Monday, December 29, 2008

Mystery Science Theater 3000

You may have forgotten this TV show (which I never saw): evil scientists try to punish a man by exiling him to a satellite and compelling him to watch the worst movies made in an effort to drive him mad. With the help of robot friends he found the inadvertent humor in the movies as they "riffed" on this or that stupidity or error. This was interspersed with sketches involving the man and the robots or the mad scientists or other characters.

Unfortunately this has become rather popular in reruns in our home. Once a week is probably not a big deal, but a diet of mockery day after day has to has dull the palate and the brain.

I've seen a few youtube episode-lets, and the target movies are inferior, cliche-ridden, and ill-executed. They deserve a little mockery. But why waste my time watching these bad movies in order to waste my soul in mocking? It isn't even all that funny a show.

"God, Do It My Way"

Every now and then I overhear somebody at church talking about "setting out a fleece." I don't charge across the room and interrupt the conversation--that's not quite my style.

What Gideon did (Judges 6-8) was try to verify the authenticity of a huge demand. He was a minor son of a minor tribe, and he'd just been told to dispose of his father's idol and rally the Jews to throw out the Midianites. The first job was going to get his neighbors mad at him and the second was going to draw unwanted attention from powerful armies. If his neighbors didn't kill him the Midianites would likely massacre anybody who tried to follow him.

Gideon had to make sure the call was real.

I'm not persuaded this has much to do with telling God "If you want me to take the job at the dentist's have their office call me by Tuesday." I'm not sure how often it matters which job you take. Generally just using your best judgment solves the question well enough. It doesn't seem really necessary to say something like "God, if you want me to marry Jennie have her wear a red blouse tomorrow." If you know the lady well enough to contemplate marriage, you probably already have enough information to know--and if you don't, ask a few friends. (If you're one of those people who pray such things at first meeting, may the Lord have mercy on you and protect the rest of us from you.)

There's another kind of "fleece"--and it seems much more logical and obvious. Why doesn't He free me from this besetting sin? If He really wants me to be sober, or pure, or not so violent-tempered, why not make my temptations smaller? I've heard of people who were instantly freed from a drug addiction--why not do the same sort of thing for me?

Maybe if I pray harder.

And it doesn't help. It seems God isn't interested in solving our temptation problems the easy ways.

If my bargain was "Do this if you want me to stop sinning," then if God won't do was I say my unilateral contract lets me go on as I was--but despairing.

It seems so logical, and yet it doesn't work--almost as though we didn't have all the facts at our disposal. Why doesn't God liberate us from besetting sins? I don't know--but with many other things it turned out that He seems to know what He's doing. I guess it is best to keep on slogging, returning again and again for forgiveness and a fresh start in the same old battles. And to try to fill mind and time with the true and good, and not leave the room empty and dusted for the old enemy's return.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Learning young

At Sunday School this morning, a grandmother told of her three-year-old's visit to Santa. The old elf asked what he wanted for Christmas. The boy answered "What ya got?"

Travel briefs

Christmas morning it was -8F as I took Youngest Daughter to her job cleaning the horse barn. Saturday it was 70F. In Louisville, of course.

The weather forecast warned of heavy rain and thunderstorms all the way. What we got was very dense fog and a little misting. And a closeup look at a coyote by the highway in Indiana, and up-close experience with serious potholing on Illinois roads. Back in the early 80's you could tell which road was Illinois' and which Indiana's--Illinois roads were far better maintained. It seems the opposite today. Maybe a bake sale? The senate seat sale didn't quite work out.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Birds in China and a Translating Hero

The Economist has an interesting article on birds in China. I hadn't known about Mao's war against sparrows before (they eat too much grain! but also locusts). "China is not a good place to be a bird."

They also have an article on Tyndale. I wasn't that familiar with his life. They suggest that he (with Shakespeare) was one of the fathers of English literature. And from the story of his life he sounds like a classic Aspergers as well.

Check them out.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Growing children

Youngest Son's boots, though a size smaller than mine, are just as big. He needed them yesterday when we were shoveling snow drifts: -13F and 20mph made for a -40 windchill.

Youngest Daughter was shoveling up after horses in a barn. No wind, and quite a bit warmer, though getting there and back was over north/south roads with foot-high drifts (more in places). Luckily there wasn't much traffic.

Addendum from Mrs. James: Mr. Rogers used to sing a song about growing for preschoolers that goes like this: Everything grows together, because you're all one piece. Your ears grow and your nose grows and the rest of you grows because you're all one piece!

Teenagers don't grow in one piece; they grow one area at a time.

First the appetite grows, then the feet grow. When the feet get big enough to trip over, the nose and ears get a little out of proportion. If a boy has, unfortunately, inherited Grandpa Nugent's jug ears, this can be disconcerting. Then the legs grow, leaving the young male who has no rump trying to find pants that hang far enough below the knee that they won't be mistaken for ladies' crop pants. Don't even try getting new pants; go to the resale shop and improvise. Take tucks as needed. At the rate a kid grows out of new pants, buying new would kill the budget.

Trying to get clothes that fit a petite female is also challenging.These clothes do not exist in the secondhand shop. Getting something for a teen female that is presentable and not Hooker Wannabe is challenging too. For a real headache, try finding winter work boots for size 5 feet! Youngest daughter tried wearing her regular muck boots for barn duty in subzero. BRRR. She managed to get a pair of heavy leather work boots at Farm and Fleet, with the friendly assistance of a former classmate named Megan. The smallest size? 6 1/2, which fit tolerably if she wears thick socks. Since it was 8 below this morning, thick socks and two pair of long johns were appreciated.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


I'll not tell where I saw this, in case it violates company policy. While waiting in line to buy a hamburger at McDonalds I saw a Chinese lady with a plastic container (it must have been a gallon of soup) ask the girl behind the counter if she would microwave the soup for her. After a little back and forth to clarify what needed doing, the manager approved it and I last saw the lady bearing warm soup back to her family--without having to purchase anything from the store.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The post on retirement funds

The post on what happens when retirement funds run dry from the other day was actually written about 3 weeks previously. I wanted to let it age a bit and then look at it with fresh eyes, but the events in Greece made it seem timely.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

L'Escalade. A little bit

Today and tomorrow Geneva celebrates its miraculous 1602 victory against the Savoyards. It says miraculous on the flier, and it sounds like a David beats Goliath fight, in which a cauldron of soup plays a role. Tim and I took the bus/tram downtown and saw the pikemen going through their paces, decided against paying \$8 for a bowl of lentil soup, and looked at the vendors. Some were in period costume, including some little girls selling ribbons, but there were plenty of others--including a FIAT dealer and a children's ski slope where young ones could take their first ski slide. The slope is gentle, they have instructors going down holding their hands, and there was a moving belt escalator to bring them back to the top. One booth sold African masks, another Russian dolls and icons, yet another the little (and big) glass laser sculptures for 4 times the price in the mall in Madison. Several groups sang Christmas carols. One group of Chinese ladies sang familiar songs in a language I didn't recognize: not English, French, or German, and it didn't sound Chinese. The usual sidewalk musicians were out, as well as a man on crutches bouncing a ball off the crutches and his head--and some beggars sitting on the ground. And there were booths for causes: Red Cross, something in solidarity with Cuba, and the Scientologists claiming they they had done disaster relief for Katrina and 9/11. (Forgive me for not believing a word of it.)

We got some roasted chestnuts (never had them before) and split a panini and a Lindt bar. (The chocolate truffles were \$45/lb.) The Red Cross was selling mulled wine for "prix libre" instead of the usual \$3-\$4.

There is also a "Trees and Lights" festival sponsored by a watch firm, so a number of trees are burdened with very odd accouterments. One is completely plastered with Christmas balls and surrounded by floodlights. In another small park are 3 giant stacks of pallets of bottled water: about 8 feet high and 20 feet long!

I hadn't known that there's a noisy shopping mall under the train station.

After returning I realized I'd never been to the Globe outside CERN. I got there shortly before closing. The outer spiral walkway is, unsurprisingly, closed. The inner one is decorated with posters describing the situation from now back to the big bang; where the tour ends. They ran out of ideas before they ran out of ramp. The ground floor was full of superconductor demonstrations, with docents explaining the exhibits in French to groups of visitors. You need to have responsible parties there, because the place was full of liquid nitrogen bottles--the stuff is needed to make the maglev demonstrations work. One of the demonstrations was a small maglev scooter which kids could ride on--pouring cold clouds from the 4 magnets it rode on. Cool.

Bible Reading

I tried a couple of times to "Read the Bible In A Year." The problem I kept hitting was the undeniable fact that chunks are extremely dull, and despite the well-intentioned efforts of some to try to find useful material in the odd corners of Leviticus and Chronicles (like the Prayer of Jabez fad), they aren't terribly interesting.

I borrowed a leaf from the lectionary, and that has worked rather well. Make three readings each time: the next couple of Psalms, the next chapter or three from the Old Testament, and the next chapter from the New Testament. Cycle back to the beginning of each section when done. That way there's always something interesting/useful to read, and sometimes there are connections between the sections.


The sunrise over Geneva was beautiful this morning. The air was clear but not too clear, so the range of the Alps behind the city was silhouetted blue against the orange sky. The more distant ranges were jagged and the nearer ones smoother, but all seemed like a single piece. As the sun rose unseen behind the near ridge, the air between filled with orange light, slowly obscuring the distant mountains and picking out the invisible nearer hills, until finally all was light with an almost transparent image of the mountains of the distance. And the sun blindingly appeared above the near ridge.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What happens when retirement funds run out of money?

I suggest that the tools needed to weather a serious economic crisis are qualities of character, and try to predict, given what we currently know about our economic and cultural situation, what sort of country this will be like in a few decades. The same general outlines apply, with modifications, elsewhere.

Please bear in mind that I am not addressing questions about “social justice” or about justice or about fairness. It isn’t honest to promise someone a retirement and renege, or to fail to pay a veteran’s medical bills for war injuries. I just want to know what happens when the money runs out.

“Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.” (Niels Bohr)

In the near future the burgeoning entitlements programs will overwhelm available taxes. Some modest efforts have been but into rationalizing Social Security, but by all accounts not nearly enough. Modest efforts went into welfare reform under Clinton, but programs are still growing. If under Obama more programs appear or old ones are expanded, the day of reckoning comes that much faster. And sooner or later more taxes mean less revenue.

Shortly before D-day the crunch will start hurting badly. The irreducible functions of government—police and prisons and military and pork projects—will be the last things standing. National parks, science research, NASA, even agricultural subsidies will go away.

So far so predictable. The temptation to print money to cover the deficits will probably be irresistible, unless we elect officials with more wisdom than I expect; or unless some creditor like China has us by the short hairs and is willing to retaliate if we try inflation. In any event, inflation only puts off the inevitable for a short time, since people will quite reasonably demand the spirit of their entitlements and not just the letter. And of course inflation badly hurts investment, which means commerce suffers and the (inflation adjusted) tax base shrinks. It also eats up retirement savings, making retirees that much more dependent on programs like Social Security.

War is the largest unpredictable factor here—or rather the timing of it is, and the nature and popularity of the war. (Predicting that there will be war sometime is like predicting that the sun will rise.) If there are no wars at the time, or if they are far afield then the military will be cut deeply. Since the US is currently the main guarantor of ocean security this will start to impact commerce, though slowly at first. Hostile powers will become more prominent.

If there is a popular (felt to be important) war in progress when the crunch hits, the country will immediately shift to a command economy. Call “war leading to a command economy” Outcome 1. I do not want to go into what this means—its nature and hazards are well described elsewhere. Merely notice that even if the war ends the country will remain locked in thorough government management of the economy in order to maintain the entitlement programs.

Outcome 1: war and a command economy requires the government to manage not just the major industries, but to set prices, wages, retirement incomes across the board, housing construction, and so on. As the crunch worsens the level of involvement has to grow to keep the system working. In the end strikes become illegal. So long as the war is popular people will hang together for some sacrifices, but not all and not forever.

If there is a war and it is unpopular and it is not possible to retreat from it without disaster, the blame and anger land on the existing government, which gets replaced. But this doesn't change the situation; and I'd predict further replacements (possibly becoming violent) continuing at intervals until either a strong-man seizes control of the country and economy (Outcome 2) or an incompetent who by mismanaging either the economy or the war causes general collapse (Outcome 3. I can't predict what happens if we lose a war in such a situation, but I assume we lose big.

Let's stipulate that there no ongoing war, or if there is one we can back out of it without instant catastrophe (like pre D-day World War II in the Eur-African fronts). In this case military budgets will be cut back hard—big ticket systems first, then training, integration, and then personnel. The US uses money as a force multiplier to make our relatively small army more capable. It will become radically less capable, even if it stays the same size. The ill effects of this aren't directly germane to my subject, but the general feeling of weakness will contribute to problems described later. I can’t predict what sort of delayed consequences there would be from backing out of a war—they might be trivial or severe.

Reducing the military buys a little time. If the situation looks dire enough even pork projects might get more than symbolic cuts.

Entitlements ratchet. You can expand them but contracting them is very hard, especially if there is no crisis. People are not so adamant about extending them to the next generation so long as you don't change the rules for the people in the pipelines. However, reducing the benefit rates or increasing eligibility ages don't win votes from the sheep voters our legislators cultivate. Any adult who can do arithmetic can understand the problems but two huge issues appear.

  • Political discourse is sound-bite length and usually without any serious discussion. Planning for the future is deprecated. When public discussion is infantilized, major decisions are made by the powerful behind the scenes.
  • How will “Joe Average” react to losing benefits he thought he was promised?

The government will break its promises—one plus one is not three—they will have no choice. The way the government will break its promises will vary by the type of promise. Universal Health Care is an easy promise to break: just underfund it. In any event the service will undoubtedly have been deteriorating all along. But since people are often quite loyal to their doctors, if the UHC plans let them keep the same doctor the system can become quite decrepit before people revolt.

Pension checks are another matter. Whether reduced by fiat or by inflation smaller incomes hurt. It isn't as easy to postpone meals as it is doctor visits. The government can try to introduce new goodies or dress things up in an effort to distract people, but this only helps in the short term.

Different recipients face different challenges: AFDC single mothers vs disability pensions vs Social Security pensions vs government retirement pensions—but all have this in common: nobody expects them to help themselves. The single mothers are supposed to be overwhelmed with taking care of the kids, the disabled can't work and the pensioners are too old to work. Everything depends on how far these groups have internalized those expectations.

Character is Destiny.

If the pensioners give up independent living and move into spare rooms with family, or band together to share expenses, they can make do after cuts—perhaps for long enough. It is an open secret that some of the officially disabled are able to work at some level. Many could reach accommodations with family or friends; though often families don't exist anymore. AFDC recipients could theoretically manage similarly—but notice the assumption that families exist and feel some obligation.

Will this be true? Is it true now? Is there enough family left to provide emergency support to enough people? If the families do exist, will they think of the deprived ones as an imposition?

I know not all circumstances or reactions will be the same. I ask about averages and overall attitudes, not whether John Smiley loves his step-father, or whether any of Bessie's series of boyfriends feels any obligation to help her mother. The issues here revolve around what is the majority view: the “character” of the society.

For the entitlement contraction to be peaceful, with (in general) people taking care of themselves and their own, the culture needs to have encouraged particular values: family obligations, reliability, willingness to take the bad with the good, and willingness to balance other's needs against your own.

Retired pensioners probably understand the virtue of reliability, and schools try to encourage this as well, but it isn't universally admired. Ask business owners about how hard it is to find people willing to show up on time. The rest of these qualities aren't taught by any major group but churches; and precious few of them these days. I don’t see a majority of families addressing these, and the popular entertainments implicitly and often explicitly denigrate them. (How does rap view women—as wives and mothers to be supported, or whores to be used?)

I wish I were confident that the “character” of the society will have us taking care of our own peacefully. I don’t think troubles form character so much as reveal it, and the trends are not encouraging. In what follows I will assume that a people taught to look to the government for help will continue to do so.

If the contraction is not stoically dealt with, people will look for someone to blame. Some always do this anyway—the issue is how big a deal this will be.

Demagogues will rise to the occasion as always. The future of the nation depends on whether a large enough fraction of those “entitled” cling to their sense of deprivation and find someone to blame. If enough do, then blame becomes the dominant theme in politics.

Who gets blamed?

If the blame successfully lands on “the rich” the most likely next step is to nationalize the largest businesses, and the government winds up running most of the economy. This has the same general character as Outcome 1, but without a war or external enemy to encourage the people to hang together.

Call this Outcome 4. It is like 2, but with initially less extensive government control (since there's no war yet). Since government control will in no way solve the underlying problem, sacrifices still must be made; but without an external threat to motivate them there will probably have to be more threats from the government itself. Thus, paradoxically, I expect this outcome (a command economy without war) to be more oppressive than one that begins during a popular war.

Trying to put blame on a powerful group can spur them in turn to try to redirect blame to outsiders. “The rich” are a handy target, and can sometimes be felled; but if they are savvy enough then minorities or aliens will get the blame instead. Powerful groups include wealthy ones, but also media groups and established political groups and criminal gangs.

If there is some plausible way of blaming another country, there's clearly a risk of war; if the nation is or can become strong enough. The process of militarization brings government control of the economy, and we're back to Outcome 1.

If the “enemy” is unreachable or too strong or too implausible, and the government is leading the blaming (sooner or later it will: either at the start or when the demagogues reach power), the society will marinade itself in hatred, rather like Egypt or Pakistan. Hatred is never perfectly channeled, and will be turned inward from time to time in assassinations and hunting for traitors. Call this Outcome 5

Outcome 5 is a society that while it may have trappings of a modern democracy, is thug-ridden and violent. The entitlements are gone, replaced by grievances. The government may or may not control the economy; in either case I expect corruption to be the order of the day. Outcome 2 is very like to evolve into this sort of situation.

If the “enemy” is a non-dominant group within the country, the demonized group is unlikely to wait quietly for destruction, and you wind up with diffuse civil unrest shading into civil war without territories, resolving into civil war with ethnic cleansing. The chances are that demagogues will make the government a partner—it is more than the country could expect or deserve to find strong and fair leaders. But if they don't, the unrest offers opportunity for criminal organizations to expand their powers and control territories. Call this Outcome 6.

Outcome 6 is a civil war, with partitioning of the country into enclaves. If the government is strong enough it will probably be a party to the ethnic cleansing, and if it is not the country will wind up with warlords instead.

I want to look at a variant of this in more detail, since it is possibly closer than we think for the USA. Suppose the economy goes into depression and stays there. The entitled classes are split between welfare and retirees. The retirees are hard to blame in a plausible way; so blame goes to the welfare recipients. Blaming all of them is possible but hard to sustain. Blaming blacks sparks a race war right away. That leaves illegal immigrants as the most likely target. Never mind the real proportions of spending—facts are easy to ignore.

“Illegal immigrants” mostly means Mexicans. Abused Mexicans (and legal immigrants from Mexico, and citizens originally from Mexico) can readily flee, and will probably be encouraged to. Mexico will be driven to retaliate somehow, probably via trade restrictions, oil embargoes, and so on. A lot of Americans live in Mexico, and would be vulnerable to tit for tat abuse. There's an obvious risk to Mexico here if some damaged Americans are taken as a cause celebre—the US would still be strong enough to indulge in punitive attacks. A few dozen years from now this may no longer be true.

None of this will improve the lives of the “entitled” any. A punitive war isn't likely to “stimulate the economy” and a war of conquest adds millions of Mexicans to the country—the exact opposite of what the demagogues want. But unfortunately it doesn't seem terribly improbable. It differs from Outcome 6 in that enclaves don’t appear and it isn't strictly a civil war, because one of the parties has a state to support it—but it does involve unrest, ethnic cleansing, and war.


The “ideal” outcome: we tighten our belts for a decade or so and reorganize our political culture with no more than typical rioting and instability. Unfortunately I strongly suspect that the culture has changed enough that this may not be possible anymore. That leaves the bad ones:

  1. War on, government runs pretty much the whole economy.
  2. Strong man dictatorship, government runs pretty much the whole economy.
  3. Lose Big. Unpredictable outcome of losing a major war.
  4. Soak-the-rich, government runs almost everything.
  5. Unstable thugocracy
  6. Civil war/ethnic cleansing, unpredictable degree

The outcomes don't look good. We've recovered from depressions before, but I worry that our cultural shifts make the large entitlements seriously problematic. I don't propose to address the vexed question of whether some of the programs contributed to the cultural shifts.

After the great convention, Franklin was asked what kind of government had been created, and he answered “A republic—if you can keep it.”

Nota bene. Yes, our family has benefited from these programs. We are grateful, but we are also trying to get to the point where they are not needed. And I really don't expect Social Security to be there when I retire.

I don't expect nuclear weapons to be used in ways that modify the analysis substantially.

Blagojevich and Axelrod and Obama

Blagojevich's offenses don't astonish me, I'm afraid. That's Illinois politics for you. I gather that things are run more genteelly elsewhere.

Obama's advisor Axelrod said

"I know he's talked to the governor and there are a whole range of names many of which have surfaced, and I think he has a fondness for a lot of them."
"I was mistaken when I told an interviewer last month that the President-elect has spoken directly to Governor Blagojevich about the Senate vacancy. They did not then or at any time discuss the subject."

Axelrod lies and the truth is not in him. In fact I think he was lying both times: the first time exaggerating the contacts and the second time a bare-faced and unbelievable lie. Of course Obama talked to the governor about his successor. I gather from the quotes attributed to Blagojevich that he had his own agenda, and wasn't paying much mind to Obama's suggestions. Undoubtedly Obama had his own political horsetrading in mind, but I don't see why Axelrod thought he had to lie about it--that sort of thing isn't illegal; and I can't think of any reason Obama would have been involved in the sort of deals the governor was trying to cut.

And this guy is giving advice to Obama?

Monday, December 08, 2008


The weather coming into Brussels yesterday was clear, and the early morning flight was late enough in December that the sun was just barely coming up. As we flew in from the ocean I saw blinking lights through the window--blinking at different rates. I wondered if it could be, and it was, lighthouses at the ends of peninsulae on the coast. From our height I could see 4, or maybe 5, at the same time; all flashing and all different (so sailors can tell which one is which). I don't think I've ever seen more than one at a time before. (I don't go sailing much.)

Sloppy editor or Freudian slip?

In a breaking NYT story about the Tribune Company filing for bankruptcy:

The Tribune Company filed for bankruptcy protection in a federal court in Delaware on Monday, as the publisher of newspapers like The Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Tribune struggled to cope with rising debt and falling ad revenue.


It is only the latest — and biggest — sign of duress for the newspaper industry yet.

Spellcheck wins again! Or maybe, this being the NYT after all, the reporter believes in some grand conspiracy to crush the newspapers.

Of course the news isn't a huge surprise: relying on ad revenue is kind of a second-order business model. They don't so much sell what they make, as make something that somebody else uses to try to get people to buy what they make.

As I've said elsewhere, if you want information you're going to have to pay for it somehow. Bloggers can be much more knowledgeable than your average reporter about something near or dear to them, but you can't rely on finding one to tell you about the story you happen to need to know about. Some news is so difficult or dull to get at that you have to pay people to go get it for you. And that doesn't include the other costs like publishing (even e-publishing costs money) or travel.

Friday, December 05, 2008


Aura again. First time in 6 1/2 months; again striking at work.

Cell motion in fly embryos

Using fluorescent proteins a group tracked motion of about 1500 cells in a fruit fly embryo while it reorganized itself (gastrulation). The result is must-see TV.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Joining terror groups

Max Abrahms' paper "What Terrorists Really Want" claims that belonging is more important to recruitment than ideology, and that terrorist groups are not fundamentally concerned with achieving political goals. Terrorists join because they know people already involved.

The claims may be largely true, but don't address the formation of such groups. Keeping tabs on all the acquaintances of suspected terrorists is undeniably useful, but not sufficient. Somebody starts these groups. Are they founded by sociopaths who latch on to some ideology, or by the "rational actors" trying to achieve particular ends? The initial group must form with a different social dynamic than the ones he says bring in later recruits. I think this analysis is incomplete.

Pointed out by the Assistant Village Idiot

Monday, December 01, 2008

This is a real, meaningful English sentence

It was also the subject of a series of email posts.

Fedora's anaconda hosed my grub.

I think the explanation would detract from this work of art, so I will omit it.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Dishonesty in news reporting

On WPR this morning an announcer began his story by saying that Sen Feingold had successfully gotten a resolution passed calling for a cease-fire in the Congo. The next sentence warned that continued fighting was impacting the wildlife refuge in Eastern Congo, and the rest of the story was about the gorilla rescue project. Since the reporter brought Feingold into the story, the logical implication would be that Feingold had brought the matter up, right? I hold no brief for Feingold, but I didn't think he was such a fool as that--and he wasn't. There was no connection between the gorillas and Feingold's resolution; just a reporter trying to namedrop to make the story sound important.

The BBC site reported that Nigerian children's teething syrup has been "tainted" with ethylene glycol. Tainted suggests a little spillage or some other small adulteration. Clearly somebody replaced the sweetener with glycol; which is a big deal and not a little slip-up. BBC's word choice is often very strange, to the point of being misleading. Once you figure out the pattern of word choices you can correct the story mentally to get closer to the facts. Sometimes you need a little prior knowledge, such as the toxicity of the glycol.

The Australian described the attacks on Mumbai as carried out by "teenage gunmen."

Kissinger said that "90% of the politicians give the other 10% a bad name." Something similar seems to apply to reporters.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

An exclusive club

A club restricted to those who've been famous enough to have a biography written about them is for authorized persons only.

Oddly ironic

The CERN Courier quit publishing in two languages a couple of years back. Now it accepts contributions in French or English, and publishes them as such rather than translating. Almost every single article is in English, though. This month's issue (Nov-2008) has an exception: the obituary of an Englishman is in French.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Everybody else does this sort of post. Let's see if I can embed something.

No guarantees that what is referenced will still be there a month from now.

Killer whales are chasing a penguin. It is just a matter of time, right? The image used for the movie is probably a giveaway...

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Forgot one difference!

In my earlier post about Relevant Radio, I forgot one huge difference: Notre Dame football broadcasts!

Friday, November 21, 2008


If you haven't seen The Revenge of Conscience, by all means read it. Budziszewski is thorough and clear.

Buying good publicity

From the International Harald Tribune (via Drudge): Angelina Jolie buys positive press coverage.

According to the deal offered by Jolie, the winning magazine was obliged to offer coverage that would not reflect negatively on her or her family, according to two people with knowledge of the bidding who were granted anonymity because the talks were confidential. The deal also asked for an "editorial plan" providing a road map of the layout, these people say.

I suppose the only surprise here is that the deal became public knowledge. There's a long history of reporters' gripes about stories canned because they reflected badly on major advertisers, and we all know about political stories that were buried. CNN declined to contradict Saddam's press releases in exchange for the honor of having a "reporter" in Baghdad. For an actress to buy good coverage is a move in a grand tradition.

People won the bid, apparently, though Time was in the running.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Youngest Son has discovered both Dan McBride and Tom Lehrer: simultaneously.

I remember some years ago reading part of an interview with Lehrer in which he said he had no plans to try to write new songs, because he didn't think he could make things funny anymore. I thought nothing of it at the time, except to wonder why he'd lost his sense of humor. Now I know.

The contrast between the two singers is dramatic. Lehrer was a polished performer with a good voice, while McBride's voice was raspy and hoarse. Lehrer was sophisticated and McBride cultivated a down-home persona. A lot of Lehrer's music was original, while McBride generally sang new words to old tunes.

Taken one at a time their comic songs might seem similar: both made fun of idiocies. But when you listen to a lot of their work at once a pattern emerges and the difference is startling. Lehrer's work is infused with anger, while McBride sang with sympathy.

Lehrer hit his stride at just the right time, when angry songs could still be funny and get attention. But we got used to anger, and social commentators had to rachet the level up to where things couldn't be angry and funny any more. Shocks are getting harder to arrange. I suspect that's what he meant in that interview, and that's why he quit. He could probably still do things like the Elements Song, but not National Brotherhood Week or Poisoning Pigeons in the Park.

I'm not as fascinated with shock or anger as I was in high school.

Lehrer also did a number of educational songs (besides The Elements, but those weren't what made him famous. I'm sure he could do more of those if he wanted to, though.
I updated the post to include links to explain who these men are (per request), and only then read the Wikipedia entry for Lehrer. I guess I was right.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Most of us like the idea of making history, or being there when it is made. I do. If somebody gave me tickets to the inauguration I'd go (*). I've never been to one, and this one will be inarguably historic: for the country, for the West, and perhaps especially for the Democratic Party (the Republicans were the anti-slavery party).

It will be a day to remember, in a Guinness Book of World Records sort of way. Unfortunately then comes the next day. We're going to pay a pretty high price for setting a nice record.

(*) The devil is in the details, of course--air fare isn't cheap and hotel room prices are completely insane, so I guess I couldn't justify the expense.


In the parking lot sat a pickup with a vanity plate: LIL BRO. As I got closer I saw that the bottom of the plate read "Gold Star Family."

Friday, November 14, 2008

Relevant Radio

I've learned a little church history, and know something of the lives of the saints, something of variations in theology, and while trying to put together some material for youth, have read goodly chunks of Luther's catechism and the Catholic catechism. But the theological theory and the way things are actually practiced sometimes have points of difference, so I tuned in WHFA to hear what the Catholic equivalent of protestant radio is like.

The Catholic church is a rather big tent, with a lot of things you aren't actually required to believe (Fatima, etc). So the content of the programming may not be representative. And I tuned in during commutes, so that also biases the sampling.

Similarities: Both protestant and the Catholic station talk a lot about Jesus, faith, grace, obedience and the Bible. Both have pledge drives :-( Both have call-in shows for people needing advice. Both include worship service broadcasts, and have lots of church community bulletins.

Differences: WHFA has ads by presumably Catholic businessmen. WHFA has substantially less music, though given the average caliber of the stuff WNWC plays that may not be a disadvantage. Sometimes the experts on the call-in shows show a little more "depth on the bench" than their protestant equivalents. Relevant Radio has talk shows in the morning and early evening, and during the lead-up to the election it was 90% about abortion. That got pretty old--I figured they were preaching to the choir but I gather from post-election statistics that most Catholics either don't care or were seriously confused by the unfortunate "seamless garment" approach that glibly mixed absolutes and prudentials.(*) WHFA apparently has an exorcist as a regular guest on the afternoon talk show. Protestant worship services that center around singing and preaching and the Bible are easy to broadcast, but services that center around the Eucharist lack a little something: like presence. And Mary is big--very big. If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck and talks like a duck ... and attributes effective omniscience to Mary (she hears every prayer ?!?): then we're off into very risky territory.

Call-in shows aren't a really good avenue for "spiritual direction;" that really requires one-on-one with a counselor, and time and at least a stab at self-discipline on the directee's part. It isn't done in 2 minutes. Some of the protestant call-ins have a phone bank with some sort of counselors, which is better (I hope!) than 45 seconds of advice on the air.

The local bishop isn't a good public speaker, but the clips were short. The quality and caliber of the protestant preachers is generally far better.

I learned a lot, and may tune in again from time to time--though I'll try to skip the commute hours.

Time to switch over to La Movida for a while to try to learn to hear the accents and phrases of Spanish.

(*) That's my description, not theirs. They always said it was misinterpreted; I say Bernardin was careless.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Mirth of a Nation compiled by Michael J Rosen

Rosen, despite including a handful of works by Dave Barry and PJ O'Rourke, has succeeded in assembling one of the least funny collections this side of the tax tables.

Skip around at random. Plow right through. It doesn't matter--in defiance of probability there is nothing funny to be found. The Apostle Paul found time for a joke, why couldn't they?

If you care for an example, imagine a work consisting of nothing but things like this:

Is it a person, or a pasta dish?

PersonPasta Dish

The culprit for that was Chris Harris, but I have to wonder what Rosen was smoking that made him giggle enough to buy rights to it.

I suppose this is ironic humor. Spare us. The book will merely take up space: skip it.


Just down the hall from Regent Mental Health is an office labeled "Porter and Sack." My better half commented that this sounded like Falstaff's bar bill. I guess if you give them some business they'll buzz right through it.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Indian Summer

It is disconcerting, on a beautiful day with temperatures over 70, to find that the forecast for barely 48 hours later reads "little or no snow accumulation."

Healing divides

The claim goes that Obama's election helps heal racial divides in this country. It'd be wonderful if it did. But there's a political industry based on exacerbating wounds, and a musical industry that thrives on the same, and (although probably less relevantly) an academic industry that lives to define victims. Raking up old injuries and magnifying new ones brings in their bread and butter. I don't think Jesse Jackson is going to give up the shakedown business just because Obama was elected. I'd guess that within two months we'll start hearing that he's "not black enough" or that because his father was Kenyan he "doesn't really understand" ghetto life. It'll be just a whisper at first: there's too much elation right now for anything harsh.

I suspect most of the "healing" will be with blacks who don't follow the demagogues anyway. Maybe a second-generation effect?

The flip side is an interesting question: Will this heal racial division on the "white" side? How much division is based on "white" attitudes?

The academics tell me that "privilege" is "racism." Some say that white racism appears in structural asymmetries. Others say historical differences have to be righted before racism will vanish. Their obvious solution to the problem of racism as they define it is to remove privilege. For which you obviously need a special privileged class to manage the forced equalization. That doesn't seem very healing.

Other people say that what appears to be racism is merely a logical approach to objective differences in probability: a young black man is many times more likely to be a criminal than a young white woman. (I've read that this number is nearly 30) So far as this is true, and not merely a perception of differences, I don't think Obama will change much.

Some whites are clearly racists. I've met a few. I don't think Obama is going to have much impact on them.

That leaves whites who aren't particularly biased as the target group for "healing," as their perceptions change. I don't know how extensive a population this is, but I can't think of a white racial demagogue with the same stature and following as Al Sharpton.

Monday, November 03, 2008

If Obama wins

I judge Obama unsuitable for the office, on grounds of character, experience, and philosophy; but I don't believe him to be the devil incarnate. There ought to be some good arising from his presidency, and it would be a useful exercise to try to figure out what it might be.

Unfortunately he has no administrative experience with which to face the largest bureaucracy in the world, so success in administration is going to depend on blind luck in finding good aides. If he has the humility to ask for a lot of advice he might be able to assemble a competent team, but if he relies on his political allies we're probably going to be in the soup. Loosely run bureaucracies have a way of digressing from their missions in favor of empire-building and paper-pushing.

The most striking qualities he has so far displayed are charisma and a mesmerizing speaking ability. These won't cut much ice with the hard-nosed veterans in the Legislature, but if he can hold the attention and favor of enough people the Congressmen will have to listen to him. We have some serious challenges in terms of the economy and the war. If he can inspire enough people to accept the sacrifices and the vision, a great deal could be done. Of course this begs the question of what vision and what action, but we'll try to hope these are wise. That takes a lot of hoping, unfortunately.

Faced with real dangers and real limits (we can't magically make armies appear in Afghanistan--somebody has to help or give permission), he may abandon his silly rhetoric and possibly lead the Democratic party to take ownership of the war. It would be very good to lose this "Republican war" nonsense and work together for a change. The war is complicated and going to be long, with intervals of apparent quiet: we need to hang together no matter which party is in charge.

Unfortunately most of the nice things he talks about doing come with unpleasant price tags, and sometimes nasty side effects. It is nice to think of paying no taxes (I make well less than \$250K .. make that \$200K .. make that \$125K .. make that \$75K .. make that ..), but a) it won't happen (we have to raise a huge amount of money soon) and b) the moral hazard of creating a large citizen class with only benefits and no obligations erodes their sense of responsibility for what the government does--makes them children instead of citizens. I discount huge swaths of feel-good promises: I've no confidence that they'll really benefit us.

"Predictions are hard, especially about the future." "Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help. ... Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God."

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Non-MSM reporting

I've read some people claiming that bloggers will replace reporters. More thoughtful folks point out that although particular bloggers have specialized information no reporter is likely to be able to match, there's no reliability built into the blogging model, and people aren't usually all that interested in showing up to and blogging about the court docket or the school board committee meetings. You have to pay reporters to do those kinds of things.

And the blogging model may collapse soon anyway. If the economy tanks, Google won't be able to make ends meet with advertising. Bye-bye free blogging. And bye-bye unmetered research access too! Google et al will either shrivel to pay-as-you-go research engines, or be nationalized (and presumably made unprovocative(*), except for the favored groups). This dries up the gigantic pool of information those over-optimistic forecasters are counting on.

(*)No porn links and no hate group links, for instance. Of course both categories are subject to regulator interpretation. The Canadian HRC illustrates how.


I notice that our national legislature is regarded only slightly more favorably than pus. Kissinger said that 90% of the politicians give the other 10% a bad name. Freezers full of cash, blithe legislating of favors for cronies, rancid posturing and general lying make the place a stench. The “Do you know who I am!” arrogance is bi-partisan: Larry Craig and Cynthia McKinney come quickly to mind.

I’ll grant some exceptions, but I suspect Kissinger’s proportions are not far off.

The Constitution was set up so we could deal with this sort of thing. On Tuesday we could vote in a completely different House of Representatives and a third of the Senate in one go, if we chose to. We never have, and I’ll bet this time will be no different.

Politics was once much more violent than it is now, and every bit as corrupt. It actually got better for a while. I’m not sure that’s likely anymore. The center of political power has always been DC, and now it is more and more the locus of economic control and economic power. That will inevitably become corrupt. If bribes are easier than compliance, companies will bribe. If people kowtow to the whims of the powerful, you generate a courtier class. Can you smell it already?

The more we expand the authority of Washington, the more it becomes the center of power, and the more corruption it will attract. This, if nothing else, is a good reason to try to resist the call of “There ought to be a law.” There will be a law, and another, and another, and another; and the cobweb of rules will favor the friends of the powerful. Don’t bother trying to claim that some party represents the interests of the powerless—it isn’t so.

It looks as though Democrats will have an even larger majority, and presumably a mandate to expand control even farther. I don’t expect this will help matters any.



Dante planted counterfeiters in the 8’th circle of hell, where they are diseased forever. Of course they are liars and thieves, but they also debase the exchange for everyone, not just their local victims. Trust is eroded, and everyone the loser, when counterfeiters work.

When Niven and Pournelle updated Dante in Inferno (Good book; read it) they put ad writers in the ditch with the flatterers—a beautifully accurate observation. Adding too many such would have made the plot drag, but I can think of another modern equivalent they left out.

Orwell warned that words could shape thought. Debasers of the language damage the exchange of ideas just as debasers of the currency damage the exchange of labor.

Screwtape told us about the debasement of “democratic,” from being a precise description of a voting system to a veil for envy. Besides becoming a noble-sounding synonym for abortion, “choice” also morphed into an ultimate value in itself rather than a selection among values.

The phrase “a person’s nature” changed from a reference to the person’s common humanity or purpose to meaning the person’s unique desires and habits—almost a complete reversal.

If you use these once-useful terms unwittingly, you’ll find you’ve begged unexpected questions and admitted points you never intended.

The 8’th circle seems appropriate for these idea counterfeiters.

Friday, October 31, 2008

"Bleed Bluest of Blue"

Todays Wisconsin State Journal has a story comparing the bluest ward (most heavily Democratic) with the reddest (split). While not as heavily Democratic as one Milwaukee ward (99% Kerry(*)) it is still highly monolithic. I find the contrasts a bit amusing: "It's 'anything goes' here," but "I cannot figure out the 51 percent of the population who voted for Bush." Truly Remarkable Loon (a fine juggler) thinks Republicans would be welcome and "Might lead to some interesting discussions."

That has an ominous tone that I doubt he intended. For those of us to whom politics is not the by-all and end-all, the prospect of being compelled to either regularly express agreement or explain ourselves isn't entrancing. I get a little of it myself at work: I don't want to face it at home.

There's another term from the other side of the color wheel for that ward: "Yellow dog Democrat" :-)

(*) I don't believe that number, BTW. The spoiled ballot rate alone is about 2% nationally, though Wisconsin had no data, and I expect random votes to appear at a slightly higher rate.

Monday, October 27, 2008


I remember reading years ago of someone trying to clean his chimney by firing a shotgun up it. It seems risky, but every winter doctors recommend flue shots.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

2008 Presidential Elections

It is about time to render judgment on the candidates proffered. I hate these multi-year campaigns. They do not shed much light on the candidates, and their expense and focus on appearance must have a corrupting effect on the process and the candidates.

I’m not enamored of either of the men at the top of the main party tickets. Never mind the VP candidates for now.

Executive Summary: I do not consider Obama suitable for the job. I worry about McCain’s attitudes towards government’s roles. Neither of them (and probably no human being) is going to be adequate to meet the challenges of the next few years.

  • His opposition to the anti-infanticide law tells me something ugly about Obama’s character

    He voted to oppose Illinois legislation (explicitly written to not restrict abortion) designed to protect infants born alive despite an abortion. He was the only Senator to speak against it. The same measure passed the US Senate without opposition.

    Even if one stipulated that abortion was a right and not an evil, failing to recognize any limits to it even beyond birth shows at the very best an execrable lack of judgment.

    This is a showstopper. But to continue:

  • The frequency with which Obama voted “Present” tells me something unhappy about his courage.

    While it is true that voting “Present” isn’t likely to satisfy either the supporters or opponents of some law, it is generally possible to weasel an explanation that at least keeps them from opposing you when you need votes or money.

    The best spin I can think of to put on this is that either he was trying to make some statement about the insignificance of some particular bill or that he was admitting that he hadn’t had time to understand the ramifications of it. The first case doesn’t survive inspection: the best way to make a statement is to say it. The second case is no excuse—we know the job isn’t possible, that’s why we pay for staff to assist the legislators.

  • The associates Obama has chosen and the environment he chose tell me something unpleasant about his vision of America.

    Wright’s sermons, and Ayers’ unrepentant hatreds—and for that matter, the very grants that Obama and Ayers helped distribute—for things like teaching mathematics with a social justice theme (a perversion reminiscent of the “Marxist biology” of the Soviet empire)—are part of a world-view of class warfare (and race warfare) that hopes for the destruction of order in favor of some earthly paradise. When whitey is suppressed, or when the corporations are controlled by the state, then comes the millennium of: Well, we know where that goes.

    You don’t have to pretend that our current system is perfect to judge that this kind of solution is worse than the disease.

What does Obama plan? Standard Democratic Party boilerplate. What history has he of “bridging divides?” None. “He will be transformational.” Transform to what: frogs or princes? “Change” Is it for better or worse? One of the top lessons of the 20’th century is: Things can always be made worse.

Tomaso wrote on his blog that he believed electing Obama would heal divisions between the US and Italy; that the governments would be more cooperative. I admit I know little of Italian politics, but I suspect he knows less than he thinks he does. Italy will follow its own interests, exactly as before. Electing Obama would bring a brief “thrill” in the world, which would last about a day as newspapers went “happy happy joy joy.” Next day would be business as usual, as they discovered to their horror that he was President of the United States.

I was flabbergasted to find him advocating the invasion of Pakistan. I notice he backtracked in a hurry, but he’s pretty careless. If he actually believes his own press releases about the value of negotiations he’s more of a fool than I take him for. He should have learned enough from Alinsky to know better.

McCain has a long history, with some blemishes such as campaign finance reform (Incumbent Protection Act).

He seems to have no notion of why the Mexico border needs attention, though to be fair almost nobody else seems to be paying it more than lip service either. You’d think with the economy the way it is there’d be some awareness of the risks, but with so many special interests looking to garner cheap labor and cheap votes I suspect nothing much will happen until the demagogues start in—and it’ll be pretty late by then.

He seems to be quite comfortable with an ever-expanding state. Obama is eager for one, so the advantage is to McCain, but not with enthusiasm.

I gather he didn’t understand the strategic significance of Iraq in the war, though at least he understands what’s involved in conducting a campaign, which is more than Obama did. I get the impression from Obama’s various statements that he doesn’t have any clear ideas about the war. Somebody needs to sit him down and teach him some history—wars are typically not short, and asymmetrical warfare requires just as much attention as big tank battles. We’re in for a century or so of what Kipling called “The Great Game,” and we need to know how to keep our eye on the ball.

Neither candidate seems to have a clear plan for what the economy needs—which is probably good since I suspect nobody knows. I suspect McCain will be more careful about signing laws to tinker with the banking system than Obama; and we’ll need restraint. If the US effectively owns the main banks, can you imagine any scenario in which Congress won’t be trying to implement pet projects through bank rules? Me either.

McCain’s history is consistent with someone who (right or wrong) goes with what he thinks is correct and not with convenience or party. Obama’s history is too short to be absolutely sure, but there’s no sign of any willingness to buck the party so far.

Even leaving aside the showstopper, Obama isn’t someone I want in office. McCain, though far from perfect, is far better.

Friday, October 24, 2008


We find that it is risky to let rabbits run loose near light cords: they speak tooth to power.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Press and Obama

A year ago I was predicting that the press would follow the usual model of lionizing Obama, and then, growing jaded, savage him.

We've seen the pattern before: an obscure and unexpected character gets a little attention; and then is "discovered." Reporters like to discover things.

If the "three-story" threshold is hit they assume there is a "buzz" about him, and reporting intensifies. Reporters like to catch the wave and have people read their stories.

When the wave is high and everybody likes the man, reporters start to suspiciously dig for dirt. Reporters dream of the big surprise story, and it is almost always about a hero's clay feet.

The pattern is ugly and painful to the unsuspecting subject, but it is ultimately founded on the reporter's devotion to his craft as he understands it: locate novelties, find out what people want to know, uncover the cover-up and don't let the famous or powerful get too proud.

I'm putting as nice a perspective on it as I can.

I predicted they'd apply the same pattern to Obama, and that by now he'd be in shreds.

I was wrong.

Stage 3 never materialized, despite opportunities. There've been hints of scandal aplenty (mostly probably minor, as usual), but little follow through. Is this because Obama is a Teflon™ candidate with a personality that shakes off any criticism, or is this because journalists have tingles running up their legs? Is it fear, or an enthusiasm so intense they forget their craft?

I don't believe it is because they suddenly turned sensitive: just look at the other news reports to see how low they go.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Friend Like Henry by Nuala Gardner

Subtitle: “The remarkable story of an autistic boy and the dog that unlocked his world”

The book is really the story of Dale's mother Nuala.

Dale was an autistic boy. His first reply was at 3, and he had the obsessive actions and headbanging tantrums of the deeply autistic child.

Much of the story is his mother's fight to recognize the problem, then to get the authorities to recognize it, and then (over and over) to get people to help. Henry the golden retriever was a breakthrough part of that effort—and not an accidental part, as Nuala describes how, inspired by Dale's unexpectedly happy reaction to a friend's scotties, she researched what kind of dog would be best. Breeds vary a lot in temperament, and the lavish affection and patience that golden retrievers are famous for seemed ideal for Dale.

And so it proved. Dale and Henry (named after a Thomas the Tank Engine character) bonded famously, and Dale was able to make non-threatening connections with the dog that he could not do with people. Dale could understand the dog's simple needs, and learned to connect them to his own.

This took a lot of prompting by his parents: Dale didn't automatically make the connection between Henry needing to be clean and himself needing a bath. Learning to eat properly took training too:

Dale was also a bad eater, never hungry, whereas goldens, especially our Henry, are the world's greediest dogs. As Henry grew, he quickly learned when his meals were due and would bark at “his” cupboard to remind us it was dinnertime. Each day I would wait for Henry to do this, saying to my son, “Dale, what is Henry wanting at his cupboard? He is hungry.” This evolved to the point where Dale would tell me “Mum, Henry's hungry. It's time for his dinner.” Eventually Dale learned from this the concept of his own hunger and when it was dinnertime for him. I developed the trick of telling Dale that his food was good for him as it would help him grow big, just like Henry.

Another great breakthrough came when Henry found “his” voice. A carom conversation through a lovable dog is far less threatening than eye to eye talk with an adult.

When they aren't communicating, it is very easy to assume they are taking nothing in, but when Dale was ten, for example, he told me “If we hadn't talked through Henry, I would have chosen not to talk to you at all.”

As you can guess from the subtitle, there is a happy ending to Dale's story, as he grew more and more able and I gather is making a career in child care (!). Well, almost happy: dogs do not live forever, but Dale is there for the end.

Nuala showed Dale the book, and he made comments of his own on various chapters.

I found the long description of her efforts to get pregnant again both sad and creepy (IVF has issues), and it would have been good to have sketched “a day in the life” for a few different eras of Dale's development. I know several autistic people, and would have been happy for a few more technical details of what the non-dog-based training was like, but the book is meant for a general audience and that might not have fit well.

Read it.

I was asked to review this book.

We had rabbits instead of dogs, which didn't seem to elicit quite the same sorts of reactions—but then our children were far more communicative and affectionate to begin with.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Who can resist?

You remember Cabbage Patch Kids: ugly as sin. What would you Cauliflower Child?

Saturday, October 18, 2008


There is a poster at the pharmacists advertising a memory screening study by a Dr. Breslow at the school of Pharmacy.

The email name (I'll leave off the machine to preserve his inbox) is rmbreslow. rmbreslow

I enjoy the game of trying to figure out what that vanity plate in front of me means.

Friday, October 17, 2008


Youngest son does not appreciate baseball, not having seen much of it. James does not appreciate baseball, as the closest he comes to sports is doing weights at the club. His idea of recreation is to solve differential equations and matrices on the back of an envelope.

You do not go to a ball game to watch nonstop breathless action. That's soccer or basketball. I cannot enjoy either game; I can't keep my eye on the ball and I don't know what's happening. You go to a ball game to make a day of it: enjoy fresh air, good company, a well played game with a steady pace. Long, gracefully arcing fly balls; a bang-bang double play; a leap worthy of Nureyev to snatch a ball out of the ether; a Texas leaguer blooped to center, hit where they ain't--all that and the chance to relax and have a good klatsch with your friend between plays.

If you're a Brewers Fan, you start with a tailgate party. You either get good brats and cook them on a Coleman stove or a grill, mounted on a milk crate; or you go to the Milwaukee Public Market and pick up Italian or Japanese or Lebanese or seafood takeout--or a little bit of each, with a piece of cheesecake to top it off. Wash it down with a cold bottle of Sprecher's root beer. Bring the lawn chairs and the picnic plates and relax. Inside the park, you holler along with forty thousand other people. Between plays, you can klatsch and watch the replays and read the stats and trivia on the giant scoreboard. You cheer on the racing sausages between the 5th and 6th innings (the guy in the Chorizo costume won last time I went). You sing "Roll Out the Barrel" after "Take Me Out To the Ballgame" during the stretch. After the game, you enjoy the cool night air and truck on home with the postgame show on the radio.

If you're a Cubs fan, you park at one of the CTA lots and ride the El to Wrigley. You enjoy the quick glimpses of color in the rooftop and balcony gardens along the Red Line to Wrigleyville. You munch on a real Chicago hotdog in the stands. You look out at the deep blue of the lake beyond the scoreboard and count sailboats. You holler along with 40 thousand other people. Since the scoreboard is manual, with no electronic anything, you get a break from visual clutter; instead, your instant replay is the discussion you have with your buddy. Usually, the regular PA announcer, Wayne Messmer, sings the National Anthem; so you know that performance will be melodious and thrilling and on key, without any theatrics and broken notes and dramatic pauses that throw off the tempo. Today's guest conductor for "Take Me Out To the Ballgame" may or may not be able to carry a tune in a wheelbarrow; but a lot of the fans can't either so it's not a big deal. Ernie Banks sings it very well. After the game, you take the El back to whatever restaurant you've picked out for your postgame supper.

All that and the plays that make you scream YES! along with Ron Santo, or laugh along with Bob Uecker. Line drives, doubles to the corner, fly balls speared or dropped or caught like a scoop of ice cream on top of a cone. A play at the plate on an Alfonso Soriano bullet thrown from deep left--and it's in there! The timely strikeout. JJ Hardy, Milwaukee shortstop, smothering a grounder and somehow shoveling it to second in time for the force.

I was born during the 1957 World Series, Game 3 (Milwaukee won that one). Baseball is in my blood. I grew up a Cubs fan, and I played Big Ball--Chicago 16 inch softball, which Jake the Neighborhood Guy for Old Style Beer describes as looking "like a leather canteloup". I have two mashed and crooked pinky fingers to prove that I played catcher and outfield in Big Ball. I have the faith of a Cubs fan, and because of this I have no respect for Boston and Mets fans, who walk out of the park if their team's behind in the 5th. I've lived in Brewersville long enough to appreciate the Brewers too (now that they've left that other league with the silly rule about pitchers not batting).

Wait til next year!

Mrs James

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Extreme baseball

Youngest Son and I were talking about extreme sports the other day. He is fond of the Japanese "dump em in the mud" approach with mud trenches and large rolling balls, but I think we figured out a better approach.

Teams field 11 players. Each team has a red pitcher, a green pitcher, a red catcher, and a green catcher. The field has the usual 3 bases, plus a red home plate and a green home plate close to each other. There's a red baseball and a green one.

The rules are essentially the same, with a few exceptions:

  • Batters don a red or green vest, and face the appropriate red or green pitcher.
  • Green batters run bases counterclockwise, but red batters run clockwise.
  • Bases are extra-wide, to accommodate two runners going different directions.
  • A runner can be forced out only with his color of ball.
  • If both balls are in play, either one can be used to tag a runner out.
  • The pitcher is on a 5 second clock--he must pitch within 5 seconds or the runner advances automatically. This is to make sure play is rapid. Otherwise you'd have one pitcher pitching at a time, and the other waiting until the play was over just in case his ball would be needed for tagging. There's an obvious exception when there's a play at the other home base.
  • The batter is on a clock. After the end of the play for his color ball, he has 10 seconds to get into the box or he takes an automatic strike. Stepping out of the box is similarly timed.

I'd think this would make for lively play, fast innings, and some strategy. Which pitcher will the player face? If he's a good hitter, maybe you want him facing the red pitcher because the green pitcher has loaded his bases. It seems to put extra stress on the pitcher, which is fine because it means more hits and livelier play--but not necessarily higher scores because 3 outs will still end the inning and there are more opportunities for goofs and surprise tags from behind.

Monday, October 13, 2008


I gave up on index posts a long time ago--they were getting unwieldy, and the Blogger tags were much handier. Unfortunately the template I was using before only put up a single page of tagged posts (some bug in their scripting), and that just wasn't acceptable behavior.

The new template handles these much better, but unfortunately uses a fixed-width format, which is kind of ugly. And I had to fiddle with it a bit to get back some of the things (like email contact!) that I'd had before. Oh well.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Dresser Stripping

The dresser's veneer is chipped all along the bottom, and here and there on the drawers. I can understand why the previous owners painted it, though I fervently wished they hadn't as I scrubbed off paint using a citrus stripper and rolls of paper towels. No doubt they were deceived by an enticing name like "antique gold," but the result is best described as baby-diaper yellow.

The wood under it is actually rather nice, and the veneer is mostly in good shape. The bottom is a mess, so I'll be staining some thin molding to cover it up. I don't think we'll need to paint it.

The instructions on the stripper say to leave it on for 30 minutes and scrape it off with a plastic scraper. That didn't work so well--you need a clean surface to clean the wood with, and the scraper gunked up on the first pass. If you stop to clean it off, the residues on the wood tend to harden up on you. Better to use paper towels and rotate clean surfaces into use with each pass.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Uncharitable Thoughts on Worship Styles

1 Jezebel 19:11-13

11 The LORD said, "Go out and stand in the church in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by."

Then a great and powerful set by the worship team tore the air apart and shattered eardrums before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the band gig. After the band there was a frenetic movie clip, but the LORD was not in the movie. 12 After the movie came a PowerPoint presentation, but the LORD was not in the PowerPoint. And after the service came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"


3 The voice of the amplifiers is over the waters; the band on stage thunders, the amplifiers thunder over the mighty waters.

4 The voice of the amplifiers is powerful; the voice of the amplifiers is majestic.

5 The voice of the amplifiers breaks the cedars; the amplifiers break in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.

Acts 12:22


7b for they think they will be heard because of their many decibels

Saturday, October 04, 2008


I spent several years living here. I remember eating, studying, playing with friends, playing with the cat, reading, exploring the jungle, burning termite mounds with gasoline, stepping on a mamba, working in the maintenance shop (fruitlessly trying to explain to the manager that he had the hinges wrong on a cabinet), shooting rice birds, watching tree frog tadpoles develop and escape, wandering and wondering--the usual things boys do. I wasn't (and still am not) a crowd person, and there was generally room to be alone.

That was almost two generations ago. Last year's visit was a whirlwind. We couldn't stay--our driver had a son in the hospital and as soon as business was done we could only allot a few minutes for sightseeing. The campus was much smaller now that I was grown, and far more crowded, and much run-down--the war had not been kind and neither had the tropical sun and rain.

I'd had some naive notion of showing my daughters where I'd grown up, but even the roads had shifted. I could have searched out some spot and tried to recollect what had been, and tried to describe to them the vistas now obscured by trees and new buildings and laundry. By the side of a road that doesn't exist anymore I used to watch tadpoles in a puddle, and heaved in the largest chunk of quartz I could find to see how far the splash would go. The pond filled in but left two inches of sharp stub sticking out above the dirt--my little mark on Liberia. It may be there yet, but I doubt it--the road was regraded in a new location before it was abandoned.

Even if there'd been time to explore, to try sightseeing through my memories would have meant trying to ignore the new people and new scenes. That would be a strange way to show Liberia to my kids: "Don't look at what's here, look at what used to be here." Better for us all if it is a completely new country, with a few people I used to know.

Friday, October 03, 2008


I've no idea if the current plan will help in the short term. The long term moral hazard is obviously extreme, but things are pretty dicey and the European banks are in even worse shape. Apparently (according to the Telegraph) the rules are looser over there.

If we ejected those Senators and Congressmen who abetted Fannie and Freddie, there'd be an awful lot of empty seats--including some of the noisiest complainers.

If you think about it, some problems are inevitable. If you refuse to allow someone to charge rent for the use of his money, you strangle all commerce above the level of barter.

On the other hand, if the system relies heavily on borrowing, then heavily capitalized (read "has enough money to survive moderate reversals") companies become targets and everybody is pulled down to the "have to borrow/repay to keep running" level, and are vulnerable to credit crunches. Good luck trying to mandate a happy medium--Procrustes redux.

So what to do? Mandate transparency and educate about boom/bust cycles and the value of moderation, and hope for the best? But teaching temperance is moral education, which tends to be anathema to educators.

Unless maybe we could say temperance was a "green" virtue? Is it my imagination, or are the only virtues taught these days "social" ones as opposed to personal character virtues?
Something is Looming

The dew froze to the car this morning.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Who can resist

I gather that the Antarctic stations tend not to have penguins wandering up the steps to come in: icy stares make them uncomfortable.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Church by Hans Kung

I picked this up to fill out a 10 for \$X at a second hand bookstore, and when I offered to lead a few lessons on the church for our Bible study I decided it was time to read it (among other things, of course). Kung is a pretty famous figure in the Catholic church--and a controversial one.

The general approach he uses assumes that the church, being made up of humans, is often in trouble and needs to get back to its roots in every age--and so he emphasizes Scripture more than Tradition. He systematically addresses the various aspects of the nature of the church. He is especially annoyed with those who focus on the true church as the church at the end of time--it isn't a very useful model to apply to the church one finds here and now on the corner.

When he gets to the section on church organization he brings in a lot of detailed history. If we stipulate that his description of the history is correct (I'm in no position to say), then it is quite plain that the hierarchical model of church structure was not only not universal in the early church, it existed only sketchily in places and not at all in others (Corinth, obviously--Paul never addresses himself to church leaders, even in matters of church discipline he assumes that the entire church has a say). Only gradually does one find a single supervisor/bishop instead of a group. He treads more softly with the pope, but the weakness of the claim of primacy, not to mention dominion, is quite clear; and Kung offers advice on how a pope should serve and which titles ought to be abandoned (pontifex maximus was a Roman pagan priest's title, but "servant of the servants of God" conforms with Christian teaching).

I'm Protestant, and he's not goring my ox. Even claims that Scripture does not exclude the possibility of a pope to head the church do not ruffle my feathers--the Bible plainly neither requires nor prohibits a pope. But I can see why he got a lot of Catholics angry.

I gather that English is not his first language. Scholarly prose in translation is thick going, and he has a little tendency towards repetition for emphasis. Quite a few interesting points are skipped over, as he refers you to some other book he wrote or relies on.

He also gives rather more credence than seems reasonable to "higher critical" analyses of the Bible that attempt to dissect which bits came from which era within a single gospel. I've never heard of anyone attempting a double-blind study of the "higher critical" method (obviously using a different book), and absent such verification I class it with homeopathy. His handling of it doesn't injure his orthodoxy, however.

I read the book because I wanted to learn, and was willing to accept the rough sledding of scholarly prose as the price of knowledge. It is an expert's book in a field in which I am not an expert. If you're interested in the church you may find it useful.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Home again

Odd bits from the travel: In O'Hare's "Halstead" restaurants one joint offers Uno's personal pizzas. I like Uno's and figured they couldn't wreck one. I was very very wrong.

When the women's rest rooms in Brussels are closed for cleaning, they have no qualms about using the men's. Neither did I.

At Friday's plenary meeting we heard a description of the quench's aftermath. All the lights were broken for a long section, the region was ODH thanks to the 2 tons of helium, and the alarm systems were also broken. (Did I mention that this is some distance underground?) Result: Until Friday they couldn't legally send in an inspection team. He didn't mention the fact that the hall is now legally, though not really, a radiation area. (They haven't injected enough beam yet to make anything significantly radioactive.) It also appears that someone deleted an online logbook entry about the quench, though it was restored later. This was admitted with profuse apologies: the accelerator division is committed to transparency, the deletion was an emotional reaction...

The Brussels Air flight from Geneva had about as much leg room as a "sept place," but I had exit seats the rest of the way, and all else (even Immigrations in Chicago!) went smoothly. Well, waiting in line in Brussels to get the new boarding passes was interesting. The people in the business class had priority, and so did the passengers trying to get on the New York flight, so those of us headed for Chicago stood in an unmoving line for 15 minutes. It figures, Chicago is the Second City again.

Oh, and the seat lights on a 767 don't click on/off like the driver lights in a car. I pushed mine, because I couldn't see the control button buried beside the cushion. I expect the blister will be gone in a day or so.

Once home I rehung the bathroom door and wound up with the screws on the inside, the hinge pins in the bottom, and the lock core unexpectedly loose. The latter shifted when I tested the door. As a result the door is a little splintered, the jamb is a lot splintered, and the latch is a little bent--but it works now. I'll redo the hinges when I'm less tired.

I'm not sure how useful the trip was. I was fuzzy with lack of sleep during the day, and too tired to sleep at night. I got the package I was working on to handle two simple tests, but instead of trying to get more test cases I started working out the output. That's fuzzy, and it showed when we tried out the package. I was able to give a little instruction on how to monitor the DAQ, but the online cluster went away for over a day while I was trying to show examples. Can't win them all...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

CMS Party

Before the LHC quench, CMS had planned to have a celebration party this CMS meeting week, in honor of the culmination of years of preparation. We had it anyway, quench or no quench. There must have been about a thousand people there. I knew a dozen, and remembered the faces of another three dozen.

The party was in the SX5 building above ground, and the acoustics are terrible in that huge work area--and so of course they had a band (the Danglers--a drummer and two other guys; plus a sound man trying to balance the sound in a hall where only the base could be heard). Luckily they kept the volume down for about 3 hours (when I left).

As I wrote this a red ambulance with yellow stripe along the middle drove up to the new hostel. After 10 minutes it left without taking anybody away. Must have been minor. Last time I saw them somebody had collapsed in his car and they were working with him for over an hour.

Virdee gave the welcoming speech, of which we could understand not a single word. Did I mention the terrible acoustics? Pity: he's an articulate and enthusiastic speaker. Posters of the experiment illustrated parts of the detector, projectors cycled through pictures of people and things, and a souvenir table offered hats and shirts and other CERN (and CMS and Atlas) paraphernalia. We used 2/3 of the hall-the other third was cluttered with lifting jigs and spools of cables and supplies. I'd really like to compare before and after pictures of the hall 10 years from now. I predict that what isn't partitioned into small high rise offices will be jammed full of miscellaneous hardware and boxes and stuff. You heard it here first.(*) (BTW there are only a handful of toilets.)

For about an hour we milled around. The beer table was perpetually crowded, and the side tables with a few hors d'oeuvre, juices, and boxed wine were roped off with caution tape. Several restaurants were represented, and eventually served up some Indian dishes, pasta, gyros, and some beef stew (It was ladled by an elegant chef and garnished by a lovely assistant--but it tasted awful.) Tables to seat about 150 were provided, and when desert finger food arrived waiters carried trays about among the crowd milling or waiting in line.

By 8 the band had started again and the volume was cranking up, and I had no enthusiasm for staying until 10. As the only one of the party who'd had no wine I drove back.

(*) The big disks are never coming out of the pit again. When the experiment is done the detector will be buried in situ: parts of it will be too radioactive to fool with and nobody wants to bother with salvaging the non-radioactive parts. So the pit lid will move so we can haul small items in and out, but we won't need the assembly area for large assembly work anymore.

Everybody knows the LHC is down until next spring, what with the combination of the broken magnets and the mandatory winter shutdown. I really don't know anything much beyond that: I've no idea whether this single point of failure is common to superconducting magnet rings, or how many magnets were damaged (they don't know yet either), or much else about details beyond what's been reported. I know there's been a lot of griping about the publicity clampdown, but given reporters' tastes for the extreme I suppose the management wanted to keep lunatic rumors from getting magnified ("Elvis sighted in black hole that ate the ring!" or "Aliens from flying saucer responsible!"). Sometimes the BBC science reporting differs from the Weekly World News only in degree.

The planning talks are all being rewritten. I read the slides for a couple of talks--one included the original slides for amusement's sake.

At the CMS party last night, I talked with a grad student from Chile who is working on Atlas. (Her CMS boyfriend brought her.) She said they were disappointed since Atlas was ready for beam, but when I answered that at least we could fix the things that weren't quite right yet, she agreed very enthusiastically. I suppose "ready for beam" means the same thing on Atlas as on CMS: "We need more time but if we really have to we can work with what we've got."

In any event, these kind of teething pains happen, and one thing I'm certain of is that the Wall Street mishaps will have a larger impact on the field, and on my career, than a simple set of broken magnets.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


I’m not sure why fasting is so important in the Bible, but there’s no denying its prominence. Fasting and prayer frequently go together too. And Nehemiah calls on his group to fast and afflict themselves before heading out.

Why go hungry?

  • Hunger would seem to be a distraction from prayer, but so is eating; so I guess it’s a wash which is better as far as distractions go, though hunger lasts longer than eating does. I seem to focus better when neither hungry nor stuffed.

  • As a means of showing sorrow fasting works very well. If you’re sorry for telling your wife that her new hat looks like a cow pie, her reception will be a little frostier if you apologize while slurping an ice cream cone. It is a bit hard to convince someone that sorrow for your offenses preoccupies your mind if you are simultaneously indulging yourself.

    God shouldn’t really need convincing, though, since He already knows our hearts and knows how sorry we are. Of course that cuts both ways—He also knows just how “un-sorry” we are at the same time. Given that we have mixed motives and divided hearts, fasting and self-denial might then be ways we try to “break the tie” by adding actions to the penitent side. Of course if we get carried away with the idea that our self-denial earns us something, we defeat its purpose. Your wife won’t be moved much by the claim that she has to forgive your ill-chosen description simply because you skipped lunch.

  • To what extent does a thought or intention have reality without some kind of action? OK, that’s too huge a question, so let’s bite off smaller ones: How far should someone credit your intentions if you don’t even start to act? Is someone obedient if they are never given a command to obey?

    We can answer by asserting that “God knows everything” and that He will of course know the thoughts and intents of the heart. It is nevertheless possible that the question about obedience is not a well-posed question—that it may not have an answer. If faith without works is dead, then possibly repentance without at least an effort at changing or making amends is likewise dead.

    I’m not saying that our efforts to amend or make amends are adequate, but that the absence of even feeble efforts suggests an absence of intent; and if an intention isn’t intended then I’m not sure what it is, if anything.

    If intention without action is somewhat unreal, then fasting to show sorrow is a way to make sure our sorrow is/becomes real.

  • It is also possible that fasting was designed in from the start, and might still exist in the absence of sorrow and sin. I notice that people often seek out contrasts: going camping when they could stay comfortably at home; taking roller coaster rides when they’d have a heart attack if their car did the same things; and so on. Feasts are natural, and their contrast is a fast.

    In addition there’s the evidence of menstruation. The inconvenience and cramps give the husband and wife a regular fast from sex. I can’t speak to the cramps, but it certainly looks as though the inconvenience was part of the human organism from the start, which would suggest that the fast was part of the design from the start.(*)

    Why would there be fasting? Perhaps it serves as a regular reminder that we are more than bodies—a celebration that we transcend our bodies. It is a reminder that we are not self-sufficient or self-sustaining.

    Since by hypothesis this kind of fast is non-sorrowful, it would be a kind of celebration, and therefore ought to have been filled with something to celebrate: every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, perhaps?

For the honor of truth I have to admit—I almost never fast. I sometimes skip lunch at work, but I’ve found that there’s often a price to be paid for this in the work performance that afternoon. I’m not going to inflict my fasts on others, and I’ve been too lazy to devise a workable structure for fasting at home.

Therefore this is all observation and theory, and very little practice: an odd situation for an experimentalist. I suppose I should correct the discrepancy.

(*) Which suggests that 365 Nights, while a noble gift, might be slightly misguided.

What's up?

As you could tell from this blog’s description, this was originally supposed to be a group blog for the family. My ambition was to be more of a "content provider" a la Den Beste's model rather than a linker/commenter a la Instapundit. It hasn't quite panned out the way I expected. It became clear pretty quickly that I had to maintain at least a small amount of privacy for the kids' sake, so the reader has missed out on a lot of hilarious misadventures; and I often found that I could make some small comment on events but had nothing hugely profound beyond that.

I didn't enable comments because I don't always have time to review the site, and spammers quickly make a nice site ugly. This lack is unfortunate: many of the sites I read have lucid and valuable regular commenters. I read my email regularly, though.

I thought it might be interesting to look over the weblogs I've been reading fairly regularly, to see what has changed. The short answer is that I read fewer linkers. Some of those I used to read have quit blogging, and some changed tone or had commenters change their tone for them.

Just for laughs, and perhaps for your interest, these are some of the regulars.

Now that Middle Daughter is back from Senegal, I don't read the (no-longer-updated) blogs her friends wrote.

Do I have to say that Opinions expressed by these folks bear no necessary relationship to my own?

  • Science
    • Not Even Wrong by Peter Woit: postings on High Energy Physics doings, mostly theory, which are almost entirely general public readable. Not a fan of string theory :-). He wrote a book of the same title about string theory.
    • Resonaances: intermittent postings from a CERN theorist on events and interesting results. Fun to read.
    • John Baez: a mathematical physicist who's been writing about his and other's doings in mathematical physics for years. He has lucid explanations archived of many interesting aspects of the field, some of which I almost understand. Highly recommended.
    • Tomaso Dorigo: an Italian colleague on both CDF and CMS, writing about his experiences, a little about Italian politics (which I seriously don't understand!) and new physics results. Alas, his days as a rumor exposititor are over--some CDF folks complained about him talking about results before the results were blessed as ready, and he agreed to post only about blessed work. He was on shift during the LHC commissioning week, except that on the actual day all shift workers were replaced with "experts." He politely omitted an explanation of why.
    • SciTech Daily: Not exactly a blog, more of an aggregator of science stories, broken down into columns of "real stuff," "new books," and "opinion" (the latter is not generally valuable).
    • Cronaca: Mostly pointers to interesting articles in archaeology, which has always been an interest of mine.
  • Religion
    • Internet Monk: A Kentucky Baptist preacher with thoughtful and sometimes very personal postings on evangelicalism and ministry. He neither hides nor glories in his warts or his doubts. Highly recommended.
    • Touchstone Magazine's blog. A meeting place for all sorts, discussing modern religion and society: Catholic, Evangelical, Orthodox, etc. Agree or disagree, you'll find intelligent and knowledgeable commenters.
    • The Anchoress: Postings on religion and society. Recently there's been more about elections than I like, but it is still an interesting window on another part of the landscape.
    • Catholic and Enjoying it: Mark Shea also enjoys pronouncing on all manner of things. He refers to "The Evil Party" and "The Stupid Party" in America :-)
    • Unmedia, the blog of a Shiite physicist, moved and reorganized and I haven't been back to it in quite a while. Evangelical Outpost also moved and reorganized (and he'd been recycling posts and writing about politics a lot), and I've not been back there either.
  • Local (Dane County area: what's going on here that I didn't hear about?)
    • Life in the Great Midwest: A group blog writing about personal and general events. Dan is from Madison, and I've learned a few things about the area I live in.
    • Ann Althouse is a law professor at the UW, and one of the better known names in the blogosphere. She is prolific, general, quirky and personal; and popular for good reason.
    • Atomic Trousers: is the blog of a local newsman. He includes more sports than I'm interested in, and I don't watch his clips of him on TV, so I may be dropping this one.
    • There's a big Dane County blog collective, but although I've tried several times I've never found anything very interesting there. I found more interest and amusement in a single comment by "Ghost of a Flea" on Althouse than the whole collective. Your mileage may vary.
  • Humor (loosen the bowstring from time to time)
    • Lileks is a very good writer who works for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. His writing is generally personal, and keeps you interested even in things you don't usually think about. He writes on weekdays and I highly recommend him.
    • Stuff White People Like: feels like it is starting to wind down, but it has been hilarious. Look at the archives. You can guess the theme from the title.
    • I Can Has Cheezburger? shows photos (usually of cats) with humorous captions. Fun, and sometimes very good. The ratio of "Honey, come look at this one!" to the total is about 1/12, which is pretty good.
    • Iowahawk: Original satirical works, posted intermittently, generally on political or social topics. Usually good, and sometimes very good.
  • Personal Blogs
    • S. Weasel She photoshops things that amuse her and works in an animal refuge. We're amused too.
    • The Philosopher Mom: Raising 9 kids and teaching philosophy. Ever contemplated what a school morning would be like, or negotiating a family-only outing with eleven voices in the mix?
    • Eve Tushnet Literature and society from a woman who says she's "gayer than sunshine." She posts about weekly, but writes for other sites and journals as well.
  • Social Comment
    • David Warren: a Canadian columnist writing about society and posting his columns online. I learned a lot about Canada from him.
    • Winds of Change: a group blog covering society and war and events from a variety of interests.
    • Belmont Club: Richard Fernandez is a Philippine writer with a good eye for American trends and a taste for ending his columns with poetry. Thoughtful. I recently carped that he was trying to post too often, but even so he is still better than most of the pros.
    • Hog on Ice: Steve wrote Eat What You Want and Die Like a Man, so some of the blog is devoted to food, some to religion, some to society... He often throws out requests for advice to his faithful readers.
    • Classical Values: a couple of social and political observers with libertarian leanings; literate and knowledgeable. And fond of pit bulls.
    • Assistant Village Idiot: Can you resist a title like that? He works for a hospital in New England.
  • News
    • I don't have much time to read Rantburg these days. It is a good news aggregator, but it can take a long time to go through it. You won't find a lot of its news in the usual locations (see below); it pulls from sources around the world. Some of the comments are rather tart and not always friendly.
    • BBC Broad if not deep coverage around the world. Their science editor could be a little more skeptical.
    • NY Times. Their science section is usually pretty interesting, and their world coverage sometimes complements BBC's.
    • Drudge Report Matt Drudge is a famous idiosyncratic news aggregator. I'm told some newspapers spend time trying to figure out how to get him to link to a story--a link from him can generate a half million hits.
    • Wired News Techie-type news; some hard news, some nerdy, and some goofy. If you're nerdy you probably already know about it.
    • Google News. I hear this is the number one news aggregator. I actually don't find it all that useful, and will probably be dropping it soon. Most of their news categories are ones I don't follow, and their algorithm seems to pick secondary reports.

There are quite a few other good sites that I like to look at now and then (Mark Steyn, Instapundit, Chicago Boyz, etc), but who has time?