Friday, April 29, 2011

More from Donald Trump, pathological liar.

In an interview this week, Donald Trump said “I actually got lucky because I had a very high draft number. I’ll never forget, that was an amazing period of time in my life.”

I spent a few minutes on Wikipedia and knew he was lying.

Trump left school in 1968. The draft lottery started in December 1969. The reason I knew Trump was lying was because my brother, four years younger than Trump, graduated high school in 1968 and had no plans to go to college, and he was told to show up at the draft board within weeks of graduation.

Young people won't remember this, but back then, the draft board didn't play.

So after leaving school in 1968, Donald Trump must have been in the same boat as my brother. The good folks at The Smoking Gun did a lot more digging than I did, and Trump's lie is exposed. He got several student deferments and in July 1968, he was re-classified 1-A. By October 1968, more than a year before the lottery, he is 1-Y, a medical deferment.

I'm not trashing people who got medical deferments back then. My brother Michael got one because of an allergy to penicillin.

I'm trashing Trump because he is a miserable lying scumbag. He is now and he always has been.

Of all his accomplishments, only the list of women he has had sex with stands up to scrutiny. He has bagged some fabulous babes. Everything else, his alleged success as a student or businessman or anything else, is just another pack of lies.

This guy can't help but lie. If his mouth is open, he's lying. He lies while gargling, for pity's sake.

And what's worse, this is exactly the kind of sack of shit we can't get off the stage in this ridiculous age in which we live.

Weird numbers from the weirdest party in the free world.

Once again, I look at numbers and they don't quite add up. I'm kinda good with numbers, so this sets me to thinking.

I know, always a dangerous proposition.

The website Pollster is now owned by the Huffington Post, but it's still useful anyway. (Anyone else feeling like HuffPo are the emptiest calories you can get on the Internets?) They have plenty of early polling of the Republican nomination. There's an interesting pattern.

When there are national polls of Republicans for favorite candidate for the presidency, whether by Rasmussen or Gallup or CNN, if Donald Trump's name is in the mix, he is doing very well, sometimes leading or tied for the lead, never worse than a close second. But then there are the polls of Republicans at the state level. In South Carolina, Trump is a distant third behind Huckabee and Romney. In New Hampshire, Romney leads Trump 32% to 17%. In the Iowa caucus polling, Trump is in fourth behind Newt Gingrich, and in Iowa primary, it's Huckabee with the big lead and Trump in third, slightly behind Romney. There are a couple of broken links on the page to polls in Nevada and one more to South Carolina, but they show the same thing. When asked at the state level, Trump is not a major player.

I want to make it clear I am not cherry picking these polls. That's what Trump would do and Donald Trump and I have a major difference in character. I'm a nerd and he's not. Nerds are among the most honest people in the world because we actually believe in facts. When my friends Ken or Art stop by to correct me, they are showing nerd love and I recognize the gesture. They've got it right, I had it wrong and I gladly edit the post to make the correction.

Pollster has a long list of recent polls. The polls from March don't even list Trump as a candidate. He's made most of his noise about running in just the past few weeks. And let's be clear, it's just noise. Even if he declares for president, it's still just noise. He has no ideas, he has no clever plan. He is a pathological liar. He says he's going to talk to OPEC and tell them "Look guys, the fun's over." and they are going to listen, because it's all about the messenger.

Have you ever heard a more delusional load of bullshit in your life? For any country that produces more oil than they use, the fun is nowhere near over. Nations like the U.S. that produce less oil than they use are addicts, and if you have a product that an addict craves, you are being an idiot if you charge anything less than top dollar.

I know that it is not impossible that Trump will run. I wish it was impossible for him to win, but the average American is stone stupid. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Governor Jesse Ventura are proof enough of that. But these polls from states around the country taken over the same period as the national polls seem to indicate than when the rubber meets the road, even Republican pinheads swallowing Fox News nonsense day in and day out know that Donald Trump is a joke.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Not even the angels in heaven.

If you read The Other Blog, you may already be aware that the End of the World is less than four weeks away now. This is the date set by Dr. Harold Camping, who can be heard on the innocuously titled Family Radio Stations, including the flagship station KEAR, based right here in Oakland. Dr. Camping has fleeced enough sheep to put up billboards around the United States, which have been noticed by the Huffington Thing, and even by reliable sources like sfmike's Civic Center.

Color me unimpressed. As this demotivational poster designed by Broken Eye 3 points out, This is Dr. Camping's third attempt at predicting the End of the World (technically, Jesus returns on the 21st, the actual end is later in the year), and both his previous predictions in the 1990s came up craps and even he admits it.

For those of you interested in reading more, here are links to more stuff I wrote and from my good friend Padre Mickey and my sister Karlacita!

You might think I doubt the good Doctor's math and prophetic abilities because I am a godless heathen Commie bastid, but when it comes to the End of the World, I rely strongly on my close personal bud for nigh onto thirty years, the Jebus lubbin' Commie bastid Padre Mickey. He knows all about the eschatology (end of the world stuff) and the Adventist cults (folks who predict an exact day for the End of the World), and he says yes, I am going to have to wake up on May 22 and prepare notes for the class I give the next day.

Because Padre Mickey really lubs the Jebus and Dr. Camping kinda fell in love with the sound of his own voice instead, the Padre believes the words of Jebus found both in Matthew and Luke that only God the father knows the day and time and he has shared this info with absolutely zero other souls, not His son and not even the angels in heaven.

So while I am blithely unconvinced of any upcoming end of the world, I do still worry about another big financial crash. I know the real problem if it happens in the future will probably resemble the last big crash, which was not the crash of the stock market, but the crash of the derivatives market, which brought down a whole bunch of other markets in its wake. I don't follow the derivatives market and don't even know how, but I'm seeing several of the markets I do follow - prices of gold, silver, crude oil and currency markets - following the strange patterns they followed in early 2008 before everything went to crap.

It isn't exactly the same. Crude oil is "only" at about $110 a barrel instead of $140, but that still is a horrible redistribution of wealth. Of course, the modern world is addicted to oil and that may not change any time soon, so basic macroeconomics says the oil producers would be idiots not to soak the pathetic crackheads who knock on their doors. Also, gold and silver are way higher than they were before the last crash, though people who shill for the precious metals like to remind us that they are only nominally at all time highs and they were actually higher when adjusted for inflation in the 1980s.

Before they crashed and burned.

The U.S. dollar is also taking a beating right now, though not quite the beating it took during the darkest days of the George W. Bush administration. The main reason the present beating seems tame in comparison to the last is the relative weakness of the pound (much weaker) and the euro (slightly weaker). There are actually several other currencies (the Aussie dollar, the Canadian dollar, the Swiss Franc, the yen) that are doing much better than they did during the Dark Days Of Which No One Will Speak.

Again, I am not following The Big Game, which is the derivatives market. People in Washington, both Republicans and Democrats, have no interest and not much idea on how to regulate the market. (Here's a modest proposal: set a leverage limit for all investment banks. For every dollar of real assets they have now, they may have $30 of credit of more in the Insane Casino where they killed the world economy not three years ago. Make a law that says they only get $10 credit maximum for every real dollar they own. That may still seem high, but it makes a complete collapse considerably less likely.)

As for another collapse, there may be someone beside the Father who knows when it's coming. The problem is there are a lot of people yapping, and you can't always tell in advance if a yapper is Cassandra or Dr. Harold Camping before it's too late.

Here endeth the lesson.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Stuff I like:
Still Bill

Of all the rags to riches stories in show business history, there may be none as remarkable as Bill Withers'. He was born in a West Virginia coal mining company town called Slab Fork. He was a stammerer and it made him shy, reticent to speak. He joined the Navy and when he got out, he worked at an aircraft company, installing toilets on 747s. At the age of 32, he had never been on stage professionally when he decided to take some of his songs into a studio to make a demo tape.

Sussex Records heard his demo and signed him. Booker T. Jones produced his first album, which included the breakout hit Ain't No Sunshine and Withers' personal favorite, Grandma's Hands. His second album included the number one hit Lean On Me and the top ten song Use Me. As a songwriter, he returned to the top of the charts in 1981 with Just the Two of Us, a huge success for Grover Washington, Jr.

The documentary Still Bill takes a look at his life now. He's 70 and he's been away from the music business for a very long time. There's a famous quote from Elvis Presley after he left the Army and some female reporter asked him if things had gotten back to normal yet.

"Ma'am, when things get back to normal, I'll be driving a truck."

Elvis only drove a truck for a few months before he became crazy famous. He got a small taste of "normal life" when he was drafted and served two years. Bill Withers saw "normal adult life" for over a decade before the first single on his first album became a monster hit. He never completely trusted the music industry, but thankfully his is not a story of riches going up in a puff of smoke. After he quit in 1985, he didn't tour or make any attempts to record new music. Bill had had enough, thank you very much.

The movie does a great job of showing Bill's relationships with friends and family and with his gifts as a songwriter. I didn't know much of his music other than the big hits, and I was pleasantly surprised how much good stuff he wrote. On the extras on the DVD, the Swell Season are among the acts who were part of a Bill Withers tribute concert in New York City, and they play a song of his off of +'Justments called Stories. I had never heard it before, but it's hauntingly beautiful. I'm using the lyric from the bridge as my tagline right now, and I give you a link to Bill's original version, available on the You Tubes.

Matty Boy says check it out.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sunday Numbers 2.0, Vol. 8:
The approximations of pi.

This is an update and correction of a post from late 2008. I forgive any reader who thinks this is the first time I wrote about this.

The number pi is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. It has been considered a useful number since at least the time of the ancient Egyptians. We now know it's an irrational number, which means we can't write it exactly as a/b, and there is a proof that it is a transcendental number, which means it's not the square root of 10 or the fifth root of 306 or any root of a rational number.

These proofs take some damn tricky math. Best to take my word for this stuff.

We've known for a while that pi is pretty close to 3 1/7 or 22/7. It's a little high, but only a little. For example, if the diameter of the circle was a mile, 3 1/7 of a mile overshoots pi miles by about than six feet eight inches. If the diameter was a kilometer, the overage is about one meter and 26 centimeters.

The ancient Egyptians could have found this approximation by the method they called rope stretching. Let's say they made a circle whose diameter was a cubit, the length from the tip of the middle finger to the elbow. In the English system, we approximate this to 22 inches and in metric, we could use 56 centimeters.

They would have taken a rope of cubit length and cut another piece of rope the length of the circumference. They easily could mark the longer rope to see it was a little more than three times the length of the cubit rope. They would then take the excess rope and see how many times it would go into the cubit length. Seven copies of the shorter length fit with a little left over, about a fifth of an inch or half a centimeter. This is a small length, but clearly visible to the naked eye, even if your eyes are as bad as mine at short distances.

The Egyptians would have taken the smaller part and checked to see how many times it would fit into the first remnant. The correct answer is 15.99659..., which means to the naked eye it looks like it goes in sixteen times.

So now we have the numbers 3, 7 and 16, in that order. What good would this have done the ancient Egyptians?

The answer is called continued fractions. Instead of saying pi is close to 3 1/7, we will say it's closer to 3 1/(7 + 1/16).

We change the mixed number 7 1/16 into the improper fraction 113/16.

1/(113/16) = 16/113, so out new approximation is 3 16/113, usually written as 355/113.

Like 22/7, 355/113 is not exactly pi but it's awfully damn close. Now if we have a circle whose diameter is a mile or a kilometer, the amount of difference between the true circumference of pi times the diameter and 355/113 times the diameter is about the thickness of a piece of bond paper, less than 1/50 of an inch or half a millimeter.

Mathematicians, precision loving nerds that we are, have taken the continued fraction representation of pi way past this already pretty damn good approximation. This picture makes it look like the numbers on the list are as follows:

3, 7, 15, 1, 292, 1, 1, 1, 2, 1, 3, 1, 14, 2, 1.

This is just a partial list. If a continued fraction ends, the number it represents must be rational, and we know pi isn't.

Happy Easter to everybody, and I hope the only time you have to think about pi for the rest of the day is if it has an e at the end.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

New music for old people:
Raphael Saadiq

Raphael Saddiq is a veteran of the music business, getting his big break in Sheila E.'s band back in the 1980's when she toured with Prince, then founding his own bands Tony! Toni! Toné! and Lucy Pearl.

He released an album in 2002 called Instant Vintage, which describes his music pretty well. While the recording techniques may be modern, a lot of his songs would fit perfectly into the rotation of a soul music radio station in 1968.

The You Tubes are being fussy about embedding videos, so instead I offer a link to his new single Heart Attack, which has kind of a Sly Stone/James Brown vibe to it.

Matty Boy says check it out.

Friday, April 22, 2011

A few words (and some pictures) about objective reality.

A week ago Friday, the first film version of the 1957 Ayn Rand best-selling novel Atlas Shrugged opened in 300 theaters. The movie was made for $10 million and pulled in about $1.7 million in its first weekend.

People who love Rand allegedly love objective reality, even after all the cruel things objective reality has done to them. Here are some simple statements based on math.

$10 million is a tiny budget for a film these days and this movie is Atlas Shrugged Part 1. The filmmakers rushed the film into production because their rights were about to revert to Rand's estate, so they decided to make a trilogy and shoot the first third of the book. The second and third parts are not yet in production because they don't have the cash.

300 theaters is a very limited release and there's no way to massage these numbers into a positive thing. Sometimes a movie will get a prestige opening in Los Angeles and New York and then open wide across the country to great numbers. Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino opened in 6 theaters in December so it could be eligible for the Oscars, did land office business in those first few weeks ($45,000 per screen), then opened wide in January 2009 to be the #1 movie in America.

This will NOT be repeated by this film. Opening in 300 theaters in April is due to the movie having a weak company backing it and no stars in the cast. It averaged about $5,000 per screen, not awful per screen but definitely not special, and given there were only 300 screens, the net result is awful. The movie has to make six times its opening weekend numbers to make the initial investment back. That's not easy.

The producer postulated this week that is would be in 1,000 theaters this weekend, which is still a puny number compared to major film which open is 3,000 to 4,000 theaters. The weekend theater counts came out yesterday. Atlas Shrugged Part 1 (and probably part Omega as well) will be in 465 theaters.

Unless a right wing fatcat comes in and buys multiple boatloads of the DVD and gives them away, this turd is following a well understood pattern known as the downward spiral.

Enthusiasts of Rand are happy to tell you that Atlas Shrugged is still the #4 book on Amazon, and over the past fifty years has been second in popularity only to the Bible.

By the same argument, we can say that the New York Mets are the second best baseball team in New York over the past fifty years. Sometimes second place is a distant second place.

Cruel people on left wing websites are comparing Atlas Shrugged to another popular 20th Century book turned into a film by its zealous fans, Battlefield Earth.

This comparison is unfair. Battlefield Earth was one of the worst reviewed films of all time, but it did sell $20 million worth of tickets in 2000 in the U.S. and about $30 million worldwide. The newer movie would love to have those numbers.

Of course, Battlefield Earth was made for about $80 million, so it was a financial turkey as well as a critical disaster. So far, Atlas Shrugged has been panned by reviewers (2 good reviews out of the first 29 for 6%) and loved by audiences (85% favorable), but these are small audiences filled with cult members.

Still, making a profit on that $10 million investment is looking harder and harder, because the split on ticket sales starts in the producers' favor on opening weekend and slowly shifts in the favor of the theater owners.

Since I brought up two movies based on books revered by two 20th Century cults, let's talk about a self-financed, low budget film based on the favorite book of a First Century Mediterranean resurrection cult.

I am of course talking about Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ.

If we are talking numbers, this is clearly one of the great success stories in movie history. 15th on the all time list, 26th when adjusted for inflation, supporters of the First Century Mediterranean resurrection cult went to the theaters in droves to support this film in 2004.

But since then... crickets.

When I googled TV listings for Passion of the Christ, I got zilch. when I wrote that nobody shows it, my dear friend and fellow nerd Abu Scooter sent me an e-mail saying it is being shown on TV by the third rate Trinity Broadcasting Network, the dessicated corpse of what Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker left behind.

This is why I love nerds. We really are deep into a cult of information. Either get it right or shut the fuck up. We are honest not because God commands us, but because when we are wrong and someone else is right, we know we lose in our hearts and no god has to tell us that.

Given that it is shown such pathetically lowly status even on cable, it is fair to say Passion of the Christ not a beloved holiday classic. It may be that now Mel Gibson is thought of as a stupid, violent middle aged racist who follows his prick around all day and beats up women when they disobey his prick, not as many of the cultists are thinking his movie was a wonderful uplifting experience, but instead seeing it for what it is, torture porn.

Because it is torture porn, it's not going to do well on commercial TV. It's hard to sell auto insurance on a new cell provider right after a scene where a guy is flayed to within an inch of his life.

Trinity Broadcasting Network shows it. Do you know the channel number of TBN on your cable box? I didn't think so.

So if you want to make a lot of money with a movie that will be attended by members of a fanatical cult, here are some handy rules of thumb.

Jesus cult, you've got a chance.

Ayn Rand cult, L. Ron Hubbard cult... save your money.

J.K. Rowling cult, J.R.R. Tolkien cult... money in the bank.

And, oh yeah. They might have made money if somebody sang and cashed in on a short-lived 21st Century cult. If Ayn Rand met Hannah Montana or L. Ron Hubbard was sung by Justin Bieber, you might be able to make a dollar on that.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The 11th Commandment becomes the 11th Suggestion.

Ronald Reagan is often credited with being the originator of the 11th Commandment "Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican".

Of course, he didn't originate it. He was an actor not a writer. It was first spoken by Gaylord Parkinson, the chair of the California Republican Party back in 1966 when Reagan ran for governor.

It was a very different time forty five years ago. There actually were moderate and even liberal Republicans. More than that, an actor running for public office was still a novelty, and the other Republicans in the race against him slammed Reagan hard as being an empty suit. They also painted him as being from the Goldwater wing of the party, the group that had been responsible for a truly epic loss against LBJ only two years before.

If you go to the Wikipedia site, you'll see that Reagan broke this rule in his run against Ford in 1976, but in general for many years, the Republicans kept their internecine battles to a minimum, at least in front of the cameras.

Then came 2008 and Sarah Palin. The vast majority of the slams against her came from the opposition, but several conservative pundits hit her on her obvious flaw of experience. After the stinging electoral defeat, John McCain became a non-person, George W. Bush went back to Texas to lick his wounds and the media fell in love with Palin, even after she quit the job of governor to seek fortune commensurate to her fame. For months on news sites of every political persuasion, she was the only conservative voice, and due to a mixture of boredom, envy and self-preservation for their party, Republicans in office, out of office and never holding office began to let their true feelings about the heroine of the trailer trash set come through. Palin, who has never shrugged off a perceived slight in her life, started fighting back, and the 11th Commandment of Saint Ronald Reagan was a dim memory at best.

Enter Donald Trump. It's hard to say if the businessman with the multiple bankruptcies actually is a billionaire or just plays one on TV, but his coy "Will I or won't I?" run for the presidency has catapulted him to the lead in several polls, based in large part to his huge advantage in name recognition.

If Palin is prickly and narcissistic, Trump is just a flat out self-aggrandizing asshole. He will say something nice about someone only as a prelude to saying something nicer about himself. While the polls being taken this far away from a general election are as substantial as cotton candy, they are the closest thing to reality that anyone has to go with, so Trump's non-candidacy candidacy is being taken seriously, most notably now by the pro-oligarchy Club For Growth, who recognize Trump as a traitor to his class for saying a tax increase on the rich would be the best way to shrink the deficit back about ten years ago.

Up until 2004, the Republicans allegedly were a coalition of the pro-Jesus people and the pro-Business people, and both groups saw George W. Bush as one of their own. But the stinging loss of 2008 has shown the cracks in those two camps and emboldened the racists, who have always been there, as Californians who saw the policies of failed governor Pete Wilson can attest. Trump, a man with no scruples and no subtlety, thinks he can bring the racists on board by embracing not only birtherism but several goofy and unsubstantiated Internet rumors about Obama, including the one about Bill Ayers writing Dreams of My Father.

Right now, Trump's success looks like The Fred Thompson Effect, named for the actor and senator who was supposed to be a game changer in 2008 but turned out to be no such thing when he actually ran. The excitement about Trump is really the conservative voters saying en masse, "There's got to be somebody better than these palookas." Should he really run, a few weeks or months in the actual political spotlight and Trump will be outed as just another palooka, and the cry for someone else will continue.

Some commentators are seeing Obama's numbers go down and saying it spells trouble, but even so, the Republicans have to put an actual person up against him, and the field so far looks astoundingly weak, The Donald included.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Ayn Rand: Idiot. Crackpot conspiracy theorist. Hypocrite.
(Or Ayn Rand: perfect hero for the 21st Century right wing.)

I was going to write about Atlas Shrugged Part 1, the low budget attempt to turn the sprawling 1957 Ayn Rand novel so beloved by shitheads around the world that it still the #4 book on Amazon to this day into a watchable film. But doing a little research, I've decided to start with a post about Ms. Rand herself, a sick and stupid dwarf who has been turned into an Olympian god by minds even smaller than her own.

In 1974, 69 year old Ms. Rand was still a two pack a day smoker. She believed the medical consensus on cigarette smoking on lung cancer was a government conspiracy. The conspiracy, of course, was no such thing, and she had a cancerous lung that needed to be removed or she would die.

This fits the crowd that idolize her today to a tee. These idiots think that all the ways humans have changed the world cannot possibly have a global effect. It's all just a conspiracy, largely because if they really believed they had to change their ways, it would be an inconvenience, and these narcissists cannot be inconvenienced by the mob, the herd of moochers and parasites who obviously never get anything right.

Except, oh yeah, carcinogens and the basic physics of carbon in the atmosphere.

Other than that, they are always wrong.

Okay, she smoked for several decades, she got lung cancer. Maybe quitting when the evidence was in would have given her a few more healthy years, maybe not. She's not alone. Sir Ronald Fisher had a much better brain than Ms. Rand, but when it came to quitting smoking, he was just another fucking pinhead addict.

But according to Evva Joan Pryor of the Rand Institute, when the bills got too big to be paid even for a woman who had a massive perennial best-seller to her name, she went on the dole and took both Social Security and Medicare.

The miserable, deservedly cancer-ridden, ugly hypocrite bitch.

Did you know that Paul Ryan, the asshole who is telling us with a straight face that Medicare has got to go, considers Ayn Rand to be his personal hero?

Yes, hypothetical question asker, I was aware of that.

By all I hold sacred, I hate these miserable cunts.

Here endeth the lesson.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sunday Numbers 2.0, Vol. 7:
The Euler-Poincaré characteristic.

I have noted in earlier posts about Leonhard Euler, a.k.a. My Favorite Lenny, that if we named everything in math that was first studied by him after him, there would hardly be anything named for anyone else. One counterexample of this is the Euler-Poincaré characteristic, which is used to discuss the relationship between the parts of a three dimensional shape, the faces F (two dimensional), the edges E (one dimensional) and the points at which the edges meet, known most commonly as the vertices V, the plural of vertex (zero dimensional). For a shape like the cube shown here, which is does not have any holes going straight through like a donut does, the formula is given as F + V = E + 2.

Let's check to make sure. F is 6 and V is 8, while E is 12, so 6 + 8 = 12 + 2. Not surprisingly, it works. If it didn't work, it wouldn't be math, right?

Let's go to a less familiar shape, the dodecahedron, the twelve sided three dimensional shape whose faces are all pentagons. F = 12, V = 20 and E = 30, so once again the formula is correct.

There is a separate theory called the Angle Deficiency Theorem. Consider that if all the faces that meet at a vertex added up to 360°, that corner would be a flat surface. The only way to make a three dimensional shape is to have less than 360° at each vertex, and that is called the angle deficiency of the vertex. For any convex three dimensional shape without a hole going through it, the sum of all the angle deficiencies of all the vertices is 720°. Let's check on the cube and the dodecahedron.

Angle deficiency at each vertex; (360-270)° = 90°.
Since there are eight vertices, (8 × 90)° = 720°.

Dodecahedron: Each angle of a regular pentagon is 108° so (360-324)° = 36°.
There are 20 vertices, so (20 × 36)° = 720°.

This is a surprising result, but the simplest proof is an application of F + V = E + 2.

The proof itself is left an exercise to the motivated reader.

(I love typing that last sentence.)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Is Asperger's Syndrome the engine for human progress?

In 1944, Dr. Hans Asperger of Vienna published an account of symptoms he saw in some of his young patients. Some were mild and others severe, but the most typical symptoms were tendencies towards physical awkwardness and difficulty in dealing with others due to a lack of understanding of non-verbal cues, such as reading other people's facial expressions or body language.

These are just some the downsides of Asperger's Syndrome, as it is known today. The upside is a remarkable ability to concentrate on a topic that catches their interest. While his paper was first published during WW II, it was not translated into English until 1991, some ten years after Dr. Lorna Wing popularized the term in the English speaking medical community. Asperger's syndrome is now recognized as being part of the autism spectrum and Dr. Wing's interest was due to having an autistic daughter.

The diagnosis exploded in popularity from the 1980s forward and it is assumed though not yet proven there is a genetic tendency. Asperger himself saw that many of his clumsy children also had clumsy fathers who showed some if not all the symptoms of his syndrome themselves.

Possibly the best known dramatic portrayal of a person with Asperger's Syndrome is Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. His character Raymond shows many of the traits of the syndrome, including his dislike at being touched, (many people with Asperger's can be touched, but only if you first get their permission), his obsessive interests and his remarkable ability at math.

Unlike the character in the movie, there are many people with Asperger's Syndrome who are not institutionalized, and high functioning Asperger's (HFA) can be very successful as researchers. Usually, they are not as successful as teachers, because it is common for people with Asperger's to assume that if they know something, everyone knows it and even if they overcome that, they intensely dislike have to repeat themselves.

And so we have this diagnosis, only known for about seventy years and only popularized in the past thirty, that describes a certain class of brilliant eccentrics. Many people have taken to historical diagnosis, putting forward their arguments that x had Asperger's or y showed symptoms. A lot of people who are putting this stuff forward don't seem to have read the literature very well. Doing a little browsing around the Internet, I have found claims of both Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson may have showed signs.

Both Franklin and Jefferson were horndogs. If you see a bright eccentric with a serious thing for the ladies, it's very likely that their eccentricity is not caused by this syndrome.

Two other names that pop up a lot are Newton and Einstein. Einstein didn't speak fluently until he was nine, but early developmental problems are NOT typical with Asperger's Syndrome. He did show the intense interest in problems that is a characteristic, sometimes working on a problem so hard he would forget to eat or sleep. But again, there are stories of Einstein getting busy with the ladies, and that would tend to be a counter indication.

Not everyone is convinced, but I find the data for Newton to be the strongest case of a historical character who may have Asperger's. He once wrote in a letter to a friend that he was proud he would die a virgin, and besides mathematics and physics, he had lifelong obsessions with alchemy and religion. He produced a proof that the Holy Trinity was impossible, but he declined to publish, seeing as back in his day, the Church of England was still putting heretics to death from time to time.

Another symptom mentioned in descriptions of Newton was his habit when in deep thought to rock back and forth uncontrollably, another very common behavior for people with the syndrome.

I read a book earlier this year by David Mamet titled Bambi Vs. Godzilla,and I have already written a blog post recommending that the book be avoided. Mamet hypothesizes that many of the early Jewish film directors had Asperger's because they were successful, highly focused and complete pains in the ass to work with, and that there is a prevalence of the syndrome in the Eastern European Ashkenazi community.

Once again, I call bullshit, which is an unpleasant but necessary task one must perform often when reading David Mamet's non-fiction.

People with Asperger's tend to love reading and dislike film and TV. So much of the visual arts is the understanding of non-verbal communication, and this is a skill at which even HFAs are notoriously bad.

Being intensely focused and an asshole does not mean automatically a diagnosis of Asperger's. Some people are just raised that way. A popular T-shirt slogan in the Asperger's community is "I have Asperger's. What's your excuse?"

So the short answer to my question about the syndrome being the engine of human progress is "probably not, with just a few large and remarkable exceptions".

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

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Stuff I like:
J.G. Thirlwell.

I really like The Venture Brothers cartoons for a lot of reasons, but the music of J.G. Thirlwell makes the show many times better than it would be without it.

I estimate it at half a jillion times better. More or less.

Here's his orchestra Steroid Maximus playing a medley of Venture Brothers themes live.

Feel the awesome.

Steroid Maximus_Venture Bros Medley from JG Thirlwell on Vimeo.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Lying like a rug in service of the greater good.

Jon Kyl said on the senate floor that abortions are 90% of what Planned Parenthood does.

Somebody fact-checked him, the dirty meany bullies. 3% of the services Planned Parenthood does are abortions, and none of those can receive federal funds. Because abortions are more expensive that birth control, abortions are about 15% of the billing at Planned Parenthood.

Still, there's that 90% number. What was that? Kyl's office was reached for comment, and they said that what he said was not intended to be a factual statement.

I guess I could take the time to rip Kyl a new one, but thankfully for the Republic, we have Jon Stewart, Wyatt Cenac and Stephen Colbert to help out on that front.

And, oh yeah, the folks at Fox and Friends are equally full of shit.

What a surprise.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Can I join the Anti-Republican Party?

Barack Obama has started his campaign for re-election. I got a letter from them this week.

I'm not sending any money, at least not yet. I waited until well into 2008 to do any work for the campaign or send them a check, and unless he faces a primary challenger I really don't like, I probably will wait until the end to help out, assuming I have free time or discretionary cash about a year and a half from now.

I'm registered as a Democrat, but right now they don't thrill me much. I'm much more of an Anti-Republican than I am anything else.

Let's consider global warming, or as it is sometimes known, climate change. (Conspiracy theorists on both sides think the other is to blame for the phrase "climate change", but it was being used in the late 1960s long before this became the political football it is today.)

The Republican Party these days is not monolithic. In fact, there are four acceptable views of global warming inside their big tent.

  1. It doesn't exist.
  2. It exists, but it doesn't matter.
  3. It exists and it matters, but humans have nothing to do with it.
  4. It exists, it matters and humans may have something to do with it, but Jesus is coming back before my kid's braces are coming off, so it only matters a little bit and not enough for us to change any of our bad habits.
While this means there are a variety of opinions, there is only one policy. Avoid all action at all costs. The House Republicans on the Energy committee are 100% against cap and trade.

Recall that cap and trade was the conservative alternative to the progressive policy of a carbon tax.

That's their way now. Propose some weak alternative that will not solve a problem in the real world, and if it becomes policy, oppose it.

In Mississippi, a recent poll of Republicans showed that 46% think inter-racial marriage should be illegal, while 40% think it's okay and another 14% aren't sure.

Of course, that doesn't matter to Matty Boy, a lifelong bachelor living in California, does it?

Well, here's a picture of my adorable niece Holly Smith-Smith and her nearly as good looking husband, Cleavon Smith-Smith.

Cleavon was born and raised in Mississippi, where his family still lives. I'd like to think they will be safe when they visit his family, but with the boneheads in charge of the majority party back there, I'm not so sure.

So, yeah, it matters to me.

Of course, that's Mississippi, the armpit of the nation, and they are asking Mississippi Republicans, the cancerous lymph nodes of that armpit. I live in California, progressive, forward-thinking, land of fruits and nuts and good things to eat. What do I care about knuckle draggers 2,000 miles away?

A poll last year of Republican voters found that they oppose openly gay teachers in the public schools by an astounding 73% to 8% with 19% unsure.

Think about this. The issue that killed Anita Bryant's career some thirty years ago is still a fight these assholes want to fight.

Once again, you might ask, what skin is it off Matty Boy's nose? I may be a lifelong bachelor, but I'm not openly gay. (I'm not unopenly gay either, though I don't consider it any business of my employers.) I care because it touches the lives of people I care about, dear friends who are public school teachers and openly gay.

The bigotry has to end. The major political party in this country that still openly courts the bigots need to undergo a radical transformation or it should die before it ruins this great country forever.

And then there is the new great villain of the latest incarnation (or should I say mutation) of the Republican Party, unionized public employees.

I'm not a lawyer, but it seems to me that public employees banding together to ask for a redress of grievances sounds like a First Amendment right to me. To see the blatant and often clearly illegal union busting that the new Republican majorities are attempting in Wisconsin, Indiana and other places may not be a direct attack on me as a unionized public employee in California, but even in a state where the Republicans need some major sleight of hand to keep from becoming the 21st Century version of the Whigs (or more accurately, the Know-Nothings), I can see that is in my own enlightened self-interest to stop American Republicanism in all its forms with every legal tactic at my disposal.

Here endeth the lesson.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Sidney Lumet, 1924-2011

Sidney Lumet has died at the age of 86. He was one of the greatest directors of the past fifty years, and I would argue one of the best of all time.

I saw the last two movies he made, Find Me Guilty starring Vin Diesel and Before the Devil Knows You're Dead with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke and Albert Finney. He was over 80 when he made these. Men half his age would be hard pressed to do as well.

I've read a few of the obituaries, and the idea people are trying to push is that he was one of the great New York City film directors. While some of his best work is based there (Serpico, The Pawnbroker, Prince of the City, Night Falls On Manhattan), what really impresses me about his career is his ability to hit to all fields. Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese are more highly thought of in some circles, but there are movies on Lumet's list they couldn't possibly make.

How about Network? Fail-Safe? Could Scorsese or Allen make The Group or Long Day's Journey Into Night?

They could, but they would suck at it.

His big break after working on TV was the film version of Twelve Angry Men in 1957. I've heard some directors whine about not having enough locations, of a movie looking like a filmed play.

Ever since I was a kid, I thought about Twelve Angry Men when I heard this lament. If you aren't as good as Sidney Lumet, either shut up or get off the field.

I loved this movie when I was young. This is the movie that turned me into a trivia nerd. I knew I had to remember the whole cast. Left to right: Jack Warden, Edward Binns (hidden), E.G. Marshall, John Fielder (hidden), Henry Fonda, Ed Begley, Robert Webber, Jack Klugman, George Voscovec, Martin Balsam, Joseph Sweeney. That's eleven guys. They are all looking at the last holdout, played by Lee J. Cobb.

Hope that wasn't a spoiler, but the movie is 54 years old, so I'm going to say it's your fault if you didn't know that by now. I've had those names in my head for over four decades now, and I didn't have to check out to see if I was right.

Lumet wasn't perfect. He made The Wiz, to give just one example. He did a remake of John Cassavetes' Gloria starring Sharon Stone to name another.

He directed 72 projects. They can't all be masterpieces.

But he also directed possibly my favorite all-star cast of all time, Murder On The Orient Express, starring Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot. I'm going to put in the the DVD player tonight and enjoy it one more time, just because it's time to remind myself how good Sidney Lumet really was.

Best wishes to the family and friends of Sidney Lumet, from a devoted fan.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The relative strengths of bloggers.
Or the blogging strengths of relatives.

I now have three people related to me by blood who are also on my blog buddy list.

Let's review, shall we?

My nephew Joshua Macrae has a blog called Castle Park, which is about the stuff nearest and dearest to his heart, writing music and being a dad and husband. He gets first place on the list because he's been at this blogging stuff for the longest period of time, which is a couple years now.

Next longest in duration of blogging is my baby sister Karlacita!, who discusses many things of interest to her, including her new book The Language of Emotions.

She has many interesting insights and you should check her stuff out.

The most recent addition to my blog buddy list is Books 4 Grandchildren, which is the creation of my big sister Kimberly Haskell, her son Galen Dobbs and photographer Randy Castillo. Kimberly and her crew will be spending most of their time reviewing kid's books, including one of their first recommendations, Shark vs. Train, an allegedly accurate account of what it's like when brothers are growing up.

I remember no such brouhaha from my childhood. My older brother Michael and I would sit in the reading room, or read in the sitting room, and on festive occasions we would regale our friends and neighbors with Michael singing in his lovely clear tenor voice, whilst I accompanied him on the grand piano.

(p.s. Michael told me to write the paragraph above or he would shave my head.)


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Another small point of pride becomes a thing of the past.

There was a time when I used to say, "Sure, I'm a nerd, but I never watched Doctor Who."

Well... I can't say that anymore.

The 21st Century version(s) of the Doctor have an advantage over the 20th Century versions.

It's called a budget.

I've started watching the first season of The New Who and I have to say, three episodes in, it's pretty good. Christopher Eccleston plays the mysterious alien timelord, and he's got a sweet way about him and a great goofy grin. When he tells the girl who will become his sidekick that he's an alien, she replies "You sound like a bloke from the North."

"Lots of planets have a north." he answers, a little put off.

So in the first episode, they save the world. The second episode takes place five billion years into the future when the world ends, and the third episode takes place in 1869. In Cardiff.

What's so all fired interesting about Cardiff in 1869? Well, Charles Dickens is on tour. And who do they get to play Dickens? Simon Callow, the terrific British actor who was so good in Four Weddings and a Funeral, Angels In America, Shakespeare In Love and No Man's Land and so many other roles, including Charles Dickens several times.

Callow should never be mistaken for Simon Cowell, the British blight on humanity most famous for American False Idol. I wanted to make that clear.

Even if the episode were complete bollocks, and it's not, Callow's presence pushes it up a couple notches.

If you have Netflix, you can get many of the recent seasons of Doctor Who on streaming video. I haven't watched them all, but it's a hell of a lot better than that nonsense from the 1960s that some people have a fondness for, caused by misplaced nostalgia and the onset of senile dementia.

Matty Boy says check it out.

Monday, April 4, 2011

I still believe in education...
despite massive evidence to the contrary.

In the immortal words of the decidedly mortal Harvey Pekar, "Average is dumb."

For those who need recent proof of this adage, let us consider this Talking Points Memo link to a recent CNN poll of what Americans think about the federal budget.

How much of the federal budget goes to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which includes radio (NPR) and television (PBS)?

Less than 1% of budget :: 27% of respondents (correct answer)
1% to 5% of budget :: 40% of respondents (most popular answer and median answer)
6% to 10% of budget :: 8% of respondents
11% to 20% of budget :: 6% of respondents
21% to 30% of budget :: 5% of respondents
31% to 50% of budget :: 4% of respondents
more than 50% of budget :: 7% of respondents
don't know :: 3% of respondents

I marked the correct answer in bold, but it doesn't go quite far enough. The budget for CPB is about 1/100 of 1%, which sounds tiny. It's $420 million in actual money, which sounds like real money to a broke-ass math teacher like me, but in terms of the news and entertainment field, it's pretty damn puny. When the financial crisis hit in 2008, NBC Universal asked the NBC News organization to cut $500 million out of their budget, more than the entire budget for CPB.

So we have 27% who have a rough idea (less than 1% can mean waaaaay less than 1%), 3% who don't know and KNOW they don't know and 70% who don't know, but that doesn't stop them from guessing.


And when we have 7% thinking its more than half the national budget and another 9% thinking it's on par with the defense budget, words fail me.

Let's look at similar numbers for the food stamps program.

Less than 1% of budget :: 6% of respondents
1% to 5% of budget :: 40% of respondents (most popular answer and correct answer)
6% to 10% of budget :: 16% of respondents (median)
11% to 20% of budget :: 13% of respondents
21% to 30% of budget :: 4% of respondents
31% to 50% of budget :: 9% of respondents
more than 50% of budget :: 10% of respondents
don't know :: 2% of respondents

Well, let me polish this turd for a little bit. It's something of an accomplishment that 40% got the right answer, but the right answer is about 1%, so even a passel of people in there could be overestimating the budget by a factor of two or even a factor of five.

But then there's the bad news. One in every ten people think half the federal budget is food stamps. Even worse, two in every nine think the food stamp budget is on a par with Social Security or the defense budget.

I'm not sure how much we are spending currently on sterilizing the stupid, but clearly it's not enough.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Levels of anger.

Meet Rebecca Black. If you've been online recently, you probably have already heard of her. She's a 13 year old girl from Southern California whose parents spent $4,000 so she could record a song called Friday, written by people who run a vanity recording company called Ark Music Factory. It became available on iTunes and YouTube in February and got about 1,000 hits in the first month. But for some reason, it went viral and caused a firestorm. People decided the insipid little ditty was the worst song ever and she became an object of worldwide derision. YouTube disabled comments on her video after things got particularly nasty, including some death threats.

Seriously. Death threats against an eighth grader because her silly little song became Internet famous.

Here's another person you've probably heard of if you've been online recently. Terry Jones is the jackass from Florida who threatened to have an International Burn A Koran Day last year, but was talked out of it. As you might guess, talking sense into a pinhead like this has no promise that it will stick. On Sunday, March 20, he got his 30 followers worked up enough that they decided to throw a Koran into a fire and he got some news agency to pay attention.

Flash forward about twelve days later and nine time zones away. 20 people are dead in Afghanistan in the wake of riots caused by anger over one Koran being burned by one idiot and his smattering of followers, a "church" that couldn't beat the 100 or so members of Westboro Baptist in a fair fight.

In the United States, death threats are almost like a hobby for some people, but in 2011, it's damn rare that anyone goes through with one. As much as I hate the meme "it happens on both sides", in this case it happens to be true. Some woman has been charged with threatening Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin over the passing of an anti-union bill. Why what she did is criminal and some of the remarks by Ann Coulter and Glenn Beck either count as comedy or protected free speech is unclear to me, but I never studied law.

The uncomfortable fact is this. There are a lot of places in this world where Muslims aren't as evolved as the rest of us. Christians and Jews can definitely get their knickers in a knot over slights and blasphemies, but their protests rarely rise to the level of mass destruction of property or murderous rage.

In the United States, for example, we save that level of violence for celebrating major sports championships.

I'm such a hermit, I really don't connect with the mob mentality very much. It would be nice to think that we are slowly outgrowing it, but if we are, the progress is so slow as to be undetectable.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Starter's block.

It's been over two weeks since I finished Hampton Sides' true crime thriller Hellhound On His Trail, the story of the escaped convict James Earl Ray, who in 1968 killed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis and eluded capture for about two months until apprehended in London, England by New Scotland Yard.

The thing is I've had a hard time starting this post. My goals are these.

1. Make it clear I liked the book very much.
2. Discuss several aspects of the book without giving the whole thing away.
3. Not to spend an entire day typing a blog entry as long as Dr. King's letter from a Birmingham jail.

I've gone through a lot of ideas about how to structure this. Let me list a few.

Compare and contrast with In Cold Blood. It's an obvious starting point. Like Capote's great "true crime novel", Sides follows a lot of threads. Of course he follows James Earl Ray, known for most of the book as Eric Stavro Galt, his main alias after escape from the Jefferson City penitentiary, also known as Jeff City, but he also tells the story of what King was doing before he was killed and what his organization did after the assassination. Sides also discusses the 1968 presidential run of George Wallace, the openly racist former governor of Alabama that Ray admired. But after the killer and the killed, the third main character that is never far away is the F.B.I., the agency tasked with catching the murderer of a man J. Edgar Hoover detested.

But comparing it to In Cold Blood would mean a lot of time writing about Capote's book, and like this book, if you pull on one thread, suddenly you've spent a few chapters discussing all the aspects.

The F.B.I. in war and peace. It's hard to remember just how much power J. Edgar Hoover wielded for how long a period a time now that he is gone and has become a figure openly mocked as either a latent homosexual by his defenders (if the species still exists) or a closeted practicing homosexual by his detractors, also known as right thinking Americans. For all his paranoia and other personal weaknesses, he was a tireless advocate for modern forensic science and turned the Federal Bureau of Investigation into one of the most effective law enforcement agencies in the world. Hoover hated King for two main reasons, only one of which was true. He hated King because he thought he was a communist and he hated him because he knew he was an adulterer. When Ray escaped Memphis after the murder, he was only able to do so by ditching the murder weapon and a lot of other incriminating evidence that would eventually cut through the thicket of aliases he used. He then became a federal fugitive and the case was under the jurisdiction of the F.B.I., an organization that hounded Dr. King relentlessly and hoped to send him into a depression that might turn suicidal. If the F.B.I. didn't catch the killer, there would be a large part of the public that would assume someone inside the agency did it.

Sides' book shows both sides of the Bureau, the loyalty to a paranoid getting worse with age and a modern law enforcement agency with serious pride in their often immaculate work. The case is a real whodunit and getting to the truth through all the false leads and Ray's natural abilities to avoid detection with what now feel like Stone Age forensic tools makes for fascinating reading. They had good prints very early on, but back then it meant going through a database of millions of prints by hand. When the search determined that the suspect was likely an ex-con or escaped con, that cut the database from millions to tens of thousands, but the computers of those days would be no help at all in the search.

What to do with the conspiracies: American assassinations from the 1960s and conspiracies go together like red beans and rice, but Sides was not convinced by any of the conspiracy theories he read when doing his research. Ray did have money after he escaped, enough to pay cash for a used Mustang and travel to Mexico, Los Angeles and New Orleans before he started his hunt for King, but there is no evidence he held down a job during this time. Sides posits that he could have put money away from jobs he pulled before going to jail or saved money he made selling drugs in prison. From Sides' point of view, the most likely conspirators are Ray's brothers Johnny and Jerry, both of whom also had criminal records and antipathy towards blacks. One brother visited him at Jeff City the day before the future assassin made his escape.

So those were my ideas of how to write this thing and cobbling them together helped me get through it. Let me close by saying Hellhound On His Trail is a well-paced and well-researched book, better paced than this review most certainly. As long as a reader can accept a lack of conspiracy theories in such a story, this book will be enjoyable as well as informative.