Saturday, January 31, 2009


The historical origin of "Yes we can."

Found: the lost cities of the Amazon.

Very well then, what was THE MOST TRAGICAL TRAGEDY That ever was Tragedized BY ANY Company of Tragedians? Why, it was Chrononhotonthologos. Naturally. By Henry Carey (c1687-1743) but variously published under the pseudonym Benjamin Bounce, esq., or Robert Carey. Full text at the link! Thanks to commenter Sam Kelly at Making Light.

Help for pale people is on the way: Suntan Drug Greenlighted for Trials. Not a lotion that turns you yellow, but an injection that promotes production of melanin. Now see if the stuffy old FDA will let anyone use it. (via)

This time I am going to link the whole darn Friday Odd Links list from The Corner. Oh—I just did! Dr. Mengele; the far side of the moon; brewer's droop found to be mythical; and more.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Federally mandated warranty on catalytic converters

In Jerry Pournelle's mail:

I had no idea: There is a federally mandated warranty of up to 8 years/80,000 miles for certain car exhaust components. A USAF Master Sergeant just told me he saved $800 thanks to an honest mechanic.

See details at the EPA web site:

And I am eagerly awaiting “Escape from Hell!”

Respectfully Submitted,

Ranten N. Raven
The linked passage says that
For 1995 and newer model year vehicles, emission control and emission related parts are warranted for the first 2 years or 24,000 miles of vehicle use. Specified major emission-control components are warranted for the first 8 years or 80,000 miles of vehicle use.
Which parts are the specified ones? That's explained in the preceding section:
There are three specified major emission control components, covered for the first 8 years or 80,000 miles of vehicle use on 1995 and newer vehicles:
  • Catalytic converters.
  • The electronic emissions control unit or computer (ECU).
  • The onboard emissions diagnostic device or computer (OBD).
Fancy that! Thanks, Ranten N. Raven.

A few snacks

Cajun squirrel crisps. "What they're eating in Britain."

More food: Bacon pie, the story and all the pictures (via).

Which led indirectly to Chadzilla, a blog with pictures, oh, my, such pictures, of amazing food conjured by a group of chefs in Miami.

Which leads directly to Obama Foodorama: A Daily Diary of The Obama Foodscape, One Byte At A Time. Chadzilla says, "Everybody in the food industry should bookmark this site and read it daily." People not in the food industry might find something there as well. Top post this morning:

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack: Millionaire, Subsidy Recipient

The Office of Government Ethics released Cabinet appointees' income reports this week, and the AP and AM Law Daily point out that Barack has surrounded himself with millionaire lawyers in his admin, including Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

A two-term former Iowa governor, last year Vilsack's income included $300,000 from the global law and lobbying firm Dorsey and Whitney in Des Moines, Iowa; $100,000 consulting for MidAmerican Energy; $63,000 from Iowa State University; and $55,000 from other sources, including honoraria, a fellowship, a director's fee and consulting. In addition, he and his wife have $500,000 to $1 million in farmland that yielded $15,000 to $50,000 in rent.
There's more. So it's not all recipes, over there, by a long shot.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Monckton writes again

The News Junkie, at Maggie's Farm, says "The Global Warming Scare is over." I think the Junkie is over-optimistic about that. Global Warming is conventional wisdom and will shortly be goverment policy as the Obama nominees are confirmed. As the scientific evidence melts away, elite opinion will be more frozen in place.

In The American Thinker, this time:

Scare Watch: 'Arctic Warming is Unprecedented'

The scare:

In late January 2009, a U.S. government report on Arctic climate, prepared by an international team of 37 climatologists, concluded that the recent rapid warming of polar temperatures and shrinking of multi-year Arctic sea ice are "highly unusual compared to events from previous thousands of years". The report's summary says, "Sustained warming of at least a few degrees" is probably enough "to cause the nearly complete, eventual disappearance of the Greenland ice sheet, which would raise sea level by several metres."


The truth:

This report reveals very little that is new, and is predicated on a number of unproven assumptions, not the least of which is that the "global warming" that began 300 years ago, when the Sun was at its least active for 10,000 years, and continued until the latter part of the 20th century, when the sun was at its most active for 11,400 years, is chiefly anthropogenic. The mere fact of this warming, nearly all of which took place before humankind can possibly have had any significant influence, does not tell us its cause. Likewise, the mere fact that the warming has had effects on the climate does not tell us the cause of the warming. According to Scafetta & West (2008), some 69% of the warming of the past half-century was natural.
Much more at the link. (via)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Finger-synching at the inauguration

If you play Irish tunes, you're likely to get a few calls around March 17th. Some of those calls may involve outdoor events, parades, that kind of thing. If you live in New England, some of those March 17ths are going to be pretty chilly. You'll learn from that about doing music under adverse conditions, finger-tip-less gloves, the way that cold weather hurts your instruments or their tuning, or not. (Most Irish fiddle players use steel strings, which would be less affected by cold weather than the gut strings used by classical players. Thought I'd mention that up front, so as not to have to explain it later.)

If you play classical music, it's probably unlikely that you'll get those calls. So you may never learn those things. More on this at Althouse: "Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman faked it." With a few pithy comments by yours truly.

It amazes me how many people will comment on a post about a specific article without reading the article. Note all the concern exhibited by some commenters for the fabulously rare, old, valuable instruments, when it was made clear in the linked article that those instruments were not even on the scene.

Side ♪: If you own an instrument that's mostly made of wood and glue, such as a guitar or violin, it may be better off in the barn (or garage, or trunk of the car) than in the house in winter. Why is this? Central heating and insulation. A piece of wood will expand in size as it absorbs moisture, decrease in size as it dries out. Modern houses are pretty well weather-stripped, so that when the heat is on in winter, the humidity indoors can get down to 10% or less. It's a safe bet that the instrument was assembled under conditions of greater humidity than that. The wood will lose moisture to the dry air, and the individual pieces will shrink — away from the glue joints. Each piece of your guitar or violin will be trying to go its own way. In the barn, without central heating and with the wind whistling through the boards, ambient humidity rules. If it gets really cold, you might get some finish checking (but you can steal a word from the antiquarians, and call it craquelure). Still, your instrument is better off with a slightly more, um, interesting finish, than it would be in its component parts. Or you could use a humidifier. Many years ago, we'd cut a potato or an apple in half, put one half in the case with the instrument, and eat the other half. Change it for a new one when it got shriveled. More recently, when I worked at a music school, our pianos had humidifiers attached. It was time to fill the reservoir when the yellow or the red LED was lit. The piano teachers never checked those, gosh, I wonder why. Artistic temperament, I suppose. A guitarist is more — ahem — attuned to instrument maintenance. When was the last time you met a piano player who had to change her own strings, or even tune them?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Who wields the airbrush at the Ministry of Truth?

It's getting easier all the time to change the past. What is history, anyway, other than a story that story-tellers are ready to tell. Should the story-tellers change the story, who's to know?

One chilly day last September, United Airlines’ stock temporarily crashed more than $1 billion due to an accidental re-release of an old news report about its 2002 bankruptcy. The New York Times reported that “shares of United traded at one cent… down 99.92 percent, or $12.29.” Other news sites and blogs quoted or linked to the NY Times story.

Shortly afterwards, the NY Times article changed.

Today, the New York Times article from Sept 8, 2008 instead reads “United Airlines shares fell to about $3 from more than $12 in less than an hour before trading was halted… Its shares closed at $10.92, down 11.2 percent.” There is no record of that earlier statement on the NYTimes site. There is no indication in the article that a correction or previous release was made. It’s almost impossible to find the earlier version online, except in a few personal reports and isolated quotes on random sites. Months ago there were blogs with comments that referred to the $.01 low point, which have now mostly disappeared. The statement they refer to does not seem to exist in public archives.

Fifty years ago, physically published mainstream newspaper articles provided a fairly high degree of reliability: physical copies were distributed throughout the country, and then locally archived. Corrections necessarily left an audit trail. Readers could go to trusted custodians at their local libraries to verify that certain information had been released by a major central news source.

Maybe this is the real end of history, as it dissolves into competing versions. From Jerry Pournelle's mail.

Update: More on revising the news at TigerHawk. It's the NY Times, again.

A five-step program

If twelve steps are too many, or maybe you don't need the first few of them.

Steps to happiness

Developing relationships with family, friends, colleagues and neighbours will enrich your life and bring you support

Be active
Sports, hobbies such as gardening or dancing, or just a daily stroll will make you feel good and maintain mobility and fitness

Be curious
Noting the beauty of everyday moments as well as the unusual and reflecting on them helps you to appreciate what matters to you

Fixing a bike, learning an instrument, cooking – the challenge and satisfaction brings fun and confidence

Helping friends and strangers links your happiness to a wider community and is very rewarding

Actually, there is a sixth step mentioned in the article: Keep out of debt.

Half of people in Britain who are in debt have a mental disorder, compared with just 16 per cent of the general population.

Rachel Jenkins, of the Institute of Psychiatry in London, who led this section of the report, said: “We’ve known for a while there’s a link between mental health issues and low income, but what more recent research has shown is that that relationship is probably mostly accounted for by debt.”

Maybe six steps seemed like too many.

I wonder which way that link runs: does the "mental disorder" result from the indebtedness, or does the indebtedness result from the mental disorder? Of course it's more complicated than that, but I can't help thinking of Mr. Micawber:

'My other piece of advice, Copperfield,' said Mr. Micawber, 'you know. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery. The blossom is blighted, the leaf is withered, the god of day goes down upon the dreary scene, and — and in short you are for ever floored. As I am!'
Via The Message Digest.

All we gotta do

It's so simple. So easy. You and me, together. Here's Dr. House (Hugh Laurie) with the prescription:

See what I mean? Coming to a United States near you, Real Soon Now.

Related: My Kingdom for a Safe Zone.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Good luck and best wishes, President Obama

2689 days since Sept. 11, 2001, and there have been no major terrorist attacks on US soil. Keep it going!

Glenn Reynolds has an interesting screencap from Drudge:
Dems have been saying that the economy was in bad shape for years, when it was not. Now they have what they wanted, a Democratic Party President and Congress. Mission accomplished. Here's the problem: after working for years to crash the economy, for the sake of this election, now that they are in power, can they bring it back? Do they even want to? Or will we be seeing Rooseveltian programs reminiscent of the WPA and CCC, that further enlarge the public sector at the expense of the private sector? As formerly independent citizens become clients of government agencies, the Atlas Shrugged moment draws ever more nigh. Of course, a Chicago pol knows that you can only graft so hard without killing the goose. But it's a delicate balance.

Side note: An older friend tells me that WPA stood for "We poke along." Leaning on the shovels kind of thing.

Related: note the shapes of the lines on this graph, particularly the red one. Wellywanger at Theo's place has a similar one from Britain.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Experience will tell

or, Biden gaffes again. Spotted at Kausfiles:

“I know as much or more than Cheney." Mr. Biden said. "I’m the most experienced vice president since anybody.” Wow. a) Biden has no private sector experience after age 30, right? b) How insecure is this guy? Getting close to dangerously insecure, no? ... And here we we'd just succeeded in explaining away the "I have a much higher IQ than you do" aria of credentialist braggadocio. ...
To which I would add: You're not Vice President yet! Another error of fact. I have more Bidenisms around here somewhere: oh, here are the links to the Campaign Spot lists.

I expect the collected Bushisms will look like jewels of oratory, well-supported with facts and logic, compared to the collected Bidenisms.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Stir over artwork in Brussels

From Radio Praha:

Shock, anger, laughter at David Černý “art hoax” in Brussels

David Černý has been called the enfant terrible of the Czech art world, and so when the government commissioned him to oversee an installation for the EU Presidency, several eyebrows were raised. Earlier this week a brochure containing sketches of the piece was distributed by the Czech EU Presidency, who initially praised the artwork, saying the best way to destroy Europe's prejudices was to laugh at them. That was before they saw the finished result, which went on display on Monday.
The giant sculpture, called Entropa, shows the EU's 27 members as larger-than-life plastic parts of the sort used in modelling kits. Each represents a country according to the crudest national stereotypes. Bulgaria is depicted as a Turkish squat-toilet, Germany is shown as a network of motorways which faintly resembles a swastika, while Denmark appears - at a distance at least - to be a rendition of the Prophet Mohammed caricature in Lego.
Three (3!) stories and a slideshow at the Grauniad: Why the EU artwork is not what it seems, David Cerny's EU artwork might be a hoax, but it is still art, and EU artwork shines new light on member countries.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Under the bus

This tossing things under the bus just won't stop. Oh, now it's an airbrush. When out of power, on the campaign trail, it's the rough and ready toss under the bus. When (nearly) in power, Winston Smith and his more subtle airbrush are ready at the Ministry of Truth.

Glenn Reynolds does not mention Carol Browner's name in this post,

SOCIALIST TIES? Close enough to be worth airbrushing, anyway. I wouldn’t think this was something that needed hiding, but apparently those who know more, do . . . .
but it's mentioned a few times in the links.

Of course Reynolds is a conservationist and a promoter of CFL bulbs. He might be setting up to recycle this text, with different links, for many more appointees to come.

Here earlier: Browner appointment is "an arrow aimed at the heart of the American economy."

Irrelevant: I am now imagining hand-painted "socialist ties." Plain red, with the hammer-and-sickle in yellow, for the classic look? Or gaudy "social realism" pictures of factories or missiles? Socialists only wear ties when they are having their pictures taken.

Happy birthday, Professor Althouse

Credit where credit is due. If anyone deserves credit for the mere being of this weblog, it's Althouse.

Thanks, Professor!

See if this will go around for yourself and all the great commenters:

Here's a cake, swiped from someone [Janet Margul?] on GEnie so long ago that I no longer have any idea, in the old ascii boxology style:

() () () () ()
|| || || || ||
| * * * * * * * * * |
| |
| |

It's a digital cake, so it can't get stale.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Snow day!

All right, everybody, don't do nuthin'.

Good. Carry on; as you were.

Thinking about time travel,

could it be done, could, should, I, you, do it, I see that somehow I have neglected to link to Heinlein's "All You Zombies —" — the time travel story to end all time travel stories. It didn't, actually, end them; but if people would have read it, it would have. See what I mean about time travel? Gets you all mixed up and leads to confusing the tenses. [Which will remind me, in the next paragraph, to link to Tenser, said the Tensor, a sporadic (as I should be the one to say!) but always interesting site whose title is inspired by Alfred Bester. What the Tensor does with the "unanswered questions" from Slate has me LOL.] I plan to stop doing it, sometime soon. Or late, I can't tell any more.

That discussion must have been in someone else's comments. I went on to say something about Alfred Bester and "The Men Who Murdered Mohammed," which leads to Copenhagen interpretation, many worlds, and that darn cat. (And the Tensor song, from Bester's The Demolished Man.)

Recent reading: Avram Davidson, Adventures in Unhistory. Prose so tasty you want to spread it on a muffin. Got to keep the "Selectra Six-Ten" away from the computer, though.

Friday, January 9, 2009

U-verse post updated again

So go there for all the U-versey goodness.

Senator Claiborne Pell, R.I.P.

He died on New Year's Day, at the age of 90. Some years ago, that would have seemed to me to be a full span of years. Now that I am a little closer to that mark, it seems nearly premature. And as we wait with bated breath for the approaching Singularity, or for Skynet (different sides of the same coin), it seems not unrealistic to think that some of the younger ones now living may eventually come to celebrate a four or five hundredth birthday. (And why stop there?)

Here's my Senator Pell story. I forget exactly which year this was, but it would have been in the neighborhood of 1990 or so. The music had become thin, and the rare books had not really gotten started. I was driving a cab to make a living, and Pell was still in the Senate. So it's a cold, rainy December afternoon in Newport, I'm driving Car 54 (really!), and I get a call on the radio to come down to the office for a pickup. It turns out to be Senator Pell. He had been on his way back to Newport from Providence, with some friends, in their car, on the way to the Governor's Ball at Ochre Court. (A big deal event involving formal dress, champagne, and that kind of thing.) The car gave out, just would not go any more, near the top of the arch of the Newport Bridge. The Senator got out of the car and walked down from the top of the bridge, in the rain, to the taxi office, which was close to the Newport end of the bridge, and asked for a cab. I got the call. I drove him out to his home on Ledge Road and waited while he changed clothes. He invited me in, and I went in for a moment, but considering that, right then, what my dispatcher might have to say could be more important than comfortable relaxation, I chose to wait for him in the cab, where I could hear the radio. (No cell phones then, you kids!) After a while, I drove him to Ochre Court. He paid the fare, with a nice but not outstanding tip, and that was the end of that.

If I had been in town on Monday, I think I would have made an effort to get to the funeral. As it was, I did not even know about it until yesterday, when a friend whom I will identify as L.C. said something about shaking Bill Clinton's hand.

Vale, Senator Pell.

You have to love a man who will walk a couple of miles in the wind and rain, down from the top of a bridge, to get to a party! I would like see to more of that kind of steel in the leaders we have now. Most of them look to me like they would have melted before reaching the exit ramp. Or — hah! — called for a [taxpayer-funded] helicopter airlift.

That bridge has since been named for him.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Wire

I have a bunch of open tabs to clear up, so here goes:

Mark Bowden, The Atlantic: The Angriest Man in Television.

Reihan Salam, The American Scene, on the Bowden piece: The Bleakness of The Wire.

Matthew Yglesias, The Atlantic, on Salam: David Simon and the Audacity of Despair.

Ross Douthat, The Atlantic, on Yglesias and Salam: The Simon Worldview.

David Simon himself, in Esquire, not responding to any of the above, just telling his story: A Newspaper Can’t Love You Back.

I'm inclined to regard The Wire as a 21st-Century version of a big fat novel. (Of course we still have those.) And a very fine specimen of the breed, one which might well serve as the type to be emulated by auteurs to come.

Well done, David Simon!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Whose law is it, anyway?

Burke's Law? No, not that one.

Hartman's Law of Prescriptivist Retaliation: "any article or statement about correct grammar, punctuation, or spelling is bound to contain at least one eror."

McKean's Law: "Any correction of the speech or writing of others will contain at least one grammatical, spelling, or typographical error."

Skitt's Law: "Skitt's Law, a corollary of Murphy's Law, variously expressed as 'any post correcting an error in another post will contain at least one error itself' or 'the likelihood of an error in a post is directly proportional to the embarrassment it will cause the poster.' The effect is, of course, magnified a hundredfold if the post is in reply to Skitt himself."

By way of a post at Language Log which settles the question of whether we are ignoramuses or ignoramii, and does it without begging the question.

Let's see, if every post with an error drew a post which had an error, which then of course would draw another post, which would also have an error, oh my! The next thing you know, all the pixels would be used up, and the Internet would implode, leaving nothing but email and a few listservs. Good for the old carbon footprint, I suppose.

I know why this post has an "SF" tag. Do you?
Update: Answer in the comments.


More on the Antikythera Mechanism, including a working model. The 76-year cycle sounds like Halley's Comet. Or can you think of something else with that periodicity?

The Modern Drunkard interview with Gary Shteyngart. Lotsa vodka, a little caviar, some reflections on the condition of Russia, literature and the writing life (via).

Frozen bubbles. Via Althouse, who calls it a "cool photography stunt." Cool? Below freezing, I'd say!

Self-handicapping excuse artisans. "I coulda been a contenda." If all the if-only's were laid end to end … (via)

Wreck of the bark Trajan discovered in Newport harbor.

Faggots in the raw. (SFW!)

UFO sighting in Cumbria, UK. Turns out to be Chinese lantern balloons, released at a wedding at this hotel. Nice hotel!

Morris dancing in danger of extinction? Probably not just yet.

Speaking of dancing, in Finland they spell YMCA with a NMKY (via Althouse commenter jdeeripper).

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Recent flix of note

By which I mean ones that made enough of an impression on me as to seem worth writing about.

In theaters now is The Tale of Desperaux, which I liked so well the first time that I went to see it a second time. I have not read the book, nor any reviews, so I came to it with no preconceptions of how it ought to be. And I will try to avoid spoilers. There's a good-hearted sailor, who happens to be a rat, who falls in with bad company. There's Desperaux, the misfit mouse, who reads a book that he should have been eating, and falls in love with the ideals of chivalry. There's a King who grieves, and, grieving, plays sad music on the lute, which keeps him from hearing an important message, delivered in a very small voice. There's a father who gave up his daughter. There's a Princess filled with longing, in a tower. And there's a narrator, who talks a little bit like this … but with somewhat more ironic tension, as she is not worried about spoilers. The animation is gorgeous. You want to see this on a big screen. It's clear that thought was given to how realistically the various characters and settings should be rendered. The royal family look like ivory sculptures, though a lot of work went into the Princess's long golden hair. The commoners are rendered a little more realistically, though only a little. The rats and mice are done in exquisite detail, as are their little worlds within the castle. And the action does not flag for a moment. Get your popcorn and hit the restroom before you enter the theater, as there are no superfluous bits.

On one of the TV movie channels, Event Horizon. I decided to watch this because some capsule review somewhere said it was Lovecraft in space. It looks like it was expensive to produce, but none of the money was spent on a decent script. I had a bad feeling right at the start, when the Captain (Laurence Fishburne) tells Dr. Weir (Sam Neill) that he needs to get into the grav tank because the ion drive will subject the ship to 30 g's acceleration. Ion drives work by using low thrust over extended time, not high thrust right away. Oopsie! And they are all smoking cigarettes, on a spaceship! Then there is a lot of dissension among the crew, that leads to fistfights. When they get to the derelict that is the object of the rescue mission, the Captain leads the away team. It just keeps getting worse, with spaceships supposedly designed by human beings but looking very Giger-ish-ly alien, and crew members having visions of loved ones who have died. A mixture of nasty bits from Clive Barker, Alien, and Stephen King, and just a tiny taste of Lovecraft, with characters who would be at home in a comic book. Bad enough to deserve a MST3K treatment, but so dark that getting to the funny might give even Mike and the robots a hard time. Oh, one more thing: is Sam Neill this generation's James Mason? If so, he should make it a point to avoid roles like this one.

On Turner Classics a while back: The Strange Love of Martha Ivers. Kirk Douglas's first movie, and a beauty at that. If Claudio Carvalho's review is still up at the IMDB link, go read that. I don't have much to add to it. He gives it ten points on the ten-point scale. I'm thinking "Twisted Lives" might have been a better title, a little more noir and a little more descriptive. Lizabeth Scott does a Bacall turn that's very impressive.

That's two winners and a loser. Two out of three ain't bad.

Raising revenue by cutting taxes, if that's the goal

Steyn on Forbes on corporate taxes:

To a certain type of simple-minded populist, the idea of soaking vast faceless corporations is appealing. But in the end a "corporation" cannot pay tax: The Globocorp corporate HQ looming in chrome and steel over the skyline does not have a pocket to dip into. Like all taxes, the actual cash has to be ponied up by flesh-and-blood human beings - the owners, workers and employees of the corporation. The growing gap between US corporate rates and other developed nations is a massive disincentivization for real human beings to start and grow a business here. And for those already here it encourages the kind of short-term thinking that leads to Bailoutistan and American sclerosis.
And see this table. Of course, if the main goal is to "spread the [existing] wealth," in the name of a chimerical idea of fairness, then raising revenue is secondary.

Monday, January 5, 2009

I don't think the apology has been offered

"Mr. Gore: Apology Accepted." In the Huffington Post! Lots of comments. As a HuffPo commenter says, the multitude of comments proves the debate is not over. Via Jerry Pournelle, who says, "The astonishing part is that it is in the Huffington Post."

Over in the Chaos Manor mail, a couple of articles from the Independent saying that some of the alarmists are calling for geoengineering schemes to supplement ineffective CO2 reduction schemes. "Climate scientists: it's time for 'Plan B'." The survey on which the first piece is based: "What can we do to save our planet?" This approach could get seriously dangerous. None of these scientists exhibits any concern about the possibility of triggering another Ice Age.

Update: and then there's this: Sea Ice Ends Year at Same Level as 1979 (via Vodkapundit).

Another update: Arianna Huffington is now all ticked off about the piece linked above. See Huff-Po reverts to form at Dr. Pournelle's place.