records we pressed. Sadly, the Padre and I don't have any extra copies of the the first record we made together, the EP entitled The Record Of The Same Name, but I still have copies of our single The Big Picture with B-side My Only Desire.

The person inquiring this time is a nice young fellow named Josh Cheon, a native of New Jersey now living in San Francisco. He wants to make a compilation album (on vinyl, naturally) and I gave him a copy of the single. It would be easier for him if we had the master tapes, but I lost mine many moves ago. After all, we only recorded this stuff 27 years ago!

In any case, if Josh decides to include our stuff on his compilation, he might go with the B-side My Only Desire for brevity's sake. LPs sound better if each side is held to less than about 22 minutes.

I will keep you informed of any progress.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Looking for a job?

Wonder what the people who read resumes are like? Here's my blog buddy CDP's take on the situation. It's worth a read.

Is baseball more hazardous than football in the long run?

Yesterday, I started some research into the question about the life expectancy of pro football players. I chose 100 players at random from the 1960 pro football rosters who were born in 1934 or 1935, and I did likewise with the 1960 major league baseball rosters. All these guys should be between 74 and 76 years old if they are still alive. 29 of the 100 football players on the list are already dead. 30 of the baseball players are likewise.

So I repeated the experiment with a younger group, taking the 1970 rosters and looking at guys born in 1944 or 1945. Now the age range of survivors is between 64 and 66 and we should expect the number of survivors would go up and the number of dead to go down, and these random samples meet these common sense expectations. 9 of 100 pro football players on the random list are dead, while 13 of the 100 major leaguers are gone.

If we do a chi-square significance test, the difference between 13 of 100 and 9 of 100 is not enough for us to say we will see a big difference in the underlying populations. This could easily just be random variation. If I had taken the 100 older ballplayers from yesterday's work and looked at mortality exactly 10 years ago, 11 of that 100 would have been gone. Only 10 of the older football players from yesterday were gone as of March 2000. In other words, we have several samples that say about 10% of 25 year olds don't make it to 65.

Here's the thing. If instead we work with the period life tables conveniently provided by the Social Security Administration, we see that out of 100 American males in the 24-26 age range in 1960, we would expect 37 not to survive to 2010. If we took a similar sample from 1970, about 16 would not survive. In other words, both baseball players and football players show greater longevity than their peers in everyday life.

Are these differences statistically significant? At the sample size of n=100, no. But at larger sample sizes, yes. That's a problem with statistics, and some folks like Dr. Deming considered it a major flaw. But whether the differences are significant or not, this data indicates that athletes actually have greater longevity on average.

Could my data have flaws? Yes. My sampling method might not be random enough, and it could be that Wikipedia and the Baseball-Reference.com and nfl.com have missed some obituary notices, which would mean I incorrectly numbered some dead ballplayers among the living. But the overall message is this. In this case, the news has taken completely bogus numbers to argue for the solution of a problem that doesn't exist. No matter what your political persuasion, you have to believe that this isn't the first time.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Do football players die younger than the rest of us?

I was wandering around the 'Net this week when I ran into a report that pro football players die significantly younger than the general public, and that each year a pro stays in the game takes several years off his life. You can read such reports here, here and here, some written by doctors and others quoting studies by doctors. The article from Newsmax starts with this paragraph.

It is not a widely disseminated, downloaded or discussed fact that the average life expectancy for all pro football players, including all positions and backgrounds, is 55 years. Several insurance carriers say it is 51 years.

Wow, that's written by doctors and backed up by insurance companies. It must be true. Except that other doctors say it's 59.

I know a little about life expectancy from teaching statistics and this set my spider sense tingling. For one thing, people kept quoting different numbers. For another thing, life expectancy in the 50s is what you get in the absolute worst parts of sub-Saharan Africa, and a large part of those numbers being so low is high rates of infant mortality skewing the numbers down. The data for pro sports athletes won't be influenced at all by infant mortality. You have to live past your first birthday to play pro sports.

I don't have the time to compile massive sets of data, so I designed an experiment to see if these numbers had any validity. I took the 1960 rosters from professional football and professional baseball, selected 100 guys from each sport who where born in 1934 or 1935, then checked on Wikipedia to see if they were dead or alive. If a name didn't come up, I went to the Baseball Almanac or nfl.com. I used Wiki first because its search engine is way better. Also, nfl.com just says "deceased" instead of giving a date of death, and I only had to go there for the most obscure players, a total of three guys.

Since these athletes were between the ages of 24 and 26 half a century ago, we would expect by actuarial probability that some would be dead by now, and of course this is correct. 29 of the 100 NFL veterans born 1934 or 1935 are listed as dead as of March 13, 2010, compared to 30 of 100 MLB players. a completely insignificant difference. The ages at death are slightly different but not that much.

20-29__1__0
30-39__0__1
40-49__1__2
50-59__5__4
60-69__15__10
70-76__8__13

Baseball players who died in this study are more likely to have died after the age of 70, while more football players are somewhat more likely to have died while in their 60s. Even so the average age of death for football players was 63 and baseball players was 64. While these numbers seem low, recall that all the guys on this list will eventually die, and 70% on both lists will be over the age of 74 when they go, so the averages will be over 71 at the absolute minimum, probably several years higher.
If I may critique my own study, it makes sense to do a similar data set for guys born in the mid 1920s and mid 1940s to see if baseball vs. football mortality rates show a greater disparity for those different demographic groups. But this first data set makes the idea that football players have an average life expectancy under 60 to be very far fetched indeed.

To the doctors who put their names on these studies, I'll make you a deal. I won't perform any surgeries or prescribe any drugs, and you should stick to addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, because it turns out math is hard for some of us.

But not me.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Why does Barack Obama hate Andy and Opie?

You may have already heard this. The Obama administration wants to ban Americans from fishing.

What a totalitarian Marxist thing to do! Victoria Jackson was right all along!

Except... the actual story is no such thing.

There's a task force looking into fishing rights in the Great Lakes. Like any task force, it eventually has to publish something, so now it has suspended public comment so it can get down to writing the report. Over on ESPNOutdoors, Robert Montgomery wrote a column with this gem of a lede.

The Obama administration has ended public input for a federal strategy that could prohibit U.S. citizens from fishing some of the nation's oceans, coastal areas, Great Lakes, and even inland waters.

Soon enough, the Drudge Report picked up on this nonsense and it spread all around the right wing side of the funny little series of tubes. Did anyone on that side check the facts? Aw hellz no, as we say in Oaktown. "Fact checking" means talking to libruls, and you know how libruls lie.

'Cos their morans, don'tcha know?

The main thrust of restrictions planned are to make sure commercial fisherman don't over fish an area. The companies gripe when this happens, but it really is a necessity, because different species have been hunted out of regions, even hunted to extinction. This is just standard planning for the future and all governments, left, right and center, do this sort of stuff.

But try telling that to a torqued wingnut in full fear mode.

And these are the people now telling us that climate change isn't sound science. These people couldn't find Occam's Razor with both hands, a flashlight and a working GPS.

Random 10, 3/12/10

She Moved Through The Fair Van Morrison and the Chieftains
Teardrop Sea Tonette
Temptation Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Sing It Way Down Low Hoagy Carmichael
What You Feel Hinton Battle
Living Hell Spanic Boys
The Song Is You Keely Smith
I'm Not Waiting Chris Isaak
Blue Murder The Wonders Of Science

Three of ten from The You Tubes? That's a crazy low number. Some of the artists are obscure, like Spanic Boys (father and son rockabilly), Tonette (Stax/Volt girl group) and The Wonders Of Science (Padre Mickey, Lexi V., Travis Hunt and me, with backup vocals by the Original Dres-babies, Anne and Tara, now Dres-mommies of their own Dres-babies), but it's not like Hinton Battle is much better known, until you realize he was the guest star on the Buffy musical episode, Once More, With Feeling.

What are y'all listening to?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A message for My People from days gone by.

My pal Padre Mickey, who is not one of My People supporting Our Agenda, will still be a pal sometimes and send me a picture of a giant woman he sees as he wanders around the Internets. This is the cover of an LP released by Les Brown and His Band of Reknown back in 1955, the year I was born. The collage work isn't quite up to modern standards, what with the transparency and no shadows, but clearly it is playing on the metaphor of a young woman having the power in a relationship, which is a metaphor we have seen before, yes?

Thanks again to the good Padre for sending this along.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A sixth flavor found!

According to scientists, there were five flavors that made up the sense of taste: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and protein rich. Now a sixth distinct flavor is identified: fatty.

Who could believe that the last flavor science could identify would be the most delicious-est flavor of them all?

Personally, I don't think they have a complete list until they add crunchy, gooey, crispy, melty and tastes like ass.

Wednesday Math, Vol. 112: Quicksort

It's common though misleading to think of computers as smart. They are phenomenally good at two parts of the way we often measure intelligence, they move at crazy fast speeds and they never make a mistake, which is to say they will do what they are told. But a computer has no gift for original thought, so presented with a problem in a form it has never seen before, a computer program has no way of moving forward unless the programmer was clever enough to consider the possibility beforehand.

Computer science became a major branch of mathematics in the 20th Century, and it now rivals older parts of math like calculus in terms of importance. Much of the field involves finding ways to do tasks that are more efficient than the "common sense" approach a human might naturally take.

We don't think that much about our methods of doing simple tasks. For example, let's say I have a pile of quizzes on my desk and I want to sort them alphabetically. What method do I use? Personally, I sort the papers first into three piles, A through I, J through Q, R through Z, then I sort the piles of papers one by one, taking a quiz from the unsorted pile and putting it into its correct position in the sorted group of papers I hold in my hand. Once I sort A-I, I sort J-Q and put that sorted stack after, then sort R-Z and put that stack at the end. If there are n papers in the stack, this should take n²/6 + n comparison operations. In computer science, we would say this is a method that works in the order of n².

Coming up with faster ways to do things on a computer can pay big dividends. A British mathematician named Tony Hoare invented an algorithm called Quicksort, a method nearly no human would use for sorting on his or her own but which fits a computer's skills very well.

Let's start with a list of numbers we want to sort.

31, 94, 69, 62, 25, 9, 20, 13, 11, 37, 5

The idea of the first pass of Quicksort is to put 31 in its proper position on the list, to put everything bigger than 31 behind 31 and everything smaller than 31 in front of it.

We start count from the front and from the back simultaneously, marked with a green star and a red star. When we find a number smaller than 31 at the back we stop and look for numbers bigger than 31 near the front. In this case, we have a 94 at the front and a 5 at the back. Switch them. Move the green star forward and the red star backward. As you can see we make several switches, 69 for 11, 62 for 13, until the green star and red star are at the same position, the number 20. Since 20 is less than 31, we now switch those two. The list has been split into three parts: The numbers less than 31 in front, followed by 31 itself, followed by the numbers bigger than 31. This is called a divide and conquer strategy. We will do the same divide and conquer on the two smaller lists and on each split after that. Instead of having an algorithm that works in the order of n² operations, Quicksort should sort the list in about n × logn comparisons.

Here come the big payoffs. If the list has 100 things in it, a standard sorting method will make about 5,000 comparisons, while Quicksort will make about 800 comparisons. If the list had a million things in it, which is not an impossible size for a computer, sorting it "normally" will take about 500 billion comparisons, while Quicksort would expect to do only about 30 million comparisons. The time savings get better in terms of percentage as the lists get longer.

You might think of both 30 million and 500 billion as being numbers too large to deal with, but if you have a computer on your desk that is less than ten years old, it can probably perform many millions of such operations in a second, so the 30 million operation program might run in no more than a few seconds, while the 500 billion operation program could take hours to finish, maybe even half a day.

Yay, computer science! Yay, Tony Hoare! You are so cool, I won't even make any obvious jokes about your last name.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Attention, sports fans!

If you want to get a crowd roused up for a health care march, who should you have out in front?

None other than Crazy George Henderson, one of the only honest to Lenny cheerleaders in professional sports, in that he actually leads cheers. In 1968, he lead cheers for San Jose State when he was a student. He was also on the judo team. Since then, he has worked for the Oakland A's, the San Jose Giants (minor league), the San Jose Earthquakes (soccer), the Kansas City Chiefs, the Houston Oilers, and a whole passel of other teams across the the United States and Canada.

At this health rally, he didn't bring his drum, so I assume he was not paid to be there, just a concerned citizen.

Good on ya, Crazy George!

Respect for journalism.

In recent weeks, the Huffington Post has been semi-obsessed about the National Enquirer. They have published several stories about the tabloid being in the running for a Pulitzer based on their exclusive story about John Edwards, Rielle Hunter and their love child. Ross Douthat, the conservative who replace the late William Safire in the opinion department at The New York Times, wrote a piece saying the Enquirer earned the place at the table and even deserved to win. This week, the Times' Stephanie Clifford a hard news piece about the process the Enquirer used to get the John Edwards story, which included some actual shoe leather reporting instead of just paid sources, the tabloid's usual modus operandi.

I'm just a blogger and not a journalist. But I'm following the tabloids regularly now with the introduction of my other blog, and let me say with some authority that the National Enquirer is still a joke and deserves no respect from serious journalists.

Let me be specific. I won't confuse them will the silly Weekly World News or Globe or the National Examiner, all of which are published by the same company. The website for American Media, Inc. shows how dishonest the company is. They say they publish 16 magazines, but on their front page they only list 11. You have to do some clever clicking to find them admitting to publishing the completely unreliable stuff.

But again, let's just focus on the Enquirer, which I half jokingly refer to as The Flagship on the other blog. They have the same problems as all the other tabloids have to one degree or another, which is they publish lies. Their headlines regularly overstate or misstate the substance of their stories.

Many people gave the Enquirer credit for saying Michael Jackson had six months to live before he died, but they miss how often the paper makes those predictions and gets them wrong. The one mathy thing I'm going to do on my other blog is publish a list once a month of everybody who has been associated with a story saying either "xxx is dying" or "xxx's brave last days". As of this morning, there are 21 people who have had that honor so far this year, and all 21 are still alive. The people specific to the Enquirer are Marie Osmond (allegedly suicidal), Whitney Houston, Bill Clinton, Gary Coleman, Barbara Billingsley, Dennis Hopper and Loretta Lynn. Of the people on this list, Dennis Hopper is really ill and Barbara Billingsley is really old, over 90. Most of the rest spent some time in the hospital, and spending time in the hospital is reason enough for any of the tabs to say a person is dying.

Let's focus on the Enquirer's big scoop, the John Edwards' infidelity story. This week's headline says "John Edwards is going to jail!" In the actual story, the Enquirer says a grand jury is ready to charge Edwards with crimes relating to the coverup of his relationship with Rielle Hunter. This is exactly the kind of sloppiness that removes the Enquirer from the list of reliable sources. They push a possible indictment to certain time in the slammer, skipping those boring steps of the actual indictment, a trial ending in a conviction and a decision on sentencing. People who followed the Scooter Libby story will also recall that if they are doing their jobs correctly, anyone with actual decision making power in a grand jury is supposed to remain silent, though those called in to testify can say whatever they like.

Here's another example of why the Enquirer is still a joke and not a serious place for journalism. They reported a story late last month with the headline "Paula Deen's bitter divorce shocker!" I foolishly chose this story to be one of the last I put on my blog, leaving it for my Wednesday post, the last news of the tabloid week. It's been one of the most popular stories on Google searches of my blog ever since, so popular that I violated my prime directive and read the story, not just the headline. (There's been a lot of prime directive violation on my blog. Captain Kirk would be so proud of me.)

A lot of people wanted to know what was going on with the celebrity chef. The answer is... nothing, at least nothing much in the present. The gist of the story is that a few years back, Paula's new husband's adult daughter didn't get along with Paula and advised her dad not to marry. The story ends with Paula and the daughter reaching an understanding, but never was a divorce proceeding anywhere to be found. The first half of the sentence is true, it involved Paula Deen and there was some bitterness. But there was no divorce and the story isn't shocking.

Journalism isn't perfect. I've been involved marginally in stories reported in the press and I know they sometimes get facts wrong. But the people writing the headlines at real news sources have an obligation to tell the true story, not just go off on wild speculation of possible outcomes of verifiable present day events.

I'm keeping track of the tabloids so you don't have to. They are still lying scumbags. Entertaining lying scumbags, I'll grant you, but what they do is nothing like real journalism.