The Occasional Joke


Nurse: Patient's name?

Centurion: Marcus Licinius Crassus

Nurse: And his date of birth?

Centurion: 115 BC.

Nurse: All right. And what is he here for?

Centurion: Cataphract surgery.


Sunday, December 30, 2012

McLuggage survives second assassination attempt

For the second time in two years, Josev McLuggage, the beloved leader of the small breakaway republic in southeastern Ann Arbor, has escaped death at the hands of unknown enemies. While McLuggage has always been quick to blame such incidents on external forces, aides were not speculating on the sources of Thursday's attack. McLuggage, however, was in no doubt. "That goddam porch, she's a tryin' to kill me!"

Anxious to show other nations, potential foes, and of course, the wretched peasantry that he was recovering and in charge, McLuggage met with US Deputy Secretary of State, William J. Burns to discuss "the usual," as Burns described it. "You know: arms, money, drugs, money, and arms."

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Happy Holidays!

Hasn't been the greatest year, globally, nationally, or locally.
  • Things we frown at: In the world, the Egyptians and Syrians are still shooting each other in an attempt to determine which flavor of zealotry is most conducive to accuracy with small arms. The Israelis and whoever is still alive in Palestine are shooting each other for much the same reasons, plus a few others. In India, the government is cracking down on rape -- no, sorry, I got that wrong. They're cracking down on protests against rape. Easy to get those two mixed up. And Africa is still screwed, much as it has been since the first Europeans set foot on the continent.
  • Here in the US, although the GOP took a spanking in the election, they actually deserved an ass-kicking or a good old-fashioned whuppin', which they manifestly did not get. We're going to spend another twelve months or so snapping at each other about gun control, with most of the snapping being done by people on both sides who know nothing about the issues but know what they like or don't like. And our economic policy is proving to be on a par with our foreign policy, namely speak softly and carry, um, a large skim latte'.
  • And locally, well, we did manage to force our Governor to drop the clown nose and false whiskers he's been wearing and reveal himself as (gasp!) a Republican. Who would have guessed? We failed to pass a constitutional amendment that would have prohibited right-to-work legislation, and amazingly, the state houses then instantly passed -- right-to-work legislation. And a coalition of confused and misinformed residents of our larger cities were able to repeal the emergency manager act.
  • On the good side? Well, Japan returned its conservative party (confusingly named the Liberal Democratic Party) to power, and they're committing themselves to rearming, not to confront us but China. This of course provides us with another place to sell planes, tanks, missiles, and warships.
  • Nationally, Ron Paul is (apparently) out of politics now, demonstrating that even a country crazy enough to elect two different George Bushs isn't crazy enough to hand over the reins to him. And the GOP further endeared itself to its own lunatic fringe by ousting a bunch of their elected representatives from important committee positions.
  • And here in our beloved southeastern Michigan, well, Matty Maroun lost his attempt to hijack the constitution; the legislature immediately passed a new, referendum-proof emergency manager law; and ... they finally got that damn bridge done.
So anyway ... here's hoping 2013 is better for everybody concerned.
Update 2012 12 26: In an incredibly Ron Paul moment, the man himself stepped up to the Gun Control plate and rejected both the NRA guards-in-schools concept and stricter controls on guns. Amazing!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Is it OK to believe rubbish?

Obviously, since you're reading this, the world didn't end a couple of days ago. No one with any claim to common sense or even the ability to read English or any of the world's other commonly-used languages thought it would. And yet, people did believe it. Schools closed, on the grounds that "something might happen." Somewhere out there, I'm sure somebody cashed in all thirty-seven dollars of their IRA money and headed for the woods.

This sort of thing isn't new. Apocalyptic visions are a dime a dozen in human culture, viz. that pathetic specimen of unorthodoxy, Harold Camping. You remember him? The guy who at least twice convinced quite startlingly large numbers of people that the end was coming, on one of several specific dates? Lots of them, at least reportedly, did themselves economic damage by buying into the notion.

There were also the Heaven's Gate people, who formed the ultimate "away team" by committing suicide. (Whether they were all wearing red shirts is not known.) And some people who really should have known better thought that Y2K would spell the end of western civilization.

You can find lots of lists and compilations of this sort of thing, none of which -- read that carefully -- none of which turned out to be correct. Unless you descend into truly fringe-mentality arguments, the observable universe remains in place, as does (like it or not) human culture. That's not a good track record for the doom-sayers.

What you don't find, though, is much talk about consequences for asserting this sort of thing. There is little or no legal basis, that I know of, for having to hold your acolytes harmless for inaccurate predictions on your part. And maybe we ought to look into that. It would go a long way toward putting teeth into the separation of church and state. And since, as Jefferson put it, religion is a matter between a man and his God, it wouldn't open the gates to a flood of post-mortem lawsuits against ministers and mullahs, since there would be no admissible evidence regarding heaven, hell, some integer less than fifty virgins, and so on. Only clearly demonstrable inaccuracies would be acceptable as evidence of breach of contract.

Ah, you say, but what contract? I would argue that if a man can be held to the terms of a lengthy and incomprehensible software license agreement, simply by reason of having checked a box on a computer screen, then a preacher can be held to an implied guarantee that his or her utterances are correct, accurate, and entire. That is, if said preacher wants tax-free status.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Bork Bites the Dust

And I'm not talking about a Swedish chef.

Robert Bork, the demonic loose cannon of 1980's jurisprudence, one of the few people too conservative even to be confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice, has passed on.

Just in case anyone is tempted not to speak ill of the dead, here's a selective sample of Bork's attitudes and achievements (they could not really be dignified with the term "opinions.")

  • Believed that a blanket law prohibiting contraception, by anyone, married or not, was not unconstitutional.
  • Bowed to Nixon's demand that Archibald Cox be fired, after two Nixon appointees had refused to do so.
  • Espoused positions so radical that the ACLU was forced off the fence and into a position of advocacy.
  • Similarly, took a view of civil rights so archaic and inhuman that even southern democrats with a history of racist voting couldn't support his nomination.

In our era of loud revisionism, it's fashionable to claim that Bork was turned down for the court appointment "for political reasons" and that his treatment during confirmation was somehow biased and unfair. This point of view starts, ironically, as a liberal one: it takes as its basis that you have a right to be any kind of a fundamentalist jackass you want to be. Then it veers into a far right position, saying that not only do you have that right, but you have the right to inflict those views on everybody else. That is what every judge, in every court, essentially has: the right to subject law to a review colored by whatever kind of glasses he or she prefers to wear. And if you reveal to the world, in published material, over and over again, that your view of the law is somewhere to the right of Sharia, then the polity has the right to send you home and pick up the next resume on the pile.

Bork did not fail in his confirmation because of mindless political partisanship. He failed because he was, in fact, as bad as he was painted, and his own words convict him.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Cultural news from Egypt

The government has retained Pat Banatar to write a new national anthem, apparently titled "Hit me with your despot." Sorry.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Ann Arbor's Traffic Problems are Solved!

Simply restrict driving -- especially of AATA buses -- to this emerging demographic, and all will be well.

(By the way, "L plates" is UK and Commonwealth-speak for Learner Permits.)

(And of course, see here for Elliot Erwitt's take on the same topic.)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The heart of news-ness: allafrica.com

One of the best uses of the Internet I've encountered.  If you're not familiar with Allafrica.com, you should be. It's a massive exercise in content aggregation, uphill against the wind in a continent that's hostile to journalism in general and especially to on-line journalism.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Is our rednecks lerning?

Periodically, I get catalogs -- constantly, I get catalogs. Oy, do I get catalogs. Among them are a lot of middle-of-the-road material, one or two preferred vendors, and then -- far off the left side of the chart, quality-wise, not politically -- are a couple of outliers. Their target market seems to be the American undomesticated wild ass, the person, probably male, probably single, probably a grade-school drop out, with a small amount of disposable income and no taste for the finer (or even less-awful) things in life.  The guy whose wardrobe consists of wife-beaters and hoodies with silk-screened eagles on 'em.  I enjoy reading those catalogs a great deal, and from time to time, I am compelled to share some of their products with you.  This is one of those times.
As you deconstruct this narrative, note the following: you don't often see "Executive" and "Ridge Runner" together in the same context.  Consider the level of quality this product must exhibit, given its princely MSRP of $17.00.  And finally, wonder at the assertion, "Perfect gift for the boss."

Exhibit two;
First of all, your honor, although the prosecution admits that there were submarines, at least a couple, operable in the Civil War, none of them "ruled the seas."  They were, in fact, barely able to function without sinking and drowning their crews wholesale -- in fact, several of them did just that. Further, of all the "collectible" equipment that sub crews in the 1860's would have used, edged weapons were not really at the top of the must-have list.  "Out cutlasses and board," was not an order frequently heard in that context. And finally let me just say in closing, that while this may be a reproduction of a US Navy cutlass, it is certainly not a replica of a US Navy Civil War Submariner's cutlass. Why? Because the US Navy didn't have any damn submarines in the Civil War.  The Confederates put a few into the water, how many we don't know, and lost a lot of men in the course of finding out just how poor an idea it was, given the technology they had. The US wasn't interested, due to an unusual combination of hidebound conservatism and remarkably astute assessment of the likelihood of success.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Yet Another Social Networking Site

I'm of two minds, give or take a mind, about goodreads.com. It appears to be a kind of facebook for people who can actually remember what a book looks like, or claim to.  Our shamelessly self-aggrandizing acquaintance had it recommended to him by some blog postings as a way of promoting his silly book, and so he's given it a try, kicking and screaming all the way.  If this goes on, can a Facebook presence be far behind?

One or two of you, I believe, are actually on goodreads; what do you think of it?  Mr. McConnell tells us that he's reluctant to spend a lot of time on it, but is willing to if it's not a complete waste.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Quit yer beefin'

Or actually, don't.  At least until you read this article about your brain and meat.

Been telling you so for years.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The energy drink industry ...

Finally getting the attention it deserves.  Especially the Five-hour guy, Manoj Bhargava (who, for some reason, I'd heard was an Ann Arborite.  He's not, he lives in Farmington Hills.)

What everyone seems to ignore about the energy drinks (besides their being a totally unnecessary affectation) is that they're caffeine.  Caffeine plus we're not sure exactly what, but typically sugar, anyway.  And in some cases, phenylalanine, which is extremely bad for you if you have phenylketonuria -- and lots of people do.  While the article is from a somewhat suspect source (Forbes), David Kroll (with no initials, such as "MD", that he bothers to use after his name, BTW), has a nice heads-up piece on the stuff.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Something in the water, I guess

Whatever it is that makes the Michigan 11th district unique in its ability to produce congressional exotica is still operating.  Thad McCotter, the loser who ran briefly for president before cratering like a bluejay hitting a window wall, is being replaced by Kerry Bentivolio, a Republican reindeer rancher from Milford.  I did not make that last phrase up. He's really a reindeer rancher. From Milford.  He's also a teabagger and in general an embarrassment to the state, making him a fitting replacement for McCotter.

Quoted by Mlive blogger Khalil AlHajal, Bentivolio had this to say, apparently alluding to opportunities for improvement in the 11th disctrict's staffing and overall attitude toward the constituency: "Our staff will be well-trained. I'm going to test them ... send somebody posing as a citizen to see how well our staff performs."

Why it would be necessary to "pose as a citizen" in order to do a mystery shopper sting on a congressional office was not explained, but, after all, he is a fully-qualified reindeer rancher.

The Score

Gleaned from this morning's news. Not a bad set of outcomes, all in all. Unfortunate about the Emergency Manager law, but maybe the legislature will pass a new, more idiot-proof version now.
TopicOutcomePos/Neg
National Elections
Presidential ElectionDemocrat: Obama Positive
15th Congressional DistrictDemocrat: Dingell Positive
US SenatorDemocrat; Stabenow Positive
State and Local Elections
53rd District MIDemocrat: Driskell Positive
52nd District MIDemocrat: Irwin Positive
Ann Arbor MayorDemocrat: Hieftje Positive
State Supreme Court JusticesBridget McCormack
Stephen Markman
Brian Zahra
Positive
Negative
Negative
State and Local Proposals
Prop 1: Emergency Manager LawFailed Negative
Prop 2: Prevent Anti-Union LegislationFailed Negative
Prop 3: Renewable Energy StandardFailed Positive
Prop 4: Home Health Care UnionFailed Positive
Prop 5: Tax Increase SupermajorityFailed Positive
Prop 6: Bridge and Tunnel MeasureFailed Positive
Prop: C Ann Arbor Library ReconstructionFailed Positive
Prop: B Ann Arbor Public Art FundingFailed Negative
Prop: A Ann Arbor Parks MillagePassed Positive
Note that the Mayor staved off a challenge from an independent candidate, Albert Howard, narrowly defeating him by a margin of only 30,000 or so votes.


Update: 2012 11 07: Romney can at least claim that he swept the looney vote. Donald Trump, Ted Nugent, and the guy they just arrested for apparently being the I-96 Freeway Shooter were all big fans of the Mittster, and they all exhibited psychopathia twitteralus.  Congratulations to the GOP for having so accurately targeted its core supporters.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Our gallant allies

The British. Read, if you can stand it, about a life peer of the realm, "a former fishmonger," (it says) who appears to have been trying to explain away the shooting of Malala Yousafzai. His thesis, at the time, seems to have been that the Taliban didn't do it. Here's just a sample of Lord Ahmed's comments:

"Criminal activity can even take place inside the BBC and crimes have been committed by people smoking cigars, which the police are now investigating."

I have no more idea what he was talking about than he did. The whole article is full of similar but much more vicious nonsense.

While Rome burns ...

As election fever (a little known variant of Dengue, also referred to as Gingrich's Syndrome or Trumps) sweeps the nation, attention has drifted away from the trial of Kwame Kilpatrick, ex-Mayor of Detroit. Yesterday, his long-time water and sewage czar associate, Victor Mercado, copped a plea and admitted that he'd helped Kilpatrick violate the Hobbs Act. Read: commit extortion. Mercado, whose name means "Market" in Spanish (not kidding -- look it up) was in charge of water and sewage during Kilpatrick's administration (much of the alleged corruption was about sludge, in case you'd forgotten. Classy.)

While some might see this as a setback for Kilpatrick's "I didn't do nothin'!" defense, at least the attorneys for his other old pal, Bobby Ferguson, say not so. In a strange echo of Newt's reaction when his campaign dropped a stitch and failed to get on the Virginia primary, they say it "doesn't affect anything." Newt, as you'll recall, called the Virginia thing his Pearl Harbor, but claimed he could recover.

The prosecutor, explaining why they agreed to a plea deal for Mr. Mercado, said that he didn't make any money out of the whole thing, but that he did "compromise himself." At press time, there were rumors that the Guinness Book of World Records was seeking to verify this claim, since it would put Mercado in the running for the title of only person in the entire Kilpatrick regime who didn't get paid off.

Update: Noting that he's in the market for a new job, the Michigan Republican Party is reported to be heavily recruiting Russian ex-Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov. "He'd fit right in," said a party member who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Monday, November 5, 2012

McLuggage Wins in Landslide

In an independent poll conducted by the Wood-Charles News Service, Wood-Charles Founder, financial genius, political expert, and Certified Scrum Master J. Francis McLuggage is likely to win tomorrow's election by a margin of 70+ percentage points. Both the Romney and Obama campaigns conceded defeat, and Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann were arrested outside a Reno, Nevada saloon, duking it out over who would have McLuggage's baby.

At a mass rally, McLuggage told an audience of over 32 million screaming, heavily armed supporters that the announcement was "totally accurate, to the extent that polls are capable of being totally accurate," and fiercely denied that it was just a ploy to see how many page views his blog would generate by carefully tagging this message with election-related keywords.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Dr. Steven Barrett on Chiropractic

Barrett runs Quackwatch, and here's a nice slide show and talk on Chiropractic. I'm not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV, so all I can say is that most days, my drive to get coffee takes me within 50 feet or so of a Chiropractic office, and that's as close as I ever intend to get to one. Your mileage may vary.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The animals are revolting

Admittedly some are cute as well. The stories below are all from a single day's look at UPI's odd news (plus one from the Reykjavik Grapeline, via Dave Barry's blog:)
Oh, in other news, there was a storm somewhere. It's over now. Back to business as usual.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Decline and fall

The chump Apple executive responsible for the maps fiasco is being run out of town on a rail let go for, rumor has it, not so much the fiasco itself as refusing to sign the company's apology. He was the iOS chief and, again, according to rumor, is going to charged with crimes against humanity by the International Court for sullying Apple's saintly reputation.

They also booted their retail guy, too.

(2012 10 30: 10:57 AM: Note that the link above is not working right now, thanks to the Hurricane.)

And while all this goes on, Microsoft tries to excite the world with yet another version of Windows. World: huh? Who? Microwhat?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Just still somebody afraid from stones

When you combine an incomplete understanding of the English language with a) sarcasm or b) mental illness, you get something like this comment, which I found on a Turkish news site's story about an archaeological find. The story is here, but I've copied the comment verbatim for fear it will somehow disappear from the web. Things like that happen, you know.

"for sure is from Mars . names also from cities provide that . all are from marsian origin . the alfabet or maybe the corect word is marsabet is an alian one .everybody in western word know that . just still somebody afraid from stones . jews and greeks by the way forced before milion years to pluto . to belive in a jewish religion and have a greek based education and politic system its real hell "

This was posted by someone whose user id is constantinos kio. I leave it to you (or perhaps Dr. Dahl's translation software) to speculate on its meaning.


Be afraid from stones.

Forget Java; start coding in ...

Proto-Elamite. It's the oldest language we know about and can't yet read, but stand by, because a bright boy or group of same is closing in on it.

A while back, namely 3200-2900 BCE, some folks in what is now, God help it, Iran, used this text to record ... something. And if some high-powered computers have anything to say about it, we'll know soon. The sort-of-gushing BBC story is here, including a good picture of some of the proto-Elamite writing itself.

I called the scientist in question (Oh, yeah. Archaeologists are always happy to drop what they're doing and chat with unknown bloggers and cranks. They love it. Give it a try.) The text of the interview is reproduced here:

WCA: I'd like a pizza to go and no anchovies.

Dr. Jacob Dahl: You've got the wrong number. I spell my name, "Danger." (Hangs up)

WCA: Oh, man. Nobody will come up into the hills at all!

WCA: (calls back) Is this Dr. Dahl?

DJD: Are you the prat who just called me?

WCA: Yes. I mean no, no not at all. I'm someone quite else.

DJD: What do you want?

WCA: About this proto-Elamite stuff -- what do you think it'll say when you get it deciphered?

DJD: How the hell should I know? That's why we need to decipher it. Was there anything else?

WCA: Why does the porridge bird lay its egg in the air?

DJD: (Hangs up)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Game changer!

No, I'm not talking about Trump's asinine little stunt. I mean the news today that Italy's own Sylvio "Bunga-bunga" Berlusconi is dropping out of future contention for Prime Minister -- so that he can run fpr the US Presidency! Ok, I made that last part up. But he is out of the picture, he says, in Italia.

Wanna bet?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Recurring nightmare theme

Over the years, except for the years when I wasn't driving (1976 to 1978, more or less,) I always seem to have had an automotive bête noire -- a car, driven by others, that always seemed to be in my way, underfoot, and generally annoying. For a while, it was the Datsun B210, a tinny, underpowered little lump, one of which it seemed was always ahead of me, demonstrating its inability to get out of its own way.

Later on, it was other cars. The early mini-vans were bad, bad, bad, mostly because of the poor distribution of driving skills among their target market. Just last month, I had a fit of Honda Odyssey hating, not so much for operative as aesthetic reasons (them's butt ugly, in my arrogant opinion.) But I realize, especially upon reading this blog post from Jalopnik, that I have always, from the day of its inception, hated the Prius. Still do.

And now the damn things are outselling not only reasonable vehicles (e.g., the Ford F-150) but also Toyota's own wretchedly-bland Camry. I think secession may be our only hope.

Unless ... we can convince the Italians to mass produce something like this little darling. Imagine one of them with, say, a Ford 302 V-8 or even a Nissan 6 pulled out of a wrecked Z. Ommmmmmm.
Oh, what is it? A 1956 Lancia Aurelia.


The question was asked, how come you weren't driving back in the Seventies? It was a combination of three things: a misplaced, idealistic notion that you could get along in the American Midwest without a car (totally false unless we're talking downtown Chicago;) a deep disgust with the last five or nine motor vehicles I'd owned, all of which were ancient, poorly maintained, and poorly built in the first place; and simple penury.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Absolutely god damn right

As Martin Sheen's character says in Apocalypse Now, "Never get out of the boat!"

Having been driven around in India by locals (you couldn't have paid me enough to get behind the wheel, myself,) I can attest to the validity of this article's thesis: Never Drive in India.

Oh, and in another example of "Absolutely god damn right," the Detroit Free Press' Editor in Charge of the Bleedin' Obvious says, "Detroit's next police chief will have hands full."

As if the last five or six of 'em didn't, in all possible ways you can interpret the phrase.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A shameless plug for some hack's new book



Some guy in Ann Arbor has written a book, and because he did us a favor or two a while back, he thought he could lean on us for a bit of free publicity. Turns out, he was right. He could.

As John Cleese, I think it was, said, I can highly recommend this book to people who quite like this sort of thing.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Recently Read

These are not new books, and in fact, only one of them was new to me. The others were revisited with great pleasure. But if you want to wallow in the Civil War, you can't do better than Stephen W. Sears.
  • To the Gates of Richmond: The Peninsula Campaign, Stephen W. Sears. If you want to know why George McClellan was the political George W. Bush and the military Benito Mussolini of his day, this is the book to read.
  • Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam, Stephen W. Sears. Horrifying and probably treasonous behavior on the part of the Federal command, astonishing courage and sacrifice from the rank and file, and the ouster, for the first time, of Lee from a northern invasion.
  • Chancellorsville, Stephen W. Sears. After Lincoln booted McClellan and installed "Fighting Joe" Hooker in command of the Army of the Potomac, Hooker invaded Northern Virginia, stumbled into the area called the Wilderness, and got his butt kicked right back across the Rapidan by Lee and Jackson.
  • Gettysburg, Stephen W. Sears. And of course, after Chancellorsville, Lee moved north again, up through Maryland and into Pennsylvania. Then, his brain quit working, and he allowed himself to be pulled into a meeting engagement with the Union army, this time under George Meade, who was essentially the first of the Federal generals to understand offensive movement, defensive action. Lee lost.
The thing I like about Sears is that he's a careful and well-educated historian who can also write. Unlike the popularizers like Shaara and his ilk, Sears has no axe to grind, he just explains and does it brilliantly. I haven't done an actual count, but these four books together probably comprise 2500 pages, and you'll be hard pressed to find a better introduction to the war in the East. I don't know what Sears may be working on now, but I hope it's more of the same. If he'd just take on first and second Manassas and Fredricksburg, virtually the whole pre-Grant eastern theater would be covered, and we could remainder a lot of lesser books on the subject.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Unpopular Music

Various churches around the country are again defying Federal Law by endorsing political candidates. This is nothing new, and the government, quaking in its boots at the thought of the uproar that would ensue, generally ignores them instead of ordering drone strikes on the miserable bastards stripping them of their tax-exempt status and demanding tax payments back to the Eighteenth Century.

However, there's another odd category of public personality whose endorsement of one or another posturing right-wing jackass News Corp shareholder should, in the opinion of this blog, be regulated. We support the right of people like Ted Nugent and Kid Rock to vote how they please, but it does seem odd that they're allowed to carry on the way they do and yet pay no taxes.

What? They're not tax-exempt? You mean to tell me Nugent is for-profit? And he's still around? And that little ponce, the other one, too? Wait a minute. That implies that people actually pay to hear them? Oh lordy lord, I'm a-moving to Canadia.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Continuity of Command

A while back, I posted a kind of scorecard of malfeasance and hanky-panky at the command levels of the Detroit police dept. Well,the tradition continues. Chief Ralph Godbee has been suspended for theoretically the same thing.

Update 2012 10 09: Godbee resigned. The mayor and the Police Commission are snarling at each other over who gets to cover the whole thing up investigate. Rick Snyder is frowning at everybody.

I had never heard of this gentleman

Wole Soyinka is a Nigerian writer -- a Nobel laureate, too.  He hadn't really been on my radar; in fact, I'd never heard of him.  But, man, when he's right about something, he's really right.

"... the science fiction archetype of the mad scientist who craves to dominate the world has been replaced by the mad cleric who can only conceive of the world in his own image ..."

"Certainly it cannot be denied that religion has proved again and again a spur, a motivator and a justification for the commission of some of the most horrifying crimes against humanity, despite its fervent affirmations of peace. Let us, however, steer away from hyperbolic propositions and simply settle for this moderating moral imperative: that it is time that the world adopt a position that refuses to countenance religion as an acceptable justification for, excuse or extenuation of crimes against humanity."

The quotes are from an address he gave to  the 2012 Conference on the Culture of Peace and Non-Violence at the UN.  The Root has the entire text here.  Worth a look.

Update 2012 10 04: Ed Asner agrees. He said in a New York Magazine interview, "I tend to think that religion has probably killed more people than anything else."

While that's not statistically supportable (being alive is the number one cause of death, after all,) I applaud the sentiment.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Draw your own conclusions

... about ISO 9001, Zimbabwe, or anything else, for that matter.

But before you do, have a look at this fascinating bit of news.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Technology serving you

 On Friday night, ours was among 1000 or so homes that were blacked out due to incompetent utility crews blowing something up again. (Fortunately, not our air conditioning condenser, this time.)  This morning (Sunday,) my Google voice phone account emailed me this automatically - generated transcript of a call from DTE. 

Hello, this is D T E energy calling with information about your most recent college us up transmission line that feeds a sub station your Manchester Road in medford road went out cruise repair the lying in order to restore your power. If you have any further questions or concerns, please call (313) 235-4141 leave your name, address and phone number and in engineering representative for return your call. Yeah, this message from from hey Pansat 29 keep asking for now. Hello, I had in mind land. 

My experience with DTE is that cruise seldom have to repair the lying.  It's usually in good working order.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

I never thought I'd say it

Mitt Romney and I agree on something. "Don't expect tax cuts," he says.

I've said it myself.  Emphatically. Over and over again. It doesn't matter who you vote for, who gets elected, or what else happens: do not expect to pay less in taxes.  Can't happen. An official or an economist or a candidate who says it can is a) lying, b) ignorant, or c) insane.

And again, I find myself in the unlikely position of agreeing with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He called for a "new world order" or something like that when, for reasons that are not at all clear to me, he was again allowed to address the UN.  I don't think we're on the same page, Mahmoud and me, about the details of this here new order, but I sure agree we need one.

Apparently, so does the supreme leader of Iran (which is not Mr. Ahmadinejad - it's the Grand Ayatollah  Youso Ali Hosseini Khamenei.) While the President was out of town, eating noodles at one of David Chang's places, most likely, the supremo had the President's press secretary arrested for saying things he didn't like. (Caution: that's a link to Haaretz, easily one of the most annoying news sites on the web. You were warned.)

Anyway, it's been a good day for saying stupid things in public, and I thought I should join in.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Human or AI translation: you decide

In this article from the Monrovia, Liberia New Republic, the author reports on the discovery of what, here, would be a somewhat minor piece of governmental fraud -- in Detroit, it'd have been a misdemeanor.  Essentially, the perpetrator sent a letter to the biggest taxpayer in his area of irresponsibility, saying that the government had outsourced its tax collection processes, and in the future, would you please send your taxes to me?  Surprisingly, this netted him $325K, more or less, until he was spotted.  All that would be unremarkable, except for what the story says next:

"But as he was cooking the scheme, apparently God was looking down and little he knew he would be caught pant down and his deal exposed ..." 

 You can't make this stuff up.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Sabre Rattling on the PacRim

The Japanese say that cyber attacks are grounds for military response.  Now let's see, who could they be thinking about, there?

And then there's this bit of controversy over who owns what, out in the East China Sea. Seems like a potential Falklands sequel, except done as a kung fu epic rather than a post-colonial bedroom farce.


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Automotive News

Kia, the Korean automaker whose business strategy seems to be to make unattractive cars, copied badly from other companies' models, and sell them to people who frankly don't care what they drive, has announced a major push to increase share in the US.

"We’re going to do everything in our power to gain market share,” said Tom Loveless, Kia Motors America executive vice president of sales ...

"Everything in their power" seems to involve dancing hamsters.  Really.  It appears to be a savage swipe at the Spiderman musical or perhaps a condemnation of the pretensions of the Enlightenment, a parody of recent Heineken spots, perhaps -- a car commercial, not so much. There was a time when ad agencies got fired for this kind of nonsense.

As everyone knows, there are only two ways to sell cars in America, and both involve reproduction.  You sell to men by building vehicles and marketing campaigns that promise increased masculinity and reproductive success (viz, the Dodge Ram, which is manifestly inferior to its competitors from Ford and GM, but has a cooler name.)  You sell to women by promising that their precious offspring will be safely encased in a battle cruiser of airbags, crush zones, reliability, weatherproofing, and cup holders, while the little darlings are kept in a trance-like state by a constant flow of moronic digital entertainment.

Somehow, I have trouble fitting dancing hamsters into either of these messages.


Ok, I just watched it again, and I'm even more baffled.  Is the whole dancing and costumery thing supposed to represent hip, minority youth?  If so, notice that all the humans are pasty, pancake-makeup white, and the dancing creatures are ... hamsters.  Domesticated rats.  Is the message, "Hey, kids!  You know you're just vermin in the eyes of the grownups, so act like it! Buy a Kia!"

And while we're deconstructing, what segment of the American market is all ga-ga over hamsters?  I don't think urban yoof have very good feelings about rodents in general.  Soccer moms? Nope, that doesn't seem to resonate.  I'm just not getting it.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Well good for them

The Russians are worried about our defense technology.

That, of course, would be one reason for our having it, but never mind.  If they can't remember what happened the last time they decided to get into a spending race with us, I'm happy to let them go on not remembering.

"The question is will we copy the Americans' 40-year experience and create a (Northrop) B-2 analog ... or will we go down a new, ultramodern technology route, looking to the horizon and create a machine able to penetrate air defenses and carry out a strike on any aggressor," he said.

"He" being Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin.  Hee, hee.  Chuckle. Ha, ha. 'Scuse me. Haw, haw, haw! Snort! Cough! Wheeze! Ha, ha -- Sorry.  I was just thinking about what a wonderful stalking horse the B2 was, how many, many USD it cost, and how great it would be if the Russians decided to a) emulate that project or, b) leapfrog it and create something even less necessary and even more expensive. Chuckle.


Meanwhile, guess where the slowing Chinese economy is now causing problems?  We buy rare earth elements from them, they buy ... arn.  Yep, arn, or as it's pronounced in the Midwest, Iron. Or rather, they used to. Oh, how sad I am for the plight of poor Rio Tinto.


Denial State University Expands Overseas

There are no lions or tigers or fruitbats or hippopotamuses or ...

Somehow, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources has infiltrated the UK!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Another Joe Lieberman

So the great patriot and clear-thinking exponent of small government and, oh, hell, a bunch of other stuff, Ron Paul, says he will “probably vote” in the election, but it's not clear for whom.  He will not, he says, endorse the Romney / Ryan ticket (or at least that's what he's saying now, if you believe a Fox News reporter.)

Come on, Ron. Stage a write-in or a last-minute third-party effort or something.  Pull away as much of the knuckle-dragging vote as you can. Name that Akin moron as your VP.  Go out by doing something of service to your country, finally. Hell, if Ralph Nader can do it, so can you.

Atlas stumbled.


Oh, and just for fun, guess the name of the yacht on which Mitt held a party for big donors: "Cracker Bay." I'm not kidding, unless this article is.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Essential, really

Golok  
No, "Golok" isn't a Tolkien character.  It's a particular kind of machete.  This one is made in El Salvador, and it's going to see limited service in reducing the jungle around the Domaine to something resembling a steady state.



Could I do that with a set of pruning shears? Yes.  Would it be as much fun? No.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Reality Asserts Itself

Adobe is pulling the goddam unreliable crashprone piece of video player Flash from the mobile market. A spokesman for the American Society for Quality expressed satisfaction.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The heat is being turned up

Worth a look. Note that we are now saying that a major conflict with China is highly unlikely, up from unthinkable not too long ago.

See the Guardian article here.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The times they are a-changin'

The Mayor lost his majority on council, based on the primary results. In particular, the wins for Sumi Kailasapathy and Sally Hart Petersen mean trouble for Hizzoner, since in the words of Tony Derezinski, one of the losing candidates, "... they ran on — stopping various things ..."

Since, in the opinion of this blog, the primary thing Ann Arbor needs is someone to hold up a hand and say, "Wait! You want to do what? For how much money?" the outcome is probably a good one. Too bad for the Mayor, since by and large, his heart is in the right place, but the recent image projected by city hall -- a kind of Soviet-style "we never make mistakes" arrogance -- is not one that has endeared them to a lot of people.

The ironic thing is that although Hieftje will be running for re-election himself this year, we'll still be voting for him, regardless of any symptoms of hubris he may or may not have exhibited, since the "Independent" running against him is a full-blown looney. Albert Howard is our own little Thad McCotter, right up to the voices in his head that told him to run for President in 2008. So far, he hasn't been indicted for anything.

Freeze, sucker! You're busted!

The Michigan Attorney General is charging four of Thad McCotter's half-witted staff with actual crimes -- conspiracy, mostly -- related to their recent process improvement efforts. Going the conspiracy route was necessary, apparently, since Michigan's law against being an imbecile was repealed last year, thanks to efforts by the same pressure groups that now want to repeal the Emergency Manager law.

Wood-Charles has discovered that McCotter's team held a Kaizen event sometime in 2007, at which they determined it was a waste of effort actually to contact people and get signatures, when technology to photo copy repurpose the signatures was readily available. Unfortunately (for them -- it's great for Michigan,) their photoshop skills weren't up to the task, and as so often happens when production corners are cut, defect escapes occurred.

Update: at least one of 'em has been convicted.

Ah, the Irish - keep 'em away from microphones

Erin go barking mad ...

This is the absolute best sports commentary I've heard in years. Let me know if the link stops working, since I understand the IOC aren't especially happy about it.

"And what do we have here? More idiots."

Here's another link to the same content.

Friday, August 3, 2012

And speaking of city council

Here is the list of people running in the upcoming primary who will, they claim, not automatically support everything the Mayor proposes. They're all Democrats, nominally, so voting for or against them in the primary is crucial; whoever gets on the ballot will win.
Name Ward Notes
Sumi Kailasapathy 1 Running 2012 - anti Hieftje
Vivienne Armentrout 5 Running 2012 - anti Hieftje
Sally Hart Petersen 2 Running 2012 - anti Hieftje
Jack Eaton 4 Running 2012 - anti Hieftje

I like rail transit, for the most part ...

... but even I'm baffled by the rose colored glasses the Mayor seems to be wearing when he looks at the need for a new train station in Ann Arbor.

"Hieftje said he wouldn't be surprised if the number of Amtrak passengers riding the rails between Detroit and Chicago doubled in just a few years."

Is there even a shred of data to support that point of view?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Maybe Romney's VP candidate has emerged?

His wife's horse has a better foreign policy track record than Mitt does, per this article.

"Never for a second during her seven-minute performance did a hoof stray dangerously mouthwards, nor did she do anything at all to offend or upset the host nation."

Believe it ...

... when it happens. Yet another "coming soon" announcement regarding Georgetown.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

It's the PacRim, Stupid

"Challenge the US?"

Anyone who believes that all Putin is trying to do with his effort to secure naval bases in other countries is challenge us doesn't understand the Russian / Chinese dynamic. A Soviet Russian naval base in Vietnam, in particular, gives the PLAN (People's Liberation Army Navy) a strategic problem bigger than it gives us.

Or that is, it would if the Russian navy was something more than an echo of Rozhestvensky's 1905 model.

Coincidental Juxtaposition

In today's Guardian "top news" page, these two articles are presented one after the other:

"Syrian government forces move in on rebels in Aleppo "
"Mitt Romney moves on to Israel"


Which one will result in greater damage to US interests?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Recent Reading

My reading has been, as per usual, all over the map, depending on which particular distractions new areas of interest take hold of my loosely articulated attention span.
  • First, lots and lots of material by or about Walt Kelly, the creator of Pogo. In my ongoing effort to inventory every darn thing in the house, I made a list of the volumes I had and then went out to Alibris and ordered reading-quality copies of missing books, all in the category of actual material authored by Kelly. I was also handsomely presented with a new book about Kelly, Walt Kelly: The Life and Art of the Creator of Pogo by Thomas Andrae and Carsten Laqua. Great production values, exhaustive research. Better than many of the older attempts at Kelly bios, especially those produced under the thumb supervision of his widow, Selby Kelly. Although she was devoted to Walt, she was also intent, it seemed to me, on canonizing him rather than letting a lot of light shine in. This book does a much better job with Kelly-the-man, rather than Kelly-the-saint. Very nice interview with one of his colleagues at Disney, too, with a certain amount of Disney-dirt. Highly recommended if you're a fan of Pogo or the growth of the comics art form.
  • Another present which I am now absorbing is Sausage by Nichola Fletcher. This is another of DK Publishing's fabulously produced food-porn encyclopedias, with more gorgeous full-color pictures of sausages than you can imagine. Recipes, too, and a brief section on charcuterie techniques. Lovely stuff, and it will probably result in local shortages and price hikes in the pork market, once I get well into it.
  • Hesiod: Works and Days and Theogony, trans; Stanley Lombardo. Hesiod is usually mentioned together with Homer as among the earliest European authors we know of. Works and Days reads something like a blog, but Theogony is our first peek at what the Greeks thought about the origin of the universe, the family tree of the gods, and techniques for castrating your father with a flint sickle. Great stuff, and Lombardo's is the best translation I've looked at.
  • Herodotus, the Histories, trans: Aubery de Selincourt. This was sort of an "oh, all right," choice for me, since if you claim to be interested in history at all, and you've gone sixty years without reading him, you're probably faking it. Or so I argued. In fact, just as Larry Gonik said, it was intriguing, and I read it cover to cover. I don't have a basis to compare this version with other translations, but it's highly readable and heavily annotated. Whether Herodotus really visited all the places he claims to or talked to as many sources as he says or whether he made lots of it up, it's still enlightening. For example, of a part of what we'd now call North Africa, he says, "Here, everyone paints himself red and eats monkeys." My kind of town.
  • Plutarch, Lives of the Noble Greeks, selected and edited by Edmund Fuller. Plutarch wrote a series of short biographies, pairing up a Greek and a Roman personality in order to illustrate what he saw as similarities or common themes. Fuller split them apart into two volumes, one Greek and one Roman, and didn't preserve every pairing, but selected the more important people, historically. I'm not crazy about the translation (my copies are from 1959, when classic scholarship was even more pedantic than it is now,) but it's still readable.
Given the vast number of books that are sitting around in plain sight, I must have read more than just that in the last couple of months, but that's what comes to mind. Next up: The Conquest of New Spain, by Bernal Diaz. Whup the Aztecs before they whup you. This is the guy MacLeish based his poem on: "... but I fought in those wars!"

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Clovis not the original, claim academics

In our on-going series, "Everything you they know is wrong," the notion that the Clovis people were the first humans in North America has been hit with a couple of separate blows, at least one of which is probably going to be fatal.

In this article, excepted from Nature, large-scale work with DNA shows that there were at least three separate migrations from Asia, not the one big one that Clovis-first postulates.

Much more to the point, though, is this piece, in which DNA again, this time from Paisley Caves in Oregon, appears to show that there was a pre-13,000 year old culture that is also pre-Clovis. The authors of a piece in Science are taking a somewhat cranky line about it all, since they apparently got beaten up severely by the Clovis cult types (read: people whose reputations and bodies of research have been based on the Clovis-first assumption.)

If you want the quick cocktail-party sound bite, you can just say, "Well, of course Paisley Caves stratigraphy demonstrates that the Western Stemmed tradition pre-dates Clovis ... oh, you hadn't heard? Really?"

Anyway, poke around in the articles if you care for this sort of thing, but I won't be offended if you don't. As always, I'm fascinated by the resistance to change exhibited by people who are supposed to be trained to read the data and react with what Gene Wilder's Dr. Frankenstein character called "quiet dignity and grace."

Monday, July 9, 2012

Old news but with an inevitable twist

So by now you've heard that the Higgs boson or something that looks like it to particle physicists has been seen, flying by the window at the LHC. I was so relieved, personally, since now we'll be able to ... um, something or other. The standard model of the universe doesn't need to be rewickered or the shingles on Einstein aren't curling or something like that. But let's be clear about all this: a speculative view of how things are and came to be, realized mostly in abstruse mathematics, has had one of its more wild-ass conjectures initially verified. Years of quibbling remain, metric tonnes of chalk dust (more likely, white board marker fall out, these days,) and oceans of misunderstood media hooey (such as calling the Higgs "the God particle," a term physicists almost universally hate) lie ahead of us before anything you or I can experience will result.

But wait! One group, outside the common run of quantum-maddened theorists, does feel passionately about all this. No, it's not the crew of idiots over here who thought starting up the Large Hadron Collider would create black holes and end the universe. It's not the GOP, since no one has so far managed to find a way to blame quantum mechanics on Obama. No, it's those fun-loving Islamists, who "scorn" the only Nobel laureate Pakistan has yet produced, because he's a ... Christian? No. An atheist? Sadly, no. It's because he was an unpopular kind of Muslim. Who cares that he actually predicted the existence of the Higgs? That he was honored by the thinking part of the world for his achievements? He's a stinkin' heretic (or was; he died some time back.) See, Pakistan is largely Sunni, it turns out, and our guy, Adbus Salam, wasn't even a Shia, he was an Ahmadi. And the government of Pakistan has been at some pains to erase this particular sect from the canon of folks who can even call themselves "Muslim."

Still, Pakistan remains an important US ally, and acts as a bulwark against ... what, again?

Saturday, July 7, 2012

A simple question

It's 12:30 AM on a Saturday, and it is not the Fourth of July. Who decides to go outside and set off half a dozen or so large fire crackers? And why? Choose one or more of the following reasons:
  • I am an inconsiderate prat.
  • My neighbors are getting too much sleep. I'm doing them a favor, really.
  • I'm trying to see how quickly the Ann Arbor Police can respond.
  • I don't agree with Michigan's recently liberalized fireworks law, and consequently I want to influence voters to lobby for more restrictive ordinances.
  • Those weren't firecrackers. I was shooting at kids to get them off my lawn.
Whichever of these reasons (except the last one; we're cool with that) motivate pyrotechnics enthusiasts, they should consider the following: when and where I grew up, we didn't pay for expensive fireworks. We just stepped out the back door and cranked off a few rounds of ammunition. Old habits die hard.

I know you're as crushed as I am

Thad McCotter has resigned for reasons of cluelessness, a first for incompetent politicians, whose reasons for bailing out are usually picked from a short list:
  • Having been indicted for something (or actually convicted, in extreme cases)
  • To spend more time with their families
  • To spend less time with their families
  • "Health"
  • The voices in their heads told them to

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Questions, always questions

For no good reason whatsoever, I was looking around the snopes.com site (they collect and categorize dubious claims, urban myths, and other legends,) and ran across the list of probably apocryphal dumb questions asked by Olympics visitors in various locations through the years.

I say "probably apocryphal," partly to show off by using a big word and partly because the list is clearly just edited for different venues of the Olympics. However, it did cause me to think about our own upcoming influx of sun-addled imbeciles art fair, and how we might want to develop a similar list of our own. Here's a start:
  • How do you get to Zingerman's? Head east on Washtenaw and keep walking until you witness a drive-by shooting. Then ask.
  • Where can I park? Drive south on M-23 until you get to Cabela's. Or, if they're full up, here's an address on Berkley Avenue you can try.
  • Do they speak English in Ann Arbor? No, everyone here communicates by signal flags or in Latin.
  • What does it mean, "One Way?" I think you'll find that it doesn't matter.
  • How long is it? That's rather a personal question.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

DTE: threat or menace?

It's not often that when you hear a device malfunction described as "My system blew up," the phrase is meant literally. However, thanks (probably) to our beloved electrical futility, DTE Energy, we can say with complete candor, our air conditioning condenser exploded.

Shortly after a major power outage, caused by some malfunction or other in a transformer, our AC condenser (the large, noisy, ugly thing that sits outside and actually cools the air that your forced air furnace then flings around the inside of the house) stopped working. We were able to get a repair guy to come by early the next morning, and he shut off the power to the unit, and pulled off a sheet metal panel. When it came away, a large component fell out, never a good sign in my experience. The inside surface of the sheet metal was scarred and smoke blackened, and the piece that fell out was a beer-can sized capacitor which had blown itself out of its housing and into pieces.

The repairman had heard of another such incident from one of his colleagues, and had himself replaced a number of burnt-out motors in a flurry of post-outage overtime work.

Replacing the hand grenade capacitor solved the problem, and I've added the cost of the repair call to the growing list of items DTE owes us for, including a large Toshiba television set from a few years back, toasted by a brown out. All together now: Who works at DTE?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

While we're at it ...

2012 07 09: Update
The West Liberty construction is now finished, and the street is open again.

Posting pictures, that is, here are a couple of screen shots to ponder. First, here's the overall 2012 satanic plot summer construction plan, as reported in A2.com and enhanced by our crack ground-truth team.

Click on it for a bigger version. The yellow lines are streets torn up, closed, or with lane closures -- or planned for this fate. Note, in particular, the damage being inflicted on East/West traffic on Stadium, Liberty, and Miller. These projects are underway now, simultaneously.

Update 2012 06 18: per ground truth conducted this morning, the Huron Parkway devastation is just about over with. There's still some work going on at the Geddes and Fuller intersection, but otherwise, it was clear sailing.

If you look very, very closely at the center of the image, you can see a tiny segment of green. That's the one block of 5th Avenue that was recently completed and reopened to traffic. In case it's too small, here's a bigger picture.


Given that it took two years to complete that one block, anyone with the ability to perform a linear projection should be able to conclude that we will never be able to go across town again. Of course, this would be unscientific, as unscientific as, say, the good legislators of North Carolina, who want to require their state government to use only linear models for climate change. But that's a totally different story, innit?

Oh, and by the way, look how badly the roof of the transit center is skewed! Hasn't anyone noticed by now? I want my money back!


A suggestion WRT the Ann Arbor Marathon

Having not sufficiently contributed to divisiveness and partisanship, not to say clan violence between the Evil Westsiders and the Righteous Sons of Liberty who dwell on the East Side (you can see how far this gone, already,)the city allowed this weekend's Ann Arbor Marathon to be routed along Main Street from the heart of downtown clear out to Briarwood, effectively preventing any traffic from getting anywhere along any east/west route.

Now, my understanding of marathons and other examples of self-abuse healthy exercise is limited, but I do know that they pose a planning problem in that the course has to be 26.something miles long, or -- and this is the key point -- it has to add up to that number, with sufficient repetition. So for next year, if there's still a city here next year, I suggest that the run be set up to utilize another inspired piece of recent traffic engineering, and that it be routed around and around and around the Maple Road traffic circles, south of Miller.

This would inconvenience the least number of residents and taxpayers inconsequential and irrelevant members of the populace, since no one in his or her right mind would voluntarily use that piece of road to operate a motor vehicle. And it would provide entertainment, as the runners became dizzy and staggered off into the surrounding countryside.



As an alternative, the race could be set up on Yost Blvd., over on the East Side, and run around the tiny obstacle traffic-calming device that was thoughtfully constructed there in the not too distant past.

2012 06 19: Update: the Mayor appears to agree.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Around and around

The Latin tag that appears at the top of this Blog is attributed to Julius Caesar, and it means, roughly, "It's easy for men to believe what they want to."

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about this same phenomenon, under the label "Confirmation Bias." Essentially, if you have some results of some kind, or some observations, or something that passes for data, you are exhibiting or can be accused of exhibiting confirmation bias if you choose to interpret that data in a way that supports your pre-existing beliefs. It is my pre-existing belief that although CB certainly takes place, perhaps more often than not, it's the act of a fool to start flinging mud on that basis, since such criticism contains a serious logical flaw.

Consider: New Scientist recently ran a story about how CB might well be the basis of all positive interpretation of results, leading to support for the reality of paranormal phenomena. People, they said in effect, interpret observations as showing the existence of paranormal hooey if they already believe in it.

Well, a reader, somebody with some physics chops (he apparently won a Nobel prize, back in the Seventies,) wrote in, saying, "Oh, yeah! Well, maybe your authors think that because they're applying confirmation bias due to their not believing in paranormal stuff." (Or words to that effect.)

To which anyone, of course, could reply, "Ha! You just think that because you have a a pre-existing belief in the possibility of paranormality!"

To which he could then reply, "Oh, Yeah? Well, what if you ..."

You get the drift. It's all just a bunch of intellectual smack-talking. Yo' mama so credulous, she believe in ghosts! Oh, yeah? Yo' mama got confirmation bias in favor of not believin' in 'em! Oh, yeah? Well, yo' mama ... and around and around we go. It isn't a useful rhetorical device.

My point, if I can be said to have one, is that this isn't the most professional way to conduct intellectual discourse. Something that seems to have gotten lost along the path is that a scientist, even a social scientist or, God help us, a psychologist, should be extremely reticent to claim results or causalities on the basis of anything less than multiple, repeatable experiments. The right thing to say is that, based on the data I collected, there seemed to be nothing happening or, conversely, something happening, or -- much more likely -- nothing conclusive was observed, but I got tenure anyway.

This is how science was done, back in the dark ages when I was supposedly being trained to do it. What's gone wrong with the world?

Gee, Mom ...

"Oh, my, my look at the time - I've got to dress for my bridge club."

"Gee, Mom, isn't that bridge built yet?"

"No, Son, and it won't be until free hands on both sides of the big ditch can push the same button at the same time!"


Firesign Theater, Don't Crush That Dwarf


Although that bridge (you know which bridge I'm talking about) isn't built yet, Fifth Avenue is. It took two years, five hundred and sixty-eight billion dollars, and the lives of twenty-six hundred underpaid Irish laborers, but the project is finally done. Don't you feel better now?

Editorial note: two of the three statistics related to the Fifth Avenue Project cited above are incorrect and the product of a deranged mind. The person responsible has been sacked.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Law school admissions spike

Apple / Google feud heats up. Users of Apple devices to be denied mapping services. Sales of Android based devices balloon. (Ok, I made that last part up.)

Another footnote

So the wretched little hack from the 'burbs long-time Detroit area politician, Thad McCotter, who launched a ludicrous attempt on the Presidency in 2011, has exploded in mid-air, not unlike a North Korean ballistic missile.

Another example of why, despite my frequent displeasure with their antics, I almost always end up concluding that the Democrats remain the lesser of two evils -- or three, if you believe the tea baggers are not really Republicans, something the Republicans apparently would like you to believe.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Hard to believe, but ...

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein look back and conclude that -- shock, surprise -- Richard Nixon was scum.

Their thesis, with which I heartily concur, is that Nixon was at war with the country itself, fighting five assorted battles. If you were:
  • Opposed to the war in Vietnam
  • A member of or consumer of a free press
  • A Democrat
  • Concerned about rampant corruption and double-dealing
  • In a category much harder to define: those who resist the revision of history by the intellectually dishonest and personally interested
then you were on his enemies list, whether he knew your name or not. I'm proud to count myself in that number.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Thanks, Peter!



In memoriam, Peter Bergman.

Duluth? Fug all, you can get Tierra Del Fuego!

Update: Ray Bradbury just died, too. Jeez.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

On the positive side of the ledger

All is not completely grim in the realm of justice. True, we still have Citizens United in place, and as far as we know, Antonin Scalia has not contracted an embarrassing disease of any kind, but the courts of the world do occasionally turn out a good outcome.

Par example, the International Court, whose wheels grind slowly and very fine, indeed, convicted Charles Taylor for being a vicious, corrupt little Kinglet and, by the way, fomenting war in a neighboring country during his stint as President of Liberia. He got 50 years.

And as that bout of justice-mongering ended, another one kicked off, with Andy Coulson, the former editor of News of the World, Rupert Murdoch's defunct miserable little scandal sheet tabloid, has been arrested for being a lying sack of excrement perjury.

While both of these events are laudable, there is no room for complacency, as Graham Chapman might have put it. Consider:
  • Rupert Murdoch himself has yet to be charged with anything.
  • The species-er movement, a group of people who are demanding DNA tests to determine whether Donald Trump is actually human, remains underfunded and out of the mainstream.
  • Although the TSA nearly got him, Henry Kissinger managed to shoot his way out of an ambush and is still at large.
Stay tuned to the Wood Charles News Service, where we are committed to covering all the obscure news we can invent find.

All right, McLuggage, listen up

Idly glancing at the stats for this blog, I notice that since inception, it's been viewed a total of 6100 times!

Looked at one way, I'm talking to myself. Looked at another, I've managed to annoy people over six thousand times. Would I have been able to accomplish that without the magic of the Internet? Who knows. I could try, but the expenditure for travel and pies would be prohibitive.

Is our candidates lerning?

Romney: In order to better focus on our core competencies, we will be renaming the country.

The next step in the re-branding of the US will be a new tag line, rumored to be Amercia: it's just south of Canadia.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Thursday, May 10, 2012

There's a new kid in town (Everybody started walkin')


In compliance with my newly-adopted policy of not buying seafood on any kind of predetermined plan, but rather to always ask "What's good today?" I got a delicious piece of fish, new to me, called Cobia. Also known as a bunch of other things, Ling was the only alternate name I'd heard of. Rachycentron canadum is a semi-firm chunk of protein with a sweet flavor, very tasty indeed. (Note that I'd already eaten part of mine before I remembered to take a picture.)

Although Monahans's had a somewhat complex recommendation for making it, I just flung it in a bag with olive oil and some herbs for half an hour, and then grilled it - four or five minutes a side, for a piece this thick. If you're down at Kerrytown, grab a slab of it, and give it a try.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The raging sea (salt) controversy

After reading Adam Gopnik's The Table Comes First, I set out to track down some of the received ideas that Gopnik appears to parrot, uncritically. Here's the genesis of one, his assertion that Cook's Illustrated, the magazine of aggressive culinary mediocrity run by Chris Kimball, said that "all salt tastes alike."

They did not, in fact, say this. What they did was run a poorly designed tasting, with preconceived notions, and impose their bias on the results. This is the crux of it:

"Of the five tests run, we uncovered the most profound differences in our beef tenderloin test. Tasters loved the crunch of the large sea salt flakes or crystals when sprinkled over slices of roast tenderloin. Why did the sea salts win this test? Large crystals provided more pleasing sensory stimulation than fine table salt. In fact, tasters really objected to fine salts sprinkled on the beef, calling them "harsh" and "sharp." Tasters did like kosher salt on meat, but not as much as sea salts, which have larger crystals.

Does this mean that our tasters were reacting to the additives in table salt that the chefs had warned us about? It's possible, but given the results in our other tests, we are not convinced. It's hard to sprinkle fine-grained sea or table salt evenly over meat, and we think tasters may have been hitting pockets with a lot of salt and reacting negatively."


No, what it means is that the magazine's baked-in prejudice in favor of mass-market products, which shows up again and again in its content, was not borne out by what its tasters told them. So they editorialized. So Gopnik misinterpreted bad science. This is how we come to believe things that are neither true nor helpful.

Here at Domaine Sainte Melange de Berger, we are now conducting a slightly more rigorous test, over time and as samples come in, which we will publish when there's a bit more data.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Never too late, I guess

Newt Gingrich is said to be considering an exit from the primary race if Romney wins in Delaware. He is reported as saying, “I think we would need to take a deep look at what we are doing ...”

Why start now?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Well, maybe

Recent and very well done scholarship has cast doubt on whether Marco Polo (him and his shirt - pfft) really did visit China or whether he based his writings on the subject on things he learned from other travelers.

Now, another researcher says, Yes, he did go. University of Tübingen Sinologist Hans Ulrich Vogel has done a lot of digging into primary sources, including those in Chinese, and concludes that what Polo had to say about China in the 13th century was, on the mean, credible -- as in, he really did go and he really was an employee for a bit, anyway, of Kublai Khan.

Well, maybe. I don't think Vogel's points (at least as summarized in the article linked above) are conclusive, although they make the case muddier, anyway. I'll wait for the next round, myself. Or -- here's a revolutionary thought -- I'll get around to digging out Vogel's actual piece and see how much the journal abridged it. Or I'll just forget the whole thing.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Barney Frank on Newt

New York Magazine has a fantastic interview with Barney Frank, very, very well worth looking up. In it, Frank makes it clear that he's a regular reader of this blog, as he echoes something I've said over and over:

"He's (Gingrich) never been much of a legislator. This notion that he's so bright, he talks about having ideas -- I never considered him to be one of the brighter ones."

You and me, Barney.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Recent Reading

Although it seems to me that just about all I do is read things (and form half-baked opinions about them,) the list of books I've read lately isn't as long as it has sometimes been. One reason is that I don't tend to count things I read on-line, since they're somehow insubstantial. Another factor is that I've had a couple of fairly weighty tomes to get through. And, for methodological research purposes, I re-read the entire output of a well-known mystery writer. Anyway, here are a few entries, restricted to a) actual books, b) books I hadn't read previously, and c) those with something useful to be said about them.
  • The Black Hawk War of 1832, Patrick J. Jung. A while back, I summarized another book about an obscure Indian/Indian/European conflict, The Fox Wars. Those events, if you recall, ended up with the Fox Indians fleeing from Wisconsin, and eventually getting pushed off to the western edge of Illinois and over the river into what we would now call Iowa. Their friends the Sauk Tribe, were already there.

    All that was early on, and other things (including the American Revolution and the now two-hundred-year-old War of 1812 intervened. But by the 1830s, America was pushing right up to the Mississippi and beyond, and the Sauk and what was left of the Fox people were getting the shaft again, since they were caught between the Yankees on the east and several groups of traditional native enemies on the west and north.

    To make a long story short, an individual named Black Hawk refused, under arms, to cooperate with seizure of his ancestral village. Although it wasn't much of a war, from a shooting standpoint, it was a disastrous defeat for Black Hawk and his folks, and did a great deal to convince the remaining mid-western Indians that whatever else they did, fighting the whities was not a success-oriented strategy. Since opening casinos was not yet in the cards, they were forced to acquiesce in removal to reservations, rampant missionarism, and (let's just come right out and say it) strong drink.

    This isn't a book you'll enjoy, necessarily, but it fills in another chapter in the long history of abominable behavior on the part of just about everyone which seems to be a fascination of mine.

  • Ghosts of Empire, Kwasi Kwarteng. This is a splendid book, chatty and full of gossip, that addresses the horrific consequences of Britain's Empire, as seen by a Cambridge-educated gentleman of Ghanaian parentage, now a conservative member of parliament. His thesis is that the empire was less an empire than a work-relief program for the sons of clergymen, and that the worst ills (at least of the ones he takes up) were the result of some one, lone eccentric governor, making a bad decision and having no effective supervision to correct him. It's the Oswald-acted-alone theory of empire, and he makes a strong case for it, while introducing you along the way to a raft of wild and wacky imperialists.

  • The Table Comes First, Adam Gopnik. Oh dear, oh dear. This is an astonishing book, if only in the author's ability to be so absolutely right or wrong, with no in-between, on any given page. For the defense: he doesn't like post-modernists; he doesn't buy Safron Foer's idiocy about vegetarianism; and you do get the sense that, when he isn't in some way agonizing over it, Gopnik really does like food. The prosecution offers in rebuttal sentences like this one: "In life, as on the plate, there is a constant interchange between fashion and value, between 'surface' and 'substance' -- and taste is what carries the charge between them." Utter nonsense, and something that a man who really cooked, day in and day out and shopped for the ingredients and kept the cellar stocked, and cared about the goddam table (like in the title of his book) would never, ever say or think.

    Part of the problem with Gopnik is that along the way, he caught philosophy and caught a particularly nasty form of it, including Thorstein Veblen and Adam Smith and even, saints preserve us, Rousseau ("That mumping villain," P. O'Brian). The chapters in which he attempts to beat their ideas, which were as far removed from his subject as it's possible to be -- imagine any of the classical philosophers caring a whit about a food writer and his angst regarding the fate of French cooking, for God's sake -- are the second-least readable in the book. The absolutely least readable are the cloying "E-mails" to the long-dead English food writer, Elizabeth Pennell. If he'd been texting her pictures of his Anthony Wiener, it couldn't have been less attractive.

    Still, the book has some useful historical content. The discussion of the origin of restaurants and some of the debunking of food trends and food trendies is worth the time. Finally, though, it's going back on my shelf, along with a Marcella Hazen cookbook (Gopnik thinks Hazen is cool) and other silly productions of the food writing biz.
And that, leaving out a lot of other things that flowed under the bridge but weren't really reading in the haute sense of the word, is about it for the last couple of months.

Not just an ineffective mythology

Actually bad for you and often illegal. Traditional Chinese medicine, that is.

Summary article

PLoS Genetics link to the study

I'm not sure which is more repellent: that people want to ingest something that is described as "100% Saiga Antelope" or that the stuff isn't. I guess the best thing that can be said is that TCM makes Western-style big pharma companies look good by comparison. Never thought you'd hear me say that, did you?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Down another one

Rick Santorum, not the craziest but philosophically the worst of the GOP candidates, is out. He got everything he deserved, including the votes of the worst of American society, the crazy-racist-Christian crowd.

That leaves, among those you've heard of, anyway, Gingrich and Paul. Gingrich is now the philosophically worst, and Paul the craziest, with Romney a distant third in the idiot-non-savant competition. He will probably -- ok, virtually certainly -- be the Republican candidate. All that remains is to see what kind of imbecile he chooses to run with. My predictions, all negative, are that it will not be Sarah Palin, Gingrich, or Ron Paul. McCain is too old and has too much baggage. Cheney has a new heart but, let's hope, not many years to go. So who does that leave? You name it. I'm available, and if they need someone to visit foreign governments and say things off-script to embarrass a Republican administration, I'd love the job, but somebody would just shoot me, most likely.