Friday, March 30, 2007

Friday Madness 3/30/07: MC Rove

I'm not sure what to say about this. I personally find the trollish little dancing marshmallow to be vile and repulsive. I'll give him some credit for having the temperament to make fun of himself ... but he even screwed that up! ("I rip the tops off small animals." Tops???)

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Llama dung mites track Inca fall

I stole this post title from the BBC article of the same name--it was just toooo good not to reuse. The study in the article is basically one of micropaleantology. The researches dug through soil, dated when the soil was deposited, then looked for fossils under the microscope. Specifically, they were looking for dung mite fossils. These mites, related to your everyday dust mites, live in the droppings of everyone's favorite Andean beast of burden. So by sampling soils from different geographical areas and historical strata, and counting the dung mite fossils, they were able to determine approximate population sizes for different regions during different epochs.

What they found was a huge increase emanating from Cuzco in the 15th century, then a big drop-off after the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors. This is not exactly big news to Latin American historians, but I think it's neat to see the convergence of such diverse disciplines.


New Hard Drives on the Horizon

I think a lot of new technologies are mostly hype. And some very usefull new technologies take a while to catch on. But every once in a while a new technology (or in this case, an "it's about time" incremental advancement) comes along where I have to say "I wish I had that NOW!"--or more often "I wish I could afford that NOW!"

Soon all laptop hard drives will be based on flash drive technology. They'll be faster, quieter, cooler, and more impact resistant than standard hard drives. Plus they'll be more reliable than current flash drives.

But the new solid-state flash drives use a different form of flash memory, industry analyst Rob Enderle explained to LiveScience.

“Their speed used to be 20 percent faster than magnetic media, but now it’s two to four times faster,” said Enderle, head of the Enderle Group in San Jose, CA. Meanwhile, each flash memory cell can only change state so many times before wearing out, but the new drives make sure that the same cells aren’t used over and over, with repetitive actions being relegated to RAM, he added.


Additionally, SSDs don’t make any noise, emit little heat, and consume on average about half the wattage that mechanical drives consume.


Samsung claims that its SSDs can survive shocks about six times more powerful than hard drives can survive, and about 20 times more vibration. SanDisk calculates that the average life span of its SSDs is two million hours, or six times more than a mechanical hard drive. Meanwhile, hard drive failure is the cause of 25 to 45 percent of all laptop deaths, Gartner estimates.

I suspect that that's not quite hype-free, but it's obviously leaps and bounds better than my crappy system.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

I heart Sasquatch!

On Friday I went to see Jonathan Coulton with Paul and Storm at the Milkboy Cafe for the second time. I think his star is on the cusp of exploding and it may not be long before you can't see him up close in a small venue like this. If you'll recall from the last time I went to one his shows, I brought along a poster of the Mandelbrot Set. For some reason I thought I had to do something similar for this show. So I made a doll depicting the story in the song Under The Pines. (That's right, I'm one of those weirdos; give me funny looks and tell your daughters to stay away from me.)

My choice couldn't have been better. If you look at the picture below from Friday's concert, you'll see that Paul (from Paul and Storm) is wearing a tee-shirt with Bigfoot on it.

It turns out he wasn't the only one wearing a Bigfoot tee that night. To explain what inspired my doll, here's Jonathan's description of Under The Pines.

Not many people know this, but when Leonard Nimoy did the Bigfoot episode of "In Search Of..." he and the creature hooked up one night and had this crazy fling. These kinds of things never end well, but Bigfoot in particular is a bit of a cad anyway (being mostly wild animal). As you might imagine, Leonard Nimoy came out of the experience somewhat worse for wear.

And that is why my Leonard Nimoy doll is also wearing a Bigfoot tee-shirt. And it worked! Jonathan Coulton had never played the song live before (never even rehearsed it), but he was so impressed with my Spock doll (or maybe he was just really scared of me--I can't be sure which), that he played it on stage. You can hear it as well as other songs from the Jonathan Coulton/Paul and Storm show at Jen's podcast A Thousand Times No. Enjoy!

Live version: (low volume)

Sunday Madness 3/25/07: Techno-weirdness

Okay, I'm not the biggest fan of German techno-pop, but this video by Deichkind is just plain fun (in a disturbing sort of way). {via Brian Flemming}

Friday, March 23, 2007

Carnival of Mathematics: Edition IV

The fourth edition of The Carnival of Mathematics is up at EvolutionBlog. I haven't had a chance to read through the posts yet, so no favorite recommendation this time.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

No Pete, Thank YOU!

I just got my thank you letter from Pete Stark. He's the conressman who recently revealed that he didn't believe in God, making him the highest ranking openly non-theist politician in the United States.

It almost makes me want to live in his district. If you'd like to donate to his re-election campaign, click here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Atheism Tapes

This is from the out-takes of Jonathan Miller's A Brief History of Disbelief. Here he interviews British philosopher Colin McGinn and American physicist Steven Weinberg. It's about an hour long, but if you have the time, do check it out. I especially suggest the first 1/2 hour (McGinn interview). I found myself agreeing with everything McGinn said (except for the ontological argument--but who am I to disagree with a professional philosopher?--I think it has been terminally refuted).

Online Videos by

R.I.P. Larry "Bud" Melman

It's been well over a decade since I watched Letterman (or any late night show for that matter), but I can't help feeling a little something on reading about the passing of "Bud" Melman. So here's a little tribute, and if it doesn't make any sense, you'll just have to wait until the end. (I would have used the actual Offspring video, but they cut out that all-important ending.)

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick's Day, so the saying goes. But what does it mean to be Irish? And who exactly was St. Patrick?

St. Patrick first: after reading How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill several years ago, I became convinced that we probably know about as much about the actual St. Patrick than we do about the actual St. Nicholas. The biggest difference seems to be that people still connect the legend of St. Pat with the historical man much, much more than they do for ole St. Nick. I think it's about time that changed. I am going on the record right now to declare that St. Patty is still with us. He lives on an uncharted isle off the coast of Ireland. And most important of all, St. Patrick is a Leprechaun!

Now what does it mean to be Irish? One way to get an answer to that question is to go up to an Irishman and say "I like your accent. Are you English?"

The English and the Irish have a long history of enmity. I've always considered the Greens and Oranges are basically the same people who happened to attend different churches on Sundays, but the English and the Irish, they actually are ethnically distinct. That was until I read this article by Nicholas Wade (not to be confused with St. Nick).

Historians teach that they are mostly descended from different peoples: the Irish from the Celts and the English from the Anglo-Saxons who invaded from northern Europe and drove the Celts to the country's western and northern fringes.

But geneticists who have tested DNA throughout the British Isles are edging toward a different conclusion. Many are struck by the overall genetic similarities, leading some to claim that both Britain and Ireland have been inhabited for thousands of years by a single people that have remained in the majority, with only minor additions from later invaders like Celts, Romans, Angles, Saxons, Vikings and Normans. The implication that the Irish, English, Scottish and Welsh have a great deal in common with each other, at least from the geneticist's point of view, seems likely to please no one.

I was intrigued reading this. It turns out, according to University of Oxford geneticist Stephen Oppenheimer, that the traditional view is totally bogus.

In Dr. Oppenheimer's reconstruction of events, the principal ancestors of today's British and Irish populations arrived from Spain about 16,000 years ago, speaking a language related to Basque.

The British Isles were unpopulated then, wiped clean of people by glaciers that had smothered northern Europe for about 4,000 years and forced the former inhabitants into southern refuges in Spain and Italy. When the climate warmed and the glaciers retreated, people moved back north. The new arrivals in the British Isles would have found an empty territory, which they could have reached just by walking along the Atlantic coastline, since the English Channel and the Irish Sea were still land.

This new population, who lived by hunting and gathering, survived a sharp cold spell called the Younger Dryas that lasted from 12,300 to 11,000 years ago. Much later, some 6,000 years ago, agriculture finally reached the British Isles from its birthplace in the Near East. Agriculture may have been introduced by people speaking Celtic, in Dr. Oppenheimer's view. Although the Celtic immigrants may have been few in number, they spread their farming techniques and their language throughout Ireland and the western coast of Britain. Later immigrants arrived from northern Europe had more influence on the eastern and southern coasts. They too spread their language, a branch of German, but these invaders' numbers were also small compared with the local population.

So essentially, it looks like this:
  1. During the Ice Age, the British Isles were uninhabitable.
  2. When the glaciers cleared, a single peoples repopulated the isles via a land bridge from Iberia.
  3. Every subsequent invader has had to arrive by boat.
  4. These later groups may have conquered and brought their languages and cultures, but didn't really add to the population make-up.
  5. So today they are all still the same peoples, and genetic testing backs this up.

The thing about that theory, is that when you really think about it, it makes perfect sense. The next part of the article, about a theory by Anglia Ruskin University geneticist Peter Foster, still blows me away.

English is usually assumed to have developed in England, from the language of the Angles and Saxons, about 1,500 years ago. But Dr. Forster argues that the Angles and the Saxons were both really Viking peoples who began raiding Britain ahead of the accepted historical schedule. They did not bring their language to England because English, in his view, was already spoken there, probably introduced before the arrival of the Romans by tribes such as the Belgae, whom Caesar describes as being present on both sides of the Channel.

The Belgae perhaps introduced some socially transforming technique, such as iron-working, which led to their language replacing that of the indigenous inhabitants, but Dr. Forster said he had not yet identified any specific innovation from the archaeological record.

Germanic is usually assumed to have split into three branches: West Germanic, which includes German and Dutch; East Germanic, the language of the Goths and Vandals; and North Germanic, consisting of the Scandinavian languages. Dr. Forster's analysis shows English is not an offshoot of West Germanic, as usually assumed, but is a branch independent of the other three, which also implies a greater antiquity. Germanic split into its four branches some 2,000 to 6,000 years ago, Dr. Forster estimates.

If that turns out to be true, then so much of what I learned about ancient British history will have been turned on its head. But back to St. Patty's Day, take it away Colbert.

Friday, March 16, 2007


I realize my blog isn't exactly Cute Overload! :) but there was just something about this pic that I couldn't resist.

When funny cartoonists lose their sense of humor

from Washington Post

Friday Madness 3/16/07 : Gospel Music or Death!

Yesterday at a New Jersey Turnpike rest stop, a 75 year old human rights activist was murdered by a "Humble" man.

Michail J. Makarenko, 75, a Hillsboro resident and former political prisoner, was pronounced dead about 30 minutes after the attack at a rest stop near the southern end of the New Jersey Turnpike, a state police spokesman said.


Makarenko and a friend were on their way to New York to meet other friends when they pulled over about 1 a.m. to use the bathroom, said the friend, Gregory Burnside, who was Makarenko's interpreter and personal secretary.

"I went to eat, and when I finished, maybe five or ten minutes later, he wasn't in the car," Burnside said. "Then I saw someone was on the ground. I got closer, and it was him. His head had been bashed in by a rock. I just did the sign of the cross over him, recited the Lord's Prayer and told him to hang in there."

But about a half-hour later, despite the efforts of paramedics, Makarenko died, Burnside said.

Makarenko had lived in the United States since 1979, when he was exiled by the Soviet government for his repeated dissident activities, according to an article in the Russian magazine Glasnost provided by Burnside.

Among his crimes were running an avant-garde art gallery and engaging in union organizing. He served a total of 11 years in prison. His longest term, eight years, was for anti-Soviet agitation, Burnside said. While in prison, he continued his activism, working for prisoners' rights, the article said.

Since coming to the United States, Makarenko had been a writer and lecturer, Burnside said. He testified before Congress about slavery in the Soviet Union and at the time of his death was gathering material for his autobiography, he said.

"He was an important dissident," Burnside said. "He fought for human rights and resisted communism every way he could."

What kind of a monster would kill an old man: a Russian dissident and human rights activist? One of Putin's Polonium hitmen? Not quite.

Authorities said Brian K. White, 26, of Humble, Tex., approached Makarenko to sell him a Christian music CD. When Makarenko declined, witnesses said, White struck Makarenko on the head with a landscaping rock. White climbed into his 1984 Chevy Camaro and fled northbound on the turnpike.

I can't help but think that there must be more to the story than just retaliation for not buying his Christian music. But in this mad world ...

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Prayer works, not!

A new study at Arizona State University shows that prayer works.

David Hodge, an assistant professor of social work in the College of Human Services at the West campus, has conducted an exhaustive meta-analysis on the effects of intercessory prayer among people with psychological or medical problems.

In other words, does God – or some other type of transcendent entity – answer prayer for healing?

According to Hodge's study, “A Systematic Review of the Empirical Literature on Intercessory Prayer,” the answer is yes.

That's funny, I thought that the Benson study last year settled that issue. I wonder what new information Dr. Hodge has found.

“There have been a number of studies on intercessory prayer, or prayer offered for the benefit of another person,” says Hodge, a leading expert on spirituality and religion. “Some have found positive results for prayer. Others have found no effect. Conducting a meta-analysis takes into account the entire body of empirical research on intercessory prayer. Using this procedure, we find that prayer offered on behalf of another yields positive results.”

? What's that? And which studies is he talking about? Since I'm not about to spend my own money to buy a paper which I have good reason to believe is total dreck, I decided to see what Victor Stenger had to say about intercessory prayer in his book GOD: The Failed Hypothesis (which I just got in the mail today)

I discussed several specific examples in Has Science Found God? and will not repeat these here.

Oh well, that figures. I'm batting 0 for 2. But he did discuss some studies that came out since his last book. One of these was the Columbia "Miracle" Study.

One of the authors, Daniel P Wirth, is a lawyer without a medical degree. However, he does have a degree in parapsychology and has authored several articles in parapsychology journals claiming documented evidence for faith healing. In an unrelated matter, Wirth has since been imprisoned after being convicted of fraud, which included the use of names of dead people for financial gain.

The lead author of the paper was originally identified as Rogerio Lobo, then head of the Columbia University department of obstetrics and gynecology. However, shortly after publication, Columbia University announced Lobo was not even aware of the study until being informed by Cha six to twelve months after the study was completed. Lobo has since withdrawn his name from the study and any connection between Cha and Columbia has been severed. The paper, however, has not been formally withdrawn--a black mark on a great university.

Do you suppose that might be one of the studies Hodge meta-analyzed? It hasn't been formally withdrawn, so my guess is yes. But let's hear more about meta-analysis.

“Some people feel (Herbert) Benson and associates' study from last year, which is the most recent and showed no positive effects for intercessory prayer, is the final word,” says Hodge, referring to a 2006 article by Benson, of the Harvard Medical School, that measured the therapeutic effect of intercessory prayer in cardiac bypass patients. “But this research suggests otherwise. This study enables us to look at the big picture. When the effects of prayer are averaged across all 17 studies, controlling for differences in sample sizes, a net positive effect for the prayer group is produced.

“This is the most thorough and all-inclusive study of its kind on this controversial subject that I am aware of. It suggests that more research on the topic may be warranted, and that praying for people with psychological or medical problems may help them recover.”

Wow, his study is absolutely worthless! Let me explain why. The earlier studies he looked at had one of two possible results: either prayer had no effect, or it did. Now according to Stenger, many of those studies were suspect. The most recent Benson study which showed no effect, for example, was a follow-up to an earlier (heavily criticized) study he did which actually showed a slight effect. In last year's study, Benson took extra care to make sure that the study was very rigorous. So what Hodge did was to take all these studies (those with 0 effect, and those with >0 effect) and averaged them together to get ... surprise, surprise ... >0 effect. And then he has the audacity to claim that it's "scientific" because he used weighted averages. That's simply plain dishonest.

Just in case you're not completely with me, allow me to make an analogy. I'm going to take Hodge's own quotes and substitute a few words of my own.

There have been a number of intelligence reports on WMD's in Iraq ... Some have found evidence for WMD's. Others have found none.

This study enables us to look at the big picture. When the estimates of WMD's are averaged across all 17 intelligence reports, controlling for differences in sample sizes, a net positive effect for the presence of WMD's is produced.

This is the most thorough and all-inclusive study of its kind on this controversial subject that I am aware of. (I didn't have to change a single word of that sentence)

The best part of the ASU study is that even after averaging together all the different studies, Hodge still had to use his own standards to get a positive result.

Is it effective enough to meet the standards of the American Psychological Association's Division 12 for empirically validated interventions? No.

Averaging results from rigorous studies with those of not-so-rigorous and maybe even fraudulent studies then using your own standards does not good science make.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Beware the Ides of March!

Happy Birthday Albert!


I have finally started doing something with my sidebar. It's about time--I've been lazy about it for way too long. So far, I have added "Donate to Project Beagle" (a very worthy project)

and I have also joined the atheist blogroll
join the best atheist themed blogroll!
I have my atheist blogroll set to show 25 links at a time. Within the next few days, I will be creating my own blogroll (some of whom are already on the atheist blogroll, but since it's a rolling 25, I'll repeat them) as well as links to several of my other favorite sites--science related and otherwise.

And while I'm at it, I would like to send a big thanks out to those bloggers who've already added me to their blogrolls (all the while I've been too lazy to make my own).
Jen Luc
Of course, the fact that they're all female has absolutely no effect on my male ego. I swear!

Happy Pi Day!

Have a very happy Pi Day! (3/14, get it?)

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

A big hand for Bohemian Rhapsody

This guy is amazing! I have trouble making mellifluous fart noises with my armpit; I don't know he can be so melodic with just his hands. Here's his own explanation for the video.

this is my tribute to the california guitar trio! their version of bohemian rhapsody is second only to queen's! i was recently asked by these three genius's to play this song live at one of their concerts. i made this not to audition. but, to show them i could play their version! they have allowed me to post it so you could also see it too! remember, i play these songs straight through with no editing! so, 5 minutes 30 seconds of squeezing. very hard to do! thank you cgt! see you next time you're in michigan!

(Via JoCo--who I'll be seeing again in a couple of weeks at the milkboy)

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Saturday Madness 3/10/07: Scotty's birthplace honored!

Sorry I'm a day late with my madness post, but I've been feeling rather sick of late. And furthermore, I've been having problems with blogger. About three days ago, my SiteMeter stopped working. I upgraded my blogger template, I put in all the correct code, and it still doesn't work. I don't need this right now.

Anyhoo, it seems the Scottish town of Linlithgow is building a memorial to Scotty from Star Trek (since that's where the fictional character was born). I kid you not.

A Scottish town is to set up a Star Trek memorial to celebrate its claim to the fictional birthplace of Scotty the engineer.

Ironically, the scheme - at Linlithgow - has been given the go-ahead by West Lothian's "enterprise committee".

Scotty, aka Montgomery Scott, played by Canadian-born actor James Doohan, is the chief engineer of the Starship Enterprise.

The £10,000 tribute will feature Doohan's original Star Trek costume, personal items donated by his family and a scale model of the famous spaceship.

Committee convener, Coun Willie Dunn, said: "We have made contact with Dorothy C Fontana, who wrote many of the original Star Trek episodes.

"She has confirmed the reference in one of her books about Linlithgow being Montgomery Scott's birthplace.

"Following James Doohan's death, we contacted his family and they are supporting our plans for a Star Trek exhibition at Linlithgow.

"It will be staged in Annet House Museum, which highlights the history of Linlithgow. Now it will also look into the future with our Star Trek display area."

Madness indeed, but might there be sane rationale behind this madness? Perhaps the smell of money?

He added: "The loyalty and dedication of Star Trek fans is quite exceptional.

"We believe our Star Trek exhibition will attract more visitors to Linlithgow and West Lothian. Niche tourism is a major growth area."

I thought so.


Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

It seems the Madness has spread to Finland.

A Finnish member of parliament is aiming for re-election by campaigning with a translation of his Web site into Klingon, used in the TV series Star Trek.

"Some have thought it is blasphemy to mix politics and Klingon," said Jyrki Kasvi, an ardent Trekkie. "Others say it is good if politicians can laugh at themselves."

He said his politics posed some translation difficulties, since Klingon does not have words for matters such as tolerance, or for many colours, including green -- the party under whose banner he is running in the national elections on March 18.

Non-warriors can also access the site,, in English, Swedish and Finnish.

Happy Birthday PZ!

Yesterday was the 50th birthday of one of my favorite science bloggers, PZ Myers of Pharyngula. I meant to post something yesterday, but I've been a bit under the weather. So I'll just post this squid animation as a day-late greeting.

Carnival of Mathematics: Edition III

The third edition of The Carnival of Mathematics is up at Michi's Blog. My favorite so far was the pi animation from Scott Cram's pi posts.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Evolution of a Legal Case

On Tuesday night's FSGP meeting, I saw Stephen G. Harvey--an attorney with Pepper Hamilton LLP--speak. He was one of the lawyers in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial (on the good guys' side). This was the local Pennsylvania trial where Intelligent Design in the schools was challenged and defeated. The trial also marked the beginning of the end for Ricky Santorum.

I found the talk interesting. I already knew most of the story since I had been following the trial, but I did learn a few new details. Quick recap:

  1. Dover area school board tries to get ID creationism into its schools.
  2. Teachers refuse to teach the tripe; administrators come in to read pro-ID statement to students.
  3. Several families (including the Kitzmillers) sue school district for establishment violation.
  4. Pro bono lawyers backed by the ACLU and NCSE come to town and kick ass.
  5. Textbook and rationale proven to be recycled biblical creationism.
  6. School board members and textbook suppliers caught lying on the stand.
  7. Intelligent Design proven to be sectarian religion and hence unconstitutional.
  8. Judge Jones writes scathing decision against ID and the board.
  9. Creationist school board members swept out of office come election day.
  10. And they all lived happily ever after, The End!

So what new tidbits did I learn? For one, I learned that everything (except the name) about ID was recycled creationism. For example, Mr. Harvey showed a slide which compared a page from the ID textbook Of Pandas And People next to the same page from an earlier draft of the book. Every word was exactly the same except that everywhere that the draft said "Creationism," the official textbook said "Intelligent Design." (I actually knew that part) I always knew that ID was just repackaged creationism, but I (naively) thought that at least Michael Behe's argument of Irreducible Complexity of the bacterial flagellum was original. Boy was I wrong! It turns out that that exact same argument had been used by Creation Science.

I also learned some new details about the "perjury" ("" used because perjury is technically a legal term and no charges have yet been brought) of School Board Christocrat William Buckingham. This was good!

In the year prior to the whole bruhaha, Mr. Buckingham had made numerous pro-creationist an overtly Christian statements at several school board meetings. Since the plaintiffs could win the case by simply showing that pushing religious views was the motivation behind introducing ID, Billy had to deny all such statements at the trial, under oath, which he did. Of course, the next logical question would be why he never denied making such statements when it was being reported all over the local news. Mr. Harvey asked Billy questions to the effect of (paraphrased)
"Are you saying that you were completely unaware of the statements that were being attributed to you on the front page of the newspaper that you get delivered to your doorstep every morning?" To which the pious Mr. Buckingham replied (more or less) " I had no idea!"

After nailing him down good wth several questions to that effect, Steve Harvey then brought out the old television news clip. He showed the clip to us at his talk. I had heard about it, but that was the first time I'd seen it. You can watch the whole clip here. But I have decided to only embed the "proof of perjury" remix edited by Janiebelle. Enjoy!

After showing him the clip, Harvey asked Buckingham to explain himself. He said that since the whole creationism controversy that was in the news was dominating his thoughts at the time, he let it slip in front of the cameras. Stephen Harvey was not expecting to nail his prey so early. He admitted to us that these statements slipped right past him because he was already thinking about the next question. He did realize that something big had just happened. He knew Billy had dropped a bomb when the court stenographer's jaw dropped to the floor.


Sunday, March 04, 2007

Dick Cavett on bellicose vocabulary

I was thrilled when I found out that Dick Cavett was writing a blog on Times Select. His weblog posts have ranges in topic from the English Language to ghosts, to anecdotes about the Marx brothers. His latest post blew me away. What My Uncle Knew About War (subscription required) is a blend of English Language and anti-war posts. He tells of his uncle Bill, a WWII veteran.

The phrase Bill hated most was “gave his life.” That phrase is a favorite of our windbag politicians; especially, it seems, the dimmer ones who say “Eye-rack.”

“Your life isn’t given,” I remember him saying, “it’s brutally ripped away from you. You’re no good to your buddies dead, and when the bullets start pouring in you don’t give a goddamn about God, country, Yale, your loved ones, the last full measure of devotion or any other of that Legionnaire patriotic crapola. You just want you and your buddies to see at least one more sunrise.”

Hmmm, sounds to me like he's saying that all soldiers in foxholes are atheists. But most importantly, he hates euphemisms for violent death; he thinks the popular ones with politicians are fundamentally dishonest. And I agree! I've given my time as a volunteer. I've given money; I've given blood; but I wouldn't consider being murdered on the battlefield "giving my life."

This reminds me of a post by Massimo Pigliucci about the "war" metaphor. He was upset with the "war on terror, war on drugs, war on poverty," etc. It's not a very good analogy, and hence a bad metaphor. But even worse than that, the use of that metaphor glorifies war. It takes the most horrible and horrific invention of humankind, and uses it as an ideal paradigm that we should shoot for in our other endeavors. Yet the blowhards love to call everything a war. What I find most ironic about it all is that the same windbags who love the war metaphor, use the term "militant" as a derogatory slur. Putzes!

But back to Dick Cavett's uncle Bill.

The other word Bill hated was “sacrifice.” Sacrifice is something you give up in order to get something in return. What good are we getting from this monstrous error? Cooked up as it was by that infamous group of neocons (accent on last syllable) who, draft-averse themselves, were willing to inflict on the (largely unprivileged) youth of this country their crack-brained scheme for causing democracy to take root and spread like kudzu throughout that bizarre and ill-understood part of the world, the Middle East.

What service is this great country getting out of all this tragedy, other than the certainty that historians will ask in disbelief, “Was there no one to stand up to this overweening president?”

The short answer is that it's serving the egos and (for a time in the past, at least) short term political aspirations of the above mentioned neocons (you know where the accent goes). However, that doesn't stop the talking heads from using the term.

Earlier this week, John McCain made the same "blunder" that Barack Obabma had made earlier. He, like Obama, was forced to back off from his statement.

"I should have used the word, sacrificed, as I have in the past," the Arizona senator said after Democrats demanded he apologize as Sen. Barack Obama did when the White House hopeful recently made the same observation.

(emphasis mine)

Sorry John, but I think you were closer to the truth the first time.

Last night's eclipse

In the end the weather did not cooperate with me and I missed the entire eclipse. It was there somewhere obscured by clouds, but alas I did not witness it. Here's a taste of what I missed.

Saturday, March 03, 2007


Tonight as the sun goes down the East Coast will be treated to a total Lunar Eclipse. This is some very exciting stuff.

Total eclipse begins 5:44 p.m.
Total eclipse ends 6:58 p.m.
Partial eclipse ends 8:12 p.m.
Last shading visible? 8:50 p.m.

In just another four hours I will be in for one helluva sky show. Or will I? I went and checked my local weather and...

They've been wrong before, so I'll just have to keep my fingers crossed that I'll be able to see something. In the meantime, I'll have to make due with a different type of eclipse. This movie (Quicktime required) is a transit of the moon in front of the sun, shot in UV light, from the STEREO satellites. COOL!!! (via APOD & BA)

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Carnival of Mathematics: Edition II

Okay, I'm about a week late posting this--super sorry! The second edition of The Carnival of Mathematics is up at Good Math Bad Math. First, Mark does a great job as host; I love it when the Carnival host works a story into the post.

Second, once again the quality of blogging is exceptional. My favorites (sorry, no hotlinks, you'll have to go over to the Carnival itself for those) are the spider problem (fun puzzle), the rubiks cube (I'm meaning to write a post on group theory--and maybe even groupoids, ooh), Escher (Escher, 'nuff said), and the halting problem (Turing is da Man!).