Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Gin-Gin in trouble!

Oh no!

Here she is in her normal location, considering the problems of the world...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

My letter from Citibank

Dear Taxpayer,

As you have read in the latest news, our financial institution has undergone some tough times. Some may say that we have brought this upon ourselves with our aggressive, high-risk approach to banking. And it's true that we've needed the intervention of the Federal government to stay solvent.

Like in 1929.
And in 1982.
And in the 90s.
And, well, this week.

Since we are feeling a bit guilty about our repeated inability to police our own actions, and our constant need for taxpayer help, we've decided to give you, a Citibank credit card holder and American taxpayer, a 6-month interest holiday. Congratulations!

Sincerely,

Citibank

(OK, that's what I think they should write.)

So, on the day I read about Citigroup's gotten an infusion of $20 billion from the US government, as well as a guarantee backing hundreds of billions of dollars of bad loans made by Citigroup, the following is an abridged version of the letter I've actually gotten from Citibank.

Notice of Change in Terms and Right to Opt Out



The Changes.
We are changing your Card Agreement. The changes will be effective for all billing periods beginning on or after December 3, 2008. The changes will be effective whether or not you receive a billing statement.

1. We are changing the following sections regarding APRs:

Default APR:
All your APRs (including promotional APRs) on all balances may automatically increase to the default APR if you

- do not make the minimum payment when due
- go over the credit line
- make a payment that is not honored

The default APR equals the greater of (1) the Prime Rate plus up to 23.99% or (2) up to 29.99%.
(snip)

I really find the timing of this mind-boggling. Back when I first got this card, it was literally illegal (I believe) for any credit card to have a rate over 19.99%.

Bankers run an industry that has not developed a new product in millenia. It's always just money, in one form or another. So how have they maintained the illusion of a growth industry? By perfecting the art of predatory practices. The subprime loans that helped scuttle the mortgage industry are one example, and the predatory practices of the credit card industry are another.

It seems to me that, if the taxpayers are going to be asked to foot the bill to cover all the mistakes made by banks in the past decade, the least they could offer in return would be a cessation of the predatory practices that turn credit card debt into a disaster for so many Americans.

We could have
- a hard limit on maximum interest rates that is much closer to the prime rate. It makes no sense to have the Fed continually dropping the prime rate while letting the big banks charge 25% or more on credit cards
- regulation on the practices of assigning punitive fees and jacking up rates on credit card holders in tough times

It seems very weird to me that when Citigroup makes bad decisions, I have to pay, but if I make bad decisions (hypothetically), I have to pay.

Can we get President Obama and our Democratic Congress to do something to help credit card holders as a quid pro quo for the fact that we're getting stuck with the bill for their bad loan decisions?

Details on Citigroup's history from an article by Annys Shin.

(Cross-posted as diary at DailyKos)

Monday, November 03, 2008

election predictions

Well, it has become the fashion to publish predictions for the election. I just follow the news, but what the heck, seeing as I pick football games every weekend, why not do so for the election?

PRESIDENTIAL

Well, of course Obama wins. He's well ahead in many of the polls.

As to the State-by-State particulars...

for starters, Obama will probably win every Kerry state. The only one that might flip is New Hampshire. McCain has been putting a lot of effort into trying to make a dent in Pennsylvania, but it will be for naught. I even think that he might know that, but feels that he has to make the effort, or else it will be obvious that he's given up.

For poll details, I suggest FiveThirtyEight.com.

The Bush states where Obama has been leading in polls include
Iowa (+>10%), New Mexico (+8-17%), Colorado (+4-10%), Virginia (+4-9%), Ohio (-2-+9%), Nevada (+4-10%). These have been leads of a reasonably consistent margin.

Other possibilities include Florida and North Carolina, where Nate Silver's simulations tend to favor Obama. Next in line is Missouri, which is the nearest thing to a true toss-up we see.

Red states that might flip in a true landslide include Indiana, Georgia, Montana, and North Dakota.

When I add the states in the first group to Obama's column, his total rises to 311. If I put all the states in the last group into McCain's column, he's at 174.

I'm going to put NC in McCain's column, and FL and MO in Obama's column. The last two are a bit dicey, as both states are notorious for voter suppression. But, what the heck, eh?

If all of this happens, Obama will win 349-189.

PoD says Obama will get 326. He flips NC, FL, and MO from my picks.

Landru says the exact same, but informs me "I said so first".

OK, so now I've changed my mind and switched NC and MO. That would make it 353 for Obama, 185 for McCain.

I have nothing to add about the House or Senate races.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Saturday, September 27, 2008

debate review

Well, this one is easy. One candidate had a flag lapel pin. The other one didn't.

Makes it easy to decide who I'm voting for.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

the delicious SS

Check out Sarah Silverman's new ad.

For some reason, Ilse refuses to use her connections to make an introduction. Jimmy's out of the picture! SS would adore me!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Other People's Money

or.. How The Oligarchy Threw Away Free Market Capitalism in Favor of Corporate Welfare

Something has been going on this week. Well, more correctly, something has been going on the past year or so. Ever since the real estate market (predictably!) went south, all sorts of lending institutions have had to deal with bad loans. First, there were the banks themselves. But since the banks had bundled their risky loans and sold them off to investment houses, the bad debts also hit the big investment houses. But that wasn't the end of it. The banks investment houses had gotten the loans insured and so some big insurance companies were in trouble to.

I don't want to rehash all the details here. There are better places to follow the story.

Anyhow, what's happening now? It appears that a lot of rich and powerful people who thought that it was fine and dandy to let people see their houses foreclosed are much less willing to let a bank fail, much less an insurance giant. So, the rich and powerful have decided that the only way out is for the American taxpayer bail them out.

To the tune of $700 billion.

What is shocking is not that Yet Another Bailout of Irresponsible Corporate Leaders has proposed. What is shocking is the instant consensus that This Must Be Done.

Fuck the rich. I get sick of their bullshit.

Anybody who supports this bailout should be required to never again talk about the virtues of "small government" or the need for tax cuts to "stimulate the economy", or any of that right-wing bullshit that has grabbed hold of the Baby Boomer mindset for the past two decades. More than anything else, I'm sick and tired of half-educated twits pretending to understand economics, and then whining about how "unexpected circumstances" led to their decisions to completely fuck over the American taxpayer.

Going back to the beginning: bundling high-risk loans never served to reduce the risk. Not really. One of the basic motivating ideas behind diversifying investments is that, when many high-risk investments are bundled together, the total risk is decreased. However, this theory depends on mutual independence of the risk involved. In the case of high-risk mortgages, it should have been patently obvious that the notion of independent risks was a facade. Indeed, all of the mortgage values depended on the state of the (bubbling!) real estate market, and when the market went down, all of the mortgages became bad debt.

But the really disappointing thing here is the complete acquiescence to the oligarchic view that it is the duty of American taxpayers to hand over $700 billion to the Treasury secretary, for him to use as he sees fit.

The new model for American crony capitalism is: risk whatever the hell you want. If the market bears the risk, you win big time. If it doesn't, and it looks like the industry is in trouble, well, you can just pass on the losses to the American taxpayer.

This isn't capitalism. It is a theory of economic structure that has taken the basic notion of "limited liability" to its obscene logical conclusion.

As usual, it seems the Glenn Greenwald is one of the only people who captures the obscenity of the practice adequately.


...whatever else is true, the events of the last week are the most momentous events of the Bush era in terms of defining what kind of country we are and how we function -- and before this week, the last eight years have been quite momentous, so that is saying a lot. Again, regardless of whether this nationalization/bailout scheme is "necessary" or makes utilitarian sense, it is a crime of the highest order -- not a "crime" in the legal sense but in a more meaningful sense.

What is more intrinsically corrupt than allowing people to engage in high-reward/no-risk capitalism -- where they reap tens of millions of dollars and more every year while their reckless gambles are paying off only to then have the Government shift their losses to the citizenry at large once their schemes collapse? We've retroactively created a win-only system where the wealthiest corporations and their shareholders are free to gamble for as long as they win and then force others who have no upside to pay for their losses. Watching Wall St. erupt with an orgy of celebration on Friday after it became clear the Government (i.e., you) would pay for their disaster was literally nauseating, as the very people who wreaked this havoc are now being rewarded.

More amazingly, they're free to walk away without having to disgorge their gains; at worst, they're just "forced" to walk away without any further stake in the gamble. How can these bailouts not at least be categorically conditioned on the disgorgement of ill-gotten gains from those who are responsible? The mere fact that shareholders might lose their stake going forward doesn't resolve that concern; why should those who so fantastically profited from these schemes they couldn't support walk away with their gains? This is "redistribution of wealth" and "government takeover of industry" on the grandest scale imaginable -- the buzzphrases that have been thrown around for decades to represent all that is evil and bad in the world. That's all this is; it's not an "investment" by the Government in any real sense but just a magical transfer of losses away from those who are responsible for these losses to those who aren't.

And all of this was both foreseeable as well as foreseen -- see the 2002 grave warnings from Warren Buffett on pages 14-15 of his shareholders letter (.pdf), among many other things -- and it's also happened before, when the Federal Government bailed out the S&L industry that (with John McCain's help) was able to gamble recklessly and then force the country to protect them from their losses. The people who did this have no fear of anything -- they completely lack the kind of healthy fear that impedes reckless behavior -- because they know how our Government works and that they control it and thus believe that their capacity to suffer is limited in the extreme. And they're right about that.

What's most vital to underscore is that the beneficiaries of this week's extraordinary Government schemes aren't just the coincidental recipients of largesse due to some random stroke of good luck. The people on whose behalf these schemes are being implemented -- the true beneficiaries -- are the very same people who have been running and owning our Government -- both parties -- for decades, which is why they have been able to do what they've been doing without interference. They were able to gamble without limit because they control the Government, and now they're having others bear the brunt of their collapse for the same reason -- because the Government is largely run for their benefit.

If there is any "pitchfork moment" -- an episode that understandably would send people into the streets in mass outrage -- it would be this. Nobody really even seems to know how much of these losses "the Government" -- meaning working people who had no part in the profits from these transactions -- is undertaking virtually overnight but it's at least a trillion dollars, an amount so vast it's hard to comprehend, let alone analyze in terms of consequences. The transactions are way too complex even for the most sophisticated financial analysts to understand, let alone value. Whatever else is true, generations of Americans are almost certainly going to be severely burdened in untold ways by the events of the last week -- ones that have been carried out largely without any debate and mostly in secret.


Final thought: $700 billion is a hell of a lot of money. Let me put this in perspective....usually I compare any spending proposal to the budget of the NIH, an organization I know well. In this case, we're off by an order of magnitude (or two).

How do I place $700 billion? Well....this is more than the defense budget of the United States of America for 2009.

This is highway robbery. Where is this money coming from? Of course, the government is simply increasing its debt ceiling.



Updated 9/25

Apparently a deal is in the works. Pelosi is quite content to fork over $700 billion to the Bush administration to bail out the reckless bank leaders.

This proposal has the support of something like 8-10% of the country! Why on earth are representatives going along with it? And the big concessions that Pelosi is trumpeting are

(a) she didn't go along with the original language, which would have allowed Paulson to write himself a check for $509 billion with no legal recourse whatsoever (duh!)

(b) There is going to be some provision to limit executive pay.

As a taxpayer, I could care less about (b). What I care about is the massive burden being placed on the taxpayer!

I am fairly certain that this is a simple "stick-up" by arrogant bankers with a wish list. "Give us $700 billion or...the world will blow up!"

I cannot support this step. I'm strongly considering re-registering as an Independent again.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Drill, Baby, Drill!

That was the chant sung out at the Republican National Convention. The thinking is that, hey, if we just drill a bit more oil, we'll have enough time to adjust our economy to non-petroleum energy sources.

The lie implicit behind this argument is the notion that the amount of viable out there is in any way significant. Indeed, the person who signed the offshore drilling ban was none other than President George H.W. Bush.

If drilling offshore was such a panacea, why didn't the Republicans think of it back in 2001, when Republicans controlled all branches of government, and George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were instituting every government change requested by Cheney's energy task force?

There just isn't that much oil to be had any more. The naive attitude, so cheerfully articulated by Paris Hilton and John McCain, would have been appropriate, say, back in the late 70s.

Back when Jimmy Carter tried to get the country off the addiction of oil. And saw his policies laughed off the political stage by Ronald "Don't Worry, Be Happy" Reagan.

In any case, it is hard to discuss the oil issues, and more generally the energy issues, without discussing the relative low character of the filthy rich individuals involved.

Our latest example of the "Drill Baby Drill" mentality was exposed today when the Inspector General released a report about 13 employees of the Bush Department of the Interior who have taken the notion of "fraternizing with industry contacts" about as far as humanly possible.

These kinds of revelations, and the revelations about what we know Enron did back in 2001, make me laugh at the people who casually dismiss any talk of market manipulation in the oil futures market which may have led to the enormous increases in gas prices this year (up, what, 33% in a 12-month period?)

But, sure enough, prices will be down in time for the election.

Again.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Brady on IR

From the Globe:

The Patriots just released the following statement regarding Tom Brady:

"After extensive tests this morning, it was revealed that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's left knee, which was injured in the first quarter of yesterday's game, will require surgery. He will be placed on injured reserve and will miss the remainder of the 2008 season."

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Hamlet 2 - Rock Me Sexy Jesus

I saw Hamlet 2 yesterday, and it's pretty good.

Steve Coogan plays high school drama teacher Dana Marschz (pronounced 'Mar-sc-t-z' as a four-syllable word) who produces the high school play at a school in Tuscon every year. He is frustrated because he realizes his talent does not quite live up to his love of the craft, and he is beleagured by the harsh reviews in the local paper. The high school paper. Whose critic is a 14-year old boy, who seems to know more about drama than Dana does.

The current trimester opens with a bunch of new 'ethnic' students (the film's word, not mine) joining the two loyal drama geeks in Dana's one course, which is taught in the school cafeteria, where the lunch ladies are unpacking the food in the background. Following the advice of his critic, Dana decides to write his own play: Hamlet 2.

The thinking behind Hamlet 2 is that Hamlet is just a bit too sad. Dana finds it too sad that everybody is dead at the end of Hamlet. How do you fix that? With a time machine! And Jesus comes along to help! The plot starts in current day, where Jesus has a "swimmer's bod", hence "Rock Me, Sexy Jesus", the play's musical medley. And the play goes from there.

When Dana cuts down the lines of Laertes, who's played by his male drama geek, Rand (played by Skylar Astin) and also makes Laertes "bi-curious", this sets off a chain of events leading to the school banning the play. And that gets the attention of the local press. And that gets the attention of the ACLU.

At this point, the plot is clear, and it's what you expect from the film trailers. But the trailers are misleading: this is more than a film filled with offensive bits designed to tweak the Religious Right. I think the advertising for this film doesn't do it justice. Steve Coogan does a really good job making Dana Marschz into a consistent, believable character. The supporting cast is good, too, esp. the high school kids, and Elizabeth Shue has a nice bit in a supporting role playing herself (well, kind of).

Steve Coogan has been a big deal in the UK for quite some time. He's excellent at developing interesting, off-beat characters in comedy. He's had small roles in "Night at the Museum" and "Tropic Thunder", but he really presents a great work here. It's too bad that it's gotten drowned by a misguided advertising campaign and a reactionary ostrich campaign by the religious right, who completely overreact to the way Jesus plays a role in this film.

The film is more about bad art than about religion. It's a celebration of the idea that anybody can be creative, and about overcoming negative voices. (Actual human voices - not psychosis, as Dana explains.) Also, it's interesting watching Steve Coogan at work. With comedy, a lot of the value comes from expectation, and when comedy doesn't follow the lines that the audience expects, often people do not react well to it. Sometimes when I'm watching Steve Coogan, or Simon Pegg, or Ricky Gervais, or the ensemble comedy 'Green Wing', I'm confused by the feeling that I don't know where it is going. I pretty much never have that feeling with American comedies. At first this is disorienting, but I've really come to like it.

From box office returns, it looks like Hamlet 2 won't be in theaters long. I hope it will have a good life on cable and on DVD. It should be around for years on Comedy Central, like "Best in Show".

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Quick NFL picks

AFC East:
Pats 12-4
Bills 8-8
Jets 6-10
Fins 3-13

AFC North
Steelers 10-6
Browns 9-7
Ravens 7-9
Bengals 4-12

AFC South
Colts 11-5
Jags 11-5
Titans 9-7
Texans 7-9

AFC West
Chargers 12-4
Broncos 8-8
Raiders 5-11
Chiefs 3-13

NFC East
Cowboys 12-4
Eagles 10-6
Giants 10-6
Redskins 6-10

NFC North
Packers 12-4
Vikings 10-6
Bears 6-10
Lions 4-12

NFC South
Bucs 10-6
Saints 8-8
Panthers 8-8
Falcons 5-11

NFC West
Seahawks 11-5
Cardinals 7-9
49ers 6-10
Rams 4-12

Wildcard weekend
Jags over Steelers
Colts over Browns

Vikings over Seahawks
Eagles over Bucs

Divisional
Pats over Colts
Chargers over Jags (just to mix things up)

Packers over Vikings
Eagles over Cowboys

Conf. championships
Eagles over Packers
Pats over Chargers

Super Bowl
Pats over Eagles

Yeah, I noticed while filling out the playoff bracket that I'm falling into the trap of picking last year's winners by and large. So I changed a tiebreaker to dump the Giants. :)

These will look like terrible picks by the end of the sesaon, I'm sure.

Friday, August 29, 2008

VP Palin?

No, not this guy.


The word is that McCain is selecting Sarah Palin, Governor of Alaska, to be his running mate. Here she is:




She was a local politician until 2006, when she was elected Governor.

Given McCain's age, this is the person supposed to be a heartbeat from the Presidency?

And this is why, Landru's pessimism notwithstanding, I remain convinced Obama will win in November. Not because the Democrats are particularly well-organized. But McCain? He's a dopey candidate. He's low on funds, pisses off conservatives, and makes blunders like this one.

Well, at least Gov. Palin isn't pro-choice! Is that what the Republican party is saying? Mitt Romney would be far more qualified (even though he is a sleazeball) and if McCain wanted to pick a female governor, Jodi Rell of Connecticut is far more experienced and well-liked by people of both parties.

But the powers of the GOP won't allow that.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Proof

that wackier people than I are out there.

Featuring our friends Jack Torrance and Tardy Turtle!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Favre joins Jets

Fox Sports is reporting that Favre has been traded to the NY Jets.

I guess Assante Samuel picked a bad time to leave the AFC East.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

the anthrax attacks

The FBI is apparently trying to make that case that recently-deceased Bruce Ivins was in fact the person responsible for the anthrax letters mailed in 2001. Glenn Greenwald has been discussing this topic for most of the week. See here and here and here.

At the time, there was a lot of propaganda to the effect that they represented another Al Qaeda attack, and it was further insinuated that the strain used contained a chemical, bentonite, that was a signature of Saddam Hussein's anthrax program (which was inert at the time, but what the hell, let's throw the accusation in).

At the time it was immediately clear that the anthrax was of a weapons-grade aerosol type that probably had been produced in the United States.

So...what kind of investigations have we had?

Well, for starters, the FBI directed its attention to Stephen Hatfill. But rather than bring him up on charges, they simply fed rumors about Hatfill to various media outlets, who then ran with them, insinuating that Hatfill was a prime suspect. After a couple years of this, Hatfill managed to clear his name.

Now another scientist, Bruce Ivins, is the new target of FBI/DoJ insinuation. Ivins has (apparently) done the FBI a favor by committing suicide. This might be a sign of a guilty conscience or it might be simply a side effect of suffering from a depressive illness.

We are supposed to believe that Ivins killed himself "as investigators closed in". See the AP version.
That raises the question of just how competently the FBI was "closing in", if Ivins knew about it.

From what we know of the FBI case, there is no direct linkage to the anthrax letters. It seems to all appearances that Ivins had access to anthrax, and was somewhat deranged. But did he actually sent the letters? We still have no reason to believe that he did.

Meryl Nass, another anthrax researcher, has raised some interesting questions. In particular, was Dr. Ivins in Central New Jersey on the dates the letters were mailed? This would presumably be an easy matter to investigate (and it surely would have been easier back in 2001, when the FBI started floundering around this case).

It doesn't make sense to me that Ivins would go to the trouble to drive to New Jersey to mail the threatening letters, only to use a strain of anthrax that could be directly traced to him, individually. It seems to me that another patsy has been set up.

I tend to be of the opinion that the anthrax letters were part of a psyop to push the US into war against Iraq. I don't have any evidence, but I think it is a theory that fits the data at least as well as the Ivins theory. The lettering used, the choice to mail the letters from New Jersey, and the followup hullabaloo - in particular the campaign to tie in bentonite, suggests that whoever was behind the anthrax attacks also wanted Iraq to be blamed.

Another possibility is that some second party independently decided to blame Iraq after the letters were sent. This issue could be resolved if ABC were to reveal the source for the bentonite story.

ABC has chosen to not do so thus far. Apparently the confidentiality of sources who lie to the American public in the pursuit of a possibly unpopular war is of paramount importance to ABC, at least more important than their credibility to the general public. Somebody lied to ABC - was it Ivins himself, or some other party?

I would think that if the source was Ivins himself, that ABC would come forward now, as it would dovetail neatly with the establishment story. (Indeed, I hesitate to suggest this possiblity, as ABC might decide to seize upon it. But of course, that would require ABC to read this blog.)

I suspect that the source for the bentonite story was not Ivins. But still, ABC won't reveal the source. Thanks for serving as a conduit for government-sponsored psyops against the citizenry of the United States, guys!

Saturday, August 02, 2008

living in America

Have we achieved the idiocracy yet?

I raise this question because crack reporter Amy Chozick of the Wall Street Journal, generally considered to be one of the most reputable print journals in the United States, if not the world, has asked the important and timely question: Is Barack Obama Too Fit to Be President?

Sadly No! has the best take on this absurdity here and here.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

maintenance can pay off

Hot damn.

Dame Helen does not make my mental list of Top Actresses of My Generation, for the obvious reason that she's a wee bit too old.

For the list, that is.

Hat tip to Salon.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Eastern Promises

See it.

It's on Cinemax right now, which means if you have 'On Demand' you can see it for free whenever you want.

It's very good.

You probably know by now that Viggo Mortensen was nominated for Best Actor for his role as a Russian limo driver involved in the London Russian mafia. You may not know much more, other than Naomi Watts is in the film. Mortensen is excellent, but his work is not the only reason to see the film.

These days, most crime and mafia films glamorize crime excessively. This is something I've complained about before, even though I like films like "Ocean's Eleven".

Somebody needs to show crime in the proper light. "Eastern Promises" does a great job with that. Where films like "The Godfather" and any Scorcese film tend to present the mafia as flawed, but amusing and somewhat honorable, a more honest film like "Eastern Promises" doesn't waste time with that kind of glorification. Crime is simply sad, and organized crime is sadder still, since it does so much damage.

As for Naomi Watts, she'll be featured in my "best actresses of my generation" series, whenever I get it started.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

George Carlin was an atheist (you schmucks!)

While I'm mulling over three posts
- a roundtable forum on the value of appeasement, chaired by Neville Chamberlain
- a discussion of what randomness is and what it isn't, as an exercise in expository writing about math
- a discussion of the top 10 actresses of my generation. This is suffering a bit because (a) my top 8 choices are all non-American, and (b) it's damned hard to get to 10

Anyway, I was inspired by the latest cartoon by August J. Pollak, and so I link to it approvingly.

We've lost two of the greatest atheist voices in the world in the past year: Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. and George Carlin. It was no coincidence that both were very funny people. Humor is a great tonic.

Friday, June 20, 2008

FISA


What I'm seeing today.

Für Deutsche die manchmal meinen Blog lesen, erkläre ich. Auf englisch "rot sehen" bedeutet "sehr verärgert sein". Ich weiss nicht, ob man das auch auf deutsch sagt.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

f*ck the NIH!

During the 90s, there was a big push to increase NIH funding. Indeed, funding was doubled over the course of several years.

Well, the Bush administration has not only not kept up pace with the doubling, they've not even bothered to keep funding levels commensurate with the rate of inflation.

In other words: they are defunding the NIH.

Science Blogger DrugMonkey has the story.

A recent NEJM article shows how the recent spending cuts (and that's what freezing spending really is) have reversed the doubling to the point where the effect of the doubling years has effectively been undone. We are on target to revert back to the line of projected growth that the NIH would have been at had the doubling never occurred!

Brilliant!

(And I say this not only as a former employee of the NIH who might have been kept on had the hiring freeze been in place. But it's worth including that caveat.)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Don't call it a comeback!

Not much to say about last night's NBA game other than IT WAS THE BIGGEST COMEBACK IN NBA HISTORY!

After trailing by 21 after 1 quarter and 18 at halftime, the Celtics outscored the Lakers by 24 in the second half to win by 6!

I don't think the Lakers can score enough when the Celtics are playing their best defense. In other words, I think the Celtics are better.

A little-known fact that Celtics fans might want to know: the first quarter deficit can all be laid at the feet of Databoy. Had he not wanted to play a second game of Thurn and Taxis, I would have been watching the game from the start (at Landru/Ilse's). Since it's clear that the Celtics' turnaround started when I was paying more attention to them, and they only really kicked in after Reno 911 was over, it's clear that me watching them is the key!

I'm not going to indulge in predictions. As I see it, one of two things will happen on Sunday. Either the Lakers will be so demoralized from the loss last night that they'll show up and lay a stink bomb, or they'll regroup and play their hearts out and win easily.

Or it'll be a close game. :)

I think I've covered all the bases here.

very cool news in evolution

I'm going to be lazy and just link to another blog post.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

fun with image searching


OK, I'm copying Antje
!

It's no surprise, is it, that searching with Ginger's image finds an orangutan!

Ha ha ha! Ha ha!

Uh oh, she's giving me a dirty look.

If you want to do this with your own pics, look at Idee.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Celtics v Lakers

OK, so the NBA got the finals that ABC has been wishing for. This could be the most-watched NBA finals since Jordan retired in '98. A lot of the conventional wisdom is that the Lakers should be favored. This seems curious to me, since

a) the Celtics had a lot more wins this season
b) the Celtics were 2-0 against the Lakers this season
c) the Celtics have home court advantage

I think people are judging the Cs poorly in light of their less-than-impressive performances against the Cavs and especially against the Hawks.

The Celtics are an older team. They do not match up well against young, athletic teams like the Hawks and Wizards. But...the Lakers are not a young, athletic team like the Hawks and Wizards.

As for the Cavs series, it is true that, if the Cs play as poorly against the Lakers as they did against the Cavs, they will lose. Kobe is at least as good as LeBron, and the rest of the Lakers are far better than the rest of the Cavs.

But with that in mind, we should note that the Cs played considerably better against the Pistons than they did in the first two rounds. I think that for Pierce, Allen, and Garnett, the big pressure on them was to actually make the Finals. All three had made the conference finals before, only to come up short.

It is hard to foresee how this will play out, because it's hard to figure out exactly how well various players will play. I think we can pencil in Kobe and KG for excellent performances. My gut feeling is that Pierce will have a solid series, and be dominant in at least two games. So it may come down to the less predictable players: Ray Allen, Lamar Odom, and Pau Gasol.

A lot has been written about how good Gasol is, but though he is smooth and quick, he is not a particularly physical center. I think Kendrick Perkins can hold his own, if he uses physical play to keep Gasol in check. As for Odom, I don't think that the Cs have to do much - whether he plays well or not seems to be random. And whether Ray Allen has shaken off his shooting slump remains to be seen, though his shooting in the last two games against the Pistons was excellent.

Bottom line: there appears to be a conventional wisdom that the NBA is an individual game, and whichever team has the best player is going to be the team that wins. This is at best a facile explanation. The Pistons never had the "best player", but they won twice in 89-90 and once a few years back. Michael Jordan never won a Finals by himself, nor did Magic, Bird, Shaq, or Dr. J. And really, if you want this theory debunked as thoroughly as possible, consider Wilt's career.

Consider the 1986 Celtics-Bulls series, when MJ lit up the Cs for 62 points, and the Bulls still lost. Bird described MJ as "God" at that point. MJ was clearly the best player in the series, and, again, the Bulls still lost.

I would give a slight edge to Kobe over KG as "the best player", but it's not a big advantage by any means.

I feel pretty sure the Celtics will win Game 1. We'll go from there. The odds are really stacked against the Lakers in the 2-3-2 format. They either have to win two games in Boston or win three in a row at home and at least one in Boston.

I would put the Cs as slight favorites here. Incredibly, considering they won 66 games, they are generally being underrated by the media.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

defending those who have done wrong

The events of the past few days have underscored in my mind the need for defense attorneys, even for people who are clearly guilty of something. It also reminds me of the Clinton impeachment.

With Bill Clinton and Bill Belichick, in both cases we had people who had clearly done something wrong. But the problem is that, once the wrongdoing is exposed, it's easy for more accusations to arise which may or may not be founded. In Clinton's case, the wrongdoing was the affair with Lewinsky. The evidence of dishonesty, however, has led to oodles of conspiracy theories as absurd as that he was behind the deaths of Vince Foster and/or Ron Brown.

In Belichick's case, the wrongdoing was illicitly taping signals of opposing coaches during games. The pile-on was the accusation that he had also taped the Rams' walk-through practice before the Super Bowl in 2001.

It is difficult to stand up and defend somebody who has already been exposed as a cheater. Indeed, it is much easier to pile on, since anybody who defended BB in the past few months was derided as a loyalist kool-aid drinker. But when I saw Belichick dismiss as absurd the notion that they taped the walk-through, it seemed true to me. Not because he seemed particularly honest at the time, but because the explanation was so mundane and dismissive. He said, basically, that it would be pointless to tape a walk-through because you would get no information out of it.

The fact that the original story in the Herald was unsourced and never was verified, and that the entire Patriots organization was so vehement about its falsity, convinced me that there was no tape out there. I wasn't convinced that there never had been a tape, but I figured BB was smart enough not to allow Bob Kraft to be so explicit if there was any chance he'd be exposed as a liar.

I figured in the worst case, Walsh would say that there had been a tape, but he didn't have a copy. But the news is even more favorable for the Pats: not only is there no tape, but everybody involved agrees that there never was a tape.

Shame on the Boston Herald for ruining the Super Bowl experience for all Patriots' fans. Publishing an unverified story two days before the Super Bowl was inexcusable. I know that the Patriots won't use this as an excuse, but I have to think that bit of hullaballoo hurt their ability to focus on the football that day.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

celtics, hoyas, and media attention

Watched the Cs lose their 5th straight road playoff game. The formula was the same: the starters played well, the bench was mediocre, and then they couldn't score in the 4th quarter.

Barkley and Magic talked about this on the post-game show. Where a lot of the media attention in the Hawks series was on the Cs' defense, the real story, imho, is how clunky their offense is. Barkley and Magic pointed out that the Cs cannot get easy baskets in a half-court offense. This is exactly the problem. Down the stretch in close games, they are throwing up absurd 3-pointers. That's a sure path to losing.

Hmm...who does this remind me of? Oh, right! The Hoyas! The Hoyas have always (well, most of the the time) been a great defensive team, but aside from Iverson, they've always had trouble scoring consistently against good teams. Like this version of the Celtics, they are in great shape when they pound weaker teams, but I don't trust them in close games.

Having said all of that, the media attention poured on the Celtics is really excessive. There are 4 conference semifinals going on. In the first 16 games, the home teams have gone 15-1. And yet the coverage would make you think that the Celtics are uniquely doomed, even though their regular season record has given them home court advantage as long as they stay in.

When asked point-blank whether the Celtics needed to win a road game to win the title, Barkley said point-blank 'no'. And then gave his "boy is that question stupid" look. I like Barkley as a commentator. He doesn't bother to buy into the idiotic narratives that the media create to kill time. Aka Shaughnessy hype.

Part of the problem right now is that this Celtic team appears to listen to the media noise. I miss the days of Bird, who never gave a rat's ass what anybody else thought.

I'm not convinced this team will win, but I am also not convinced they will lose. They are surely a better team than Cleveland. But right now I think the Lakers and Hornets are playing much better.

Monday, May 05, 2008

ignorant right-wing blowhardedness...a case example

OK, on my gaming email list today, where political discussion is strictly against the rules, Ignorant Blowhard said today:

For fantasy and multi-power intrigues, I again direct your attention to
the New York Times, or to any pronouncement from the ---o--a-i- National
Committee (maintaining plausible deniability). Thank you. I remain ...


Numerous people objected to this comment. My reply was:
Just stop it already. It's not funny.


This bonehead had been told specifically in the past to not make political comments on this list. And yet he could not stop.

His reply?
No. You are correct. It is deeply sad, and has been for very many
years. Do you work for the Times? Are you a subscriber? Thank you. I
remain ...



Obtuse, supercilious, asinine.

I told him...
No, what's not funny are your ill-considered attempts to introduce "humor" to the list by
1) liberal-bashing
2) Democrat-bashing
3) NY Times bashing

The fact that you think all three are related suggests to me that you have not read the NY Times at all in the past 16 years. After all, which newspaper
a) pushed the Whitewater "scandal" incessantly for eight years
b) pushed Bush administration WMD bullshit for the 12 months leading to the invasion of Iraq
?

All of this is well-documented elsewhere. I suggest starting with Bob Sommerby.

You have already been told more than once that politics is absolutely verboten on this list, and have been steered to the appropriate list. Your cutesy games are, as () put it, passive-aggressive bullshit. We're tired of it.

You can rest assured that there are liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans and independents who all enjoy gaming and use this list to meet and discuss gaming. If we used this list to discuss politics, it would quickly degenerate into name-calling and flame wars. That's why we don't do it.

You are a relative newcomer to a list that's been around for over a half-dozen years now. The old-timers on the list are getting sick of your behavior. I don't give a damn if you're ten years older than me - as far as I'm concerned, that carries no weight whatsoever.

CUT. IT. OUT.


He continued to play the jackass at this point.

Whoa, Whoa, Whoa, Miss defender of righteousness and purity (but not,
conspicuously, freedom of speech). Methinks you doth protest too much.


First, I did not do 1 or 2, only 3. That you would see 1 and 2 (and
start to foam at the mouth) says much more about you than me.

Second, I did not say they were related; but you just did.

Third, I have not been told that politics is forbidden, as I have not
yet been political in this forum. I was once taken to task for
paraphrasing Dorothy Parker (which someone decided to take personally),
and now for a completely apolitical attack on the NYT for being
fantastic. Why must you assume that the NYT's antipathy for reality (or
my notice of that fact) is politically-based?

Fourth, why must you be so defense, aggressive, and profane?

Fifth, who is this "herd of independent minds" that you presume to speak
for? Do they know you are their leader?

Sixth, What has our ages got to do with anything?

Seventh, Do you overreact for a living, or is it just a hobby?

In short, you (and perhaps others) have taken a not particularly clever,
but also not particularly political cheap shot and have chosen to get
your panties in a bunch and blow this way out of proportion (and make it
much more political than it originally was). This brings us back to
point #4, above. Again, I apologize for any offense, it was not
intended. Sheesh! Thank you. I remain ...


I think that, if you look at what happened here, my anger was not at the original post. My anger was that, when confronted with rule-breaking, he just continued to act like an ass. I think he's a dope for ignoring the rules regarding the ettiquette of the list. But refusing to take polite advice and acting the clownish moron is quite another thing.

Time and again he refused to actually address the substance of anything I said. Anyway, here I go...

Now you are claiming that you did not criticize Democrats today.

Cut the horseshit and stop insulting people's intelligence. You definitely took a potshot at the Democratic National Committee as well as the NY Times. Deleting some letters and using the phrase "plausible deniability" doesn't give you any cover in this crowd.

We're not idiots, (). Stop treating us like idiots.

Another suggestion: if you use quotations, use them to actually, quote something. When you use the phrase "herd of independent minds" in quotes, you are falsely suggesting that I used such a phrase.

Calling me "Miss defender" of righteousness is another right-wing bs trick where you try to feminize anybody who disagrees with you. The phrase "panties in a bunch" is the same thing. I suppose I could escalate and ask you to wash the sand out of your vagina, but in general I disapprove of using misogynistic tactics in debate.

If you're wondering why you are pissing off so many people, maybe you ought to stop blaming the people you are pissing off. Nobody else has any problem obeying the basic ground rules regarding making cheap political shots on this list. I'm sure these jokes get chuckles and grins with the military crowd you hang out with, but in other crowds of people, they just make you look like a person hopelessly out of touch.

The reason why () identified you as right-wing solely because of a comment about the NY Times is because only right-wing extremists still cling to the idea that the NY Times is a red-wing rag filled with communist propaganda. That kind of thinking basically went out with Nixon, who, not coincidentally, was the person who also popularized the phrase "plausible deniability". Basically you are pushing a lot of right-wing buttons: belittling women, feminizing men, criticizing the NY Times, calling the DNC liars. From my standpoint, you are behaving like a caricature of weak right-wing thought.

I am not "foaming at the mouth". You are dealing with cold anger right now, not hot rage. Your failure to distinguish between the two does not serve you well. () and () are the ones who get angry quickly. I anger much more slowly, but you can rest assured that I am a far worse person to piss off than either of those two. I am far less forgiving.

You have been gently advised to remain non-political on this list. You've ignored that advice. Today, you made a smart-ass comment that pissed off a number of people. I gave you a less gentle advice. And now you're making it personal. I suggest you simply take the advice and not try to make this personal. It's not something you can win.


The issue here is not whether the original comment was offensive. The issue is how a person behaves when he is asked to adhere to the rules of the list. The person in question here
a) ignored previous requests to keep the list apolitical
b) obtusely pretended to not understand today's requests to keep the list apolitical
c) lied about how he injected political comments into an apolitical list
d) was abusive towards the people who tried to politely point out the problems with what he was doing
and...
e) made irrelevant complaints about free speech rights

I make this post not solely to detail the behavior of somebody I am increasingly viewing as an ass. I do it to highlight the utter idiocy of his original comment, linking the NY Times and the DNC.

Consider today's column by Glenn Greenwald. (This was coincidentally published today, but considering how egregious the Times has been in recent years, the coincidence is hardly noteworthy.)

Basically, what has been happening with the NY Times is recent years is that it has been a ready conduit for propaganda and misinformation put forth by neocons who want to continue and expand the wars in the Middle East.

A snippet:

As usual with Gordon's articles, nothing is done here other than uncritically repeating Bush administration claims under the cover of anonymity. Virtually every paragraph in this article is nothing more a mindless recitation of uncorroborated assertions which he copies from Bush officials and then weaves into a news narrative, with the phrase "American officials say" tacked on at the end or the phrase "according to officials" unobtrusively interspersed in the middle


In contrast, the DNC is run by Howard Dean, who was nearly unique in his willingness to publicly criticize the war in Iraq back in 2004.

How any thinking person could make a link between the NY Times and the DNC is truly mind-boggling in these times.

Update:
in case it's not clear in the font, I used parentheses '( )' where I deleted anybody's name. For some reason, it looks like the letter O.

Celtics advance

After seeing the Celtics struggle in Atlanta three times, it was gratifying in a very belated way to see them blow away the inferior, sub-.500 Hawks yesterday.

The series raises questions that are still troubling. Why, after having gone stone cold in the second half twice in Atlanta, did they have exactly the same problems in Game 6? To be fair, I think their effort was a bit better in Game 6 than in Game 4. But they suffered because Pierce had bizarrely fouled out and Ray Allen was stone cold.

The game 7 thrashing was so complete it went past the point of being embarrassing for the Hawks to where it was embarrassing for the Celtics. Why, if they were so superior, did it take this long?

So, here come LeBron James and the Cavs. To put this in perspective: the Cavs, not the Pistons, are the defending Eastern Conference champions. Anybody who takes them lightly is a fool. (I'm looking at you, Gilbert Arenas.)

Friday, May 02, 2008

Iron Man rocks

Robert Downey Jr. is excellent. The screenplay is good, and the action is tremendous.

Any fan of action films or comic book adaptations has to see this film - at least twice.

Jeff Bridges plays Tony Stark's partner. It's really weird seeing The Dude playing an arms merchant. Also weird seeing Gwyneth Paltrow playing the demure assistant type. But Bridges is much weirder.

Anybody who sees this needs to stay through the end of the credits for a neat cameo.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Mathematics in Popular Culture

I have been thinking about this post for quite some time, and the impetus to do it right now is the season premiere of the Math/Crime drama ‘Numb3rs’. Also, I recently saw the Math/Gambling film 21, which somehow managed to bore me despite involving two of my favorite pursuits: mathematics and gambling.

‘Numb3rs’ is refreshing (despite the stupid title) because it is clear that they have mathematicians consulting for the show. Also, and more importantly, David Krumholz and Peter MacNicol do a great job portraying mathematicians as human beings. Far too often mathematicians are portrayed as freaks, or worse, as mentally unstable.

The list of films with this tendency is quite long: A Beautiful Mind is the most famous, but there is also Proof, Sneakers, and, bizarrely, Presumed Innocent. I’m forgetting some…

The Oscar-winning film ‘A Beautiful Mind’ is forgiven for participating in this trend, at least somewhat. It is, after all based on a true story. I am using the word ‘based’ fairly loosely – anybody who has read the biography that the film is based on knows that Nash’s schizophrenia manifested itself in a way entirely different than as was shown in the film. In the film, his insanity manifests itself primarily through vivid hallucinations. In real life, he simply became a self-centered, anti-social ass. The film was correct that he underwent electro-shock therapy. But the film overstated his ability to deal with his mental illness simply by concentrating a lot. If only mental illness were so simple!

I haven’t seen ‘Proof’. Apparently Gwyneth Paltrow plays the daughter of Anthony Hopkins’ character, and both are brilliant mathematicians. Also, apparently she suffers from vivid hallucinations, too. (BTW, hallucinations are really a cheap cinematic trick- almost as loathsome as amnesia. But I digress.)

‘Sneakers’ is a fun film that deals with cryptography in a manner that, from the mathematician’s standpoint, is laughable. The film is about the pursuit of an algorithm that allegedly can ‘break all codes’, and it does so instantly. This notion is quite absurd.

To put it simply: it is quite conceivable that two different coding schemes would translate different messages into the same coded text. The idea that the coded text could be decoded without knowing the key, so to speak, is immediately seen to be impossible. Anyway, Ben Kingsley plays the maniac mathematician in this film, though, to be fair, Robert Redford is the good guy mathematician here.

‘Presumed Innocent’ is kind of funny in that Harrison Ford’s wife is the graduate student in math – a background character for most of the film. And then it turns out she killed off Great Scacchi out of insane jealousy.

Let’s see…checking IMDB.com
Ah, of course Good Will Hunting features a mathematician with serious psychological issues.
Little Man Tate – serious psychological issues, though not at the level of mania.

I’ll give credit to Michael Crichton – he has likable, sane mathematicians in both the Jurassic Park series and also Sphere. I’ll forgive him for a moment for being utterly insane when it comes to environmentalism.

Anyway, ‘Good Will Hunting’ is the one that was on the tip of my mind that I could not remember.

So, about ‘21’ – the film managed to get the “Monty Hall problem” correct. The “Monty Hall problem” is as follows: you are on “Let’s make a Deal!” and Monty offers you a choice of three doors. Two of the doors have goats, but one of the three has a new car! So you pick a door. The Monty opens one of the other two doors, which has a goat, and you are offered the chance to switch your pick. What should you do?

There are three choices: switch, stay, and it doesn’t matter. It’s pretty clear that ‘stay’ isn’t the correct answer, so it really comes down to the other two.

Superficially, it looks like you now have even odds of getting the car. Indeed, Marilyn vos Savant famously blundered her answer to this problem by insisting it didn’t matter if you changed or not: with two options, you have a 50-50 chance of getting the car.

But that’s not right. When you picked the door, you only had a 1/3 chance of getting the car. And nothing has changed to improve your initial odds. Regardless of whether you picked the car or not, Monty will be able to open a door showing a goat. So the odds that you picked the car are still 1/3. So…switch.

The film 21 babbles some mumbo-jumbo about changing the variables. But the real thing here is that Monty is not acting randomly. Indeed, if Monty were acting randomly, your odds would be 50-50 when the number of choices was reduced to two. Strange how the probability becomes a function of Monty’s thinking, eh?

Anyway, 21 got that right, but screwed up too many other things. In the middle of the film, they have a big to-do about cashing in chips after Lawrence Fishburne gets on their tail. At the end of the film, this difficulty in a similar situation is simply ignored. But most annoyingly, even more annoying than all the Hollywood twists, was the fact that, when the main guy was sitting on 19, and the dealer had 10, he was shouting “Monkey! Monkey!” In this context, a “Monkey” is a face card. Why would the player want the dealer to hit 20??? Pathetic.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Versus: worst sporting coverage ever

So I'm watching the Boston Marathon on the Versus network. And the race is getting exciting - the two women in the lead have turned the corner, and are on "the last 800 meters" to the finish line. A few minutes behind, the men's leader is on a record pace. (The women finish before the men because the race organizers have a staggered start.)

And just as the women hit a point 400 meters out, the clock hits 12:00 and Versus switches to an infomerical for a gold club. No apology, no warning, nothing.

I wonder why Versus paid for the rights to air the race, if they were going to cut off right at the finish?

Edit: the women finished 2 seconds apart, in the closest finish in race history. The guy who won didn't beat his own record, but it would have been nice to see these things myself.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Friday, March 21, 2008

and Andrew Sullivan, to boot

His explanation as to why he was wrong on href="http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2008/03/what-i-got-wron.html">Iraq.

I was distracted by the internal American debate to the occlusion of the reality of Iraq.


Well, do you think that, before you start talking about invading a country, you might learn something about the country you are proposing to invade? Let's keep in mind that, before pretty much every invasion in history, the jingoists think that the war will be quick and easy. In some cases, like the American Civil War, both sides feel that way!

American foreign policy discussions are really conducted on a frighteningly childish level.

Condi Rice

Well, we now see that after her disastrous tenure as National Security Advisor, which included the worst terrorist attack ever on American soil as well as horrible advice which led to the Iraq war, the costliest foreign policy debacle in American history, that she cannot even run the State Department in a way that keeps people from occasionally rifling through the files of Presidential candidates.

And people still talk about her reverentially? This is a woman who told bold-faced lies to Congress under oath.

Moral of the story: the Republicans are so desperate to have a token black woman they'll let Rice get away with incompetence time and time again.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Job hunting conundrum ii

An example of a job that would seem pretty cool: Senior Director of Science Policy at the AACR.

Now how to get this job? It requires managerial experience that I do not have. So perhaps I should try to get some?

In the short term, I'm tempted to do a short-term (3-month) position at NESCENT at Duke.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Job hunting conundrum

Thinking out loud...

The biggest problem I have in job hunting or, more generally, directing my career, is the question of what kind of work excites me while feeling relevant to the world as a whole.

Here are the constratints:

1) I have to be interested in the work
2) I have to feel that I bring relatively unique skills to the work
3) I have to feel that the work has a positive impact on the world
4) It has to pay the bills - rent, cat food, etc.

When I started college, I was a foreign service student. But I quickly decided it was stupid to try to work as a generic government wonk and leave my math skills out of the equation. Even if I'm passionate about an issue, I don't think I'll ever accomplish as much as I could if I bury myself in a job that doesn't use my talents and which other people can not only do just as well, but many people do much better. The prototypical type of job here would be "foreign service officer". I would be a passable diplomat, but many people would be better. It would be a waste.

An example of a kind of job I've seen along these lines is this position at Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. I feel about as strongly about this particular issue as any. But do I want to be a policy advocate 40 hours/week? It just doesn't seem quite right.

So, now I'm adding the constraint "job uses math skills".

There are loads of academic jobs, but the downside there is
a) I'm not hugely excited by the reality of teaching.
b) I'm not hugely excited by the prospect of long work weeks, low pay, and constantly writing grant applications.
c) I think a lot of academic research is pointless.

I enjoy teaching when students are engaged in the topic. And in mathematics, that happens very rarely. One needs to way the small number of highly interested and motivated students against the vast number of people just taking calculus because it's required.

I don't mind the long work weeks that much, as long as I'm motivated by the work, but the entire grant application process seems bizarre as a model for a marketplace. As my advisor has said to me, a lot of academia consists of people providing each other with positive feedback loops. If person X studies topic A because person Y finds it interesting, and vice versa, that will not necessarily make it interesting to me. There is an infinite variety of complexity in the world of mathematics, but I have never found studying complexity and structure for its own sake to be all that rewarding.

So that knocks out academia - at least in the more traditional sense. I have a feeling I would prefer to end up in an academic setting anyway, but only in a way where I felt I was driving my own research and it was meaningful. Ziheng has the kind of position and drive that would serve as a model here, but the problem is that I am really not terribly interested in what he's working on.

So that leads to the conundrum: how do I apply the skills I have (math, cs, programming) to the kinds of problems I think are compelling. A near miss is "finance": finance requires a lot of sophisticated mathematics, but I fear that people in finance tend to be arrogant, self-interested bastards. Well, at least that's the stereotype.

A close cousin of finance is "economics", but the econ I saw when I looked into this issue back during grad school uses comically weak and inapt mathematics. Game theory is a good example of this. I love gaming, but I tend to arch my eyebrow in skepticism when I see its facile application to real-world problems. I should look again, though, more carefully.

An alternate approach is simply to focus on the kind of mathematics I like best, namely graphical modelling, and to see what kind of places use applications of this. That's probably what I should be doing these days. I've been lazy in terms of applying my thinking to the problem. Bad Whispers.

I'll revisit this issue again.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Oscar preview & There Will Be Blood

Well, the Oscars start in a couple hours, so I finally got out to see There Will Be Blood to see how Daniel Day-Lewis did this time. When we last saw Mr. Day-Lewis in a film, he was stealing Gangs of New York from Leonardo DiCaprio (and everybody else) in a brilliant performance as Billy the Butcher. My hopes were high.

I have mixed feelings about There Will Be Blood. It's a Paul Thomas Anderson production and, on the whole, it's not his best movie. I don't think it's up at the level of Magnolia, or even Boogie Nights. The script is a bit weak in areas, and parts of it seem rather affected. For example, there isn't any dialogue at all for the first fifteen minutes of the film. That seems to me to be PTA showing off rather than doing the best thing to advance the film.

TWBB is an extended story about Daniel Planview, played by DD-L, a self-made oil man in California at the turn of the 20th century. About halfway through the film, I realized that this film was not going to be a dry, dispassionate study of the hard life in the oil business, but rather it was going to be entirely a long, drawn-out story about the conflict between materialism, as personified by Plainview, and religion, as personified by Paul Dano as the preacher Eli Sunday. Eli's brother Paul, also played by Dano, is the one who alerts Plainview to the existence of a massive oil field under some overlooked land near the coast of California. Dano reminded me somewhat of Edward Norton, and I totally missed that he was the one who played the Graham Woodring character in Little Miss Sunshine.

The acting is tremendous, especially Day-Lewis and Dano. The problem is that the screenplay is plodding, wandering all over the place for no good reason. It's weird: many of the individual scenes work very well, but the film doesn't really hang together well as a whole. I still recommend it to any interested filmgoer, because every performance by Daniel Day-Lewis should be seen and enjoyed. Is he a bit over-the-top at times in this film? Perhaps. But many people in real life go over the top at times, too.

The general incoherence stands in stark contrast to what I think was hands down the best film of 2007: No Country for Old Men. No Country for Old Men has a clear structure to it, and everything in the film contributes to the underlying themes. I have been meaning to give this film its own post at some point, but I've been avoiding reality for the past week since Buffy died. And yeah, it's pretty bad if writing a film review is too close to reality.

Anyway, on to the predictions:

Best Picture: No Country for Old Men
It's got the momentum and the cast and it's the best film I saw. I've managed to see four of the five nominees, only missing chick flick Atonement. While I enjoyed Michael Clayton, Juno, and There Will Be Blood, No Country for Old Men is simply better. By a lot.

Best Actor:
Well for starters we can rule out Viggo Morgenstern in a film nobody saw and Johnny Depp for his role in Sweeney Todd. George Clooney was very good in Michael Clayton, but not really up to the level of the other two nominees. I've already praised Tommy Lee Jones for his work in In the Valley of Elah on this blog. That might be the best work of the year. But he's got no hope going up against Daniel Day-Lewis. It would be a huge upset for anybody other than Day-Lewis to win here. This was a year where most of the best acting was in the Supporting Actor category.

Best Actress:
Of the five performances, the only one I've seen is Ellen Page in Juno. And she's not going to win, no matter how adorable she was in this film. I don't even know who the favorite is supposed to be. I doubt it will be Keira Knightley for Atonement. (checks) According to BoxOffficeMojo.com, the fans think Julie Christie will win for Away From Her. I've voted for Cate Blanchett for the second Elizabeth film, which I have yet to see, based on the idea that she's probably at least as good as she was in the first one.

Best Supporting Actor:
Javier Bardem, hands down. Anton Chigurgh is the best bad-ass character to come to film since Hannibal Lecter. I have a lot of fondness for Tom Wilkinson in this category, and I doubted I could see a better acting performance in a supporting role after seeing Michael Clayton, but Bardem just blows him and everybody else away.

Best Supporting Actress:
I only saw two of the five, and of the two, Ruby Dee in American Gangster is a non-entity. Consider this to be a lifetime achievement nomination. Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton is excellent in a central role of the film. Apparently this is a category that Blanchett might win?

Best Director:
Well, this often goes to the director of the Best Film winner, and I think this year will follow that logic. It'll go to Joel and/or Ethan Coen for No Country for Old Men.

Best Original Screenplay:
Candidates include Juno, Michael Clayton, Ratatouille, Lars and the Real Girl, and The Savages. The last two are also-rans. Ratatouile is reportedly excellent, but I haven't seen it. Given the choice between Juno and Michael Clayton, I would lean a bit to Juno for its rare ability to capture the essence of teenage life accurately. Note to screenwriters: teenagers don't talk in deep tones about their lives like the kids on 90210 did. Mostly they have strong opinions about some things and are completely clueless about a lot of things. Juno has an excellent screenplay, and I hope it wins here.

Best Adapted Screenplay:
No Country for Old Men should win this one, too. An excellent adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy story (novel? novella?)

Best Animated Film:
I suspect Ratatouille will win. Some have complained that The Simpsons Movie wasn't included. I think it should have been included just as a nod to the years of excellence for the TV series, but the film itself was hardly one of the better Simpsons' stories.

Best Documentary:
Sicko? As usual, I haven't seen most of these.

Time to play Civ IV for an hour and then watch the Oscars. Perhaps I'll get to bed before 3 a.m. tonight?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Buffy is seriously ill


She did eat last night, but I'm very troubled by the fluid throughout her abdomen. This seems to suggest serious liver damage and/or cancer. I'm guessing she only has a few days left.

Fluid is not supposed to be in the abdominal cavity. Whatever has caused that to happen means something is seriously wrong. And I cannot go through and do not want to go through a two-month ordeal like I did with Pandora 6 years ago.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

I love my red hooded sweatshirt!

Since Bill Belichick has been taking a beating the past week, I thought I would show my support for him with an embedded video featuring Adam Sandler in the red hooded sweatshirt.

Friday, February 08, 2008

WWBE?

What would Buffy eat?

She had a good 2007 because I discovered she would eat the Whiskas "Oh So Meaty/Oh So Fishy" gourmet food. Unfortunately, they don't have that in the US. The closest is "Purrfectly fishy", which I think she'll eat.

She used to eat Friskies, but she's turned her nose up to that recently. She's looking thinner than she did in France, and it's starting to worry me. The strange thing is that, when she turns her nose up to any particular food, Ginger does the same. And yet Ginger is not sickly and gaunt.

Hmmm....

Well, I've gotten them some Iams dry food, which should be healthier than the Meow Mix. But while Ginger is tearing into it, will Buffy eat it? The only way Buffy will really gain weight is if I find a dry food she'll eat.

Good news is that she did like the treats I gave her yesterday. Bad news is that each only has 1 calorie.

This post was written with the aid and assistance of Ginger sitting on my left hand.

Update: 2/14
Well, it turns out that Buffy is seriously ill. Her weight has dropped to 4 lbs. 4 oz, which means she's lost at least a pound and a half since returning from France. The vets are very pessimistic about her condition.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Super Bowl thoughts

There's little to say that hasn't been said elsewhere. Some points I'd like to make:

1) People who complain that Belichick left the field with 1 second left on the clock need to first acknowledge that the clock had run to zero before time had been added, and that only later was a second added. Thinking that every possible action a person makes is a revelation about that person's black heart, thinking that every gesture or word is a sign of inner contempt: these kinds of things are more revelatory about the people making the "observations" than anything else.

I was hoping the Pats would win more to just shut up the sanctimonious critics than anything else. Now these mouthbreathers are going to be with us for a while.

2) Um, KSK? You guys really need to get a grip on your hate orgy.

3) The Pats Oline played like crap. But with that in mind, the Patriots' offense was more productive than people realize. What happened is that, in the second quarter, the Pats had two sacks in a row, and that kind of immediate reinforcement of a phenomenon makes it appear more significant that it really is. The Pats gave up 5 sacks on 69 plays. The Giants gave up 3 sacks on 63 plays. That's not as much of a difference as people are making it to be.

4) Luck played a huge role. Namely, the three fumbles lost were all recovered by the Giants. And the scrambling pass from Eli to Tyree has no business being successful. The Pats had no similar lucky plays.

5) Penalties played a huge role. The Pats made a lot of stupid penalties. The Giants made few, and also got away with a couple egregious ones, most notably when Toomer pushed his defender in the face to catch a ball.

With all that said, the Pats did not play well enough to deserve to win. The luck that had carried them against the Eagles and Ravens was not there. The coaching was suspect: the refusal to attempt a FG on 4th and 13, the abandonment of the running game, and the decision to cover Burress with Hobbs in single coverage on the biggest play of the game were all bad choices. McDaniels is a good offensive coordinator, but I don't like the decision to abandon the running game altogether in favor of the short passing game. Maroney ran well in the 3rd quarter, and then only one rushing play was called in the 4th.

Basically, everything went wrong. This does not mean "good defeated evil" or that the Patriots got their comeuppance for "running up the score" or that God hates a cheater or anything like that. (If the last theory were true, we wouldn't have had 8 years of W in the White House.) Problem is that it all happened at the wrong time.

People who think the Pats peaked too early must have forgotten the game against the Jaguars, which was easy as pie.

The Pats' D is starting to get old, which makes me fairly certain next season won't go as well as this one did, esp. if Assante Sammuel leaves. The idea of Hobbs and Gay being the starting CBs scares me. They need help at linebacker, too. The only upside for next season is that the schedule will be relatively light.

For people worried about the impact: I would say this rates about the level of the loss by the Celtics in the 1985 finals. It's nowhere near as bad as the really bad Sox losses in 1978, 2003, or esp. 1986. It's not as bad as the thumping the Pats took in Super Bowl XX. It's disappointing, but I'm not of the mind that the only way to enjoy a football season is if your team wins the Super Bowl.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

One down, one to go

So I've finished a draft of the mammal phylogeny paper and sent it off to the Z-man. Yay! Now he'll probably ignore it for a while and then read it and make comments about the charts and graphs or something like that. It needs more polish, for sure, but that part is not my job.

So I'm done with that and can move to the FastME paper with Olivier. I've got the protein alignments and their respective distance matrices, so it's time to build trees, trees, and more trees. This is pretty easy to automate.

On the job-seeking front, I had a meeting with a guy at State today who I know from my college buddy, let's call him Perv until he shows up with a different name. Perv is one of the big reasons I left Georgetown, namely because he's so much smarter when it comes to policy issues than I am. So I figured I had to outflank the wonks of the world by learning a little math.

I may have taken that strategy a wee bit too far. Huh huh huh.

Anyway, I got to meet a guy named Fernando at State which was good because it made it a bit more real to me that these jobs are out there. Unfortunately, not at State, at least not in the fashion of "knocking at the door". They only get their scientists through the AAAS fellowships, which I've applied for twice with no result. Well, it's just like running in a sense: the hardest thing is to start running - once you have a bit of momentum it's easier to keep moving.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Ginger on the wrist

What does it say about me that I'm typing this with Ginger resting comfortably on my left wrist? I wish I could take a photo of this - I'm going to count on somebody with a digital camera doing this sometime in the near future, so blog readers can understand how much Ginger likes it when I type at the computer.

return of Ikea Boy

So I made another trek down to College Park to get some storage furniture: a bookcase, some extra shelving, a bureau, and a TV stand so I can use my coffee table as a coffee table or whatever else I want to use it as.

The extra shelving possibilities were 80 cm or 40 cm. 40 seemed too short for the Ikea bookcases I already have, so I went with the larger size. But I got home and I think what I already have are 60 cm wide, so I'm going to have to find a saw somewhere or give up on this idea.

And let's face it: finding a saw would be more fun.

The divergence paper is close to done and I should finish the draft today or tomorrow, unless I'm really slacking. The FastME paper is nowhere near done, but I'll deal with that later.

And then there's job-hunting. Well, as they say, avoidance isn't only a river in Egypt. I did find a nice possibility at AAAS in Cambridge (Mass, not the poncy place in East Anglia). But I'll treat it as a long shot.